Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Tesco Fuels Survival of the Fittest

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Tesco Fuels Survival of the Fittest

Article excerpt

In Ballycastle, the local shopkeepers recently successfully petitioned Moyle District Council to refuse Tesco's application for planning permission to build a store on the outskirts of their town. The town's three butchers, four chemists and mini-markets claimed the store 'would have hollowed out the commercial life of Ballycastle'.

'This is a tourist town with a unique set of shops that people from all over Northern Ireland and beyond have been coming to for years,' claimed Brian McLister, one of the petitioners and the owner of a Costcutter mini-market in the town. 'They would stop coming if the centre became a row of boarded-up premises and charity shops.'

Mr McLister is the latest in a long line of local retailers who suddenly turn from capitalism to conservatism when faced with new national competition. His defence of 'unique shops' is not based on consumer interest or town planning, it is driven exclusively by self interest.

There is a word for men like McLister - hypocrites. He is a part-time capitalist. Happy to profit by extracting value from his strategic advantage when it suits him. But, when faced with a bigger competitor, such as Tesco, he turns conservationist.

The person missing from McLister's argument is the one who counts - the consumer. What do Ballycastle residents want? On that subject, McLister and his fellow conservationists are silent. If they argue that the locals would not prefer the wider ranges and lower prices that Tesco would bring, he risks inviting the supermarket to enter the market and prove him wrong. If he argues that some consumers would welcome a Tesco, he shows himself in his true light - a shopkeeper that wants to keep his store at the expense of the best interests of his customers.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association that backed the petition is no better. Pointing out that the proposed Tesco shop would have generated annual turnover of pounds 16m for the supermarket chain, as opposed to the existing pounds 12m turnover that Ballycastle's businesses make, it concluded that the new store would decimate existing retailers. Not true. In the suburbs of most towns Tesco has entered, you still find independent retailers. It's true there are fewer shops after a Tesco opens, but the ones that remain have found a niche, offering local products and great service.

The shops that vanish after a Tesco arrives are, invariably, the ones that overcharged, or offered bad service, or did not provide the best products. …

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