In October financial analysts Capel‐Cure Myers had the intriguing idea of putting on a seminar centred largely around the stories of three major retail companies — Burton, Debenhams, and Tesco — all of whom have been through pretty rough times over the last decade or so but have managed, relatively recently, to achieve successful turn‐rounds — to show improved turnover and profit figures, in effect, to “regenerate”. In each case the chief executives of these companies spoke frankly about the mistakes their organisations had perpetrated, and the solutions they had adopted to bring about essential change. Intriguingly, though the companies are all very different in their retail formats — a grocery multiple, a specialist clothing chain, and a department store group — yet they had several solutions in common. Ralph Halpern of Burton pinpointed the secret of his success as “multi‐strategy market positioning”, which means identifying specific segments of the market and operating several companies with clear identities which are positioned to appeal to them. Much the same was done by Debenhams, who found in the early 70s that their traditional middle‐class department store market had faded away with Edward Heath's three‐day week and the power cuts, and they had to position themselves to appeal to an entirely different clientele. And all three companies emphasise the need for efficient systems of information technology. “Historically,” says Tesco's Ian MacLaurin, “we traded in goods. Now we trade in information too.” Remarkably, and an added factor which makes the achievement of these companies more striking, is the fact that recovery, for all three, took place against a background of the worst recession this country has seen for several decades.
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