Magazine article Marketing

Lord of the Aisles

Magazine article Marketing

Lord of the Aisles

Article excerpt

Roger Partington is the man who would be king. Not surprisingly, he refuses to comment on whether he has designs on the top job at Safeway, but to many he is undoubtedly chief executive material.

Partington is that rare combination of intellect and instinct that inspires those around him. Comment from his agencies drifts toward hyperbole.

"He's probably the most capable client I've ever worked with," enthuses Kevin Twittey, managing director of Safeway's below-the-line agency, Triangle. "His intellect is inspirational."

"Roger is fearless, brave and challenging. He's an instinctive marketer, and those instincts tend to be pretty good," says Adam Leigh, board director at Bates Dorland.

Partington shrugs off such adulation. "I enjoy the intellectual challenge of marketing but I'm not an intellectual. Financial services marketing needs a more intellectual approach than retail."

Should he eventually take over the helm from current chief executive Colin Smith, Partington would be inheriting a company of wavering fortunes.

Until a year ago, Safeway was sailing high. Sales were performing well and even City analysts were praising Bates Dorland's 'talking toddlers' campaign, which Marketing's Adwatch named as the UK's most impactful campaign of 1996.

A lot of the company's mid-90s growth was put down to Partington's initiatives, including consistent positioning in targeting high-spending young families, and the IT breakthroughs of the ABC loyalty scheme and the 'shop and go' self-scanning system.

Since then things have looked less healthy for the number four supermarket brand. Its share price has plunged and Smith has been forced to issue profit warnings.

Tactically, marketing has yet again come to the rescue. The sudden tripling of points earned within the store's ABC loyalty scheme was undoubtedly a major factor in last week's announcement that sales were up 6% in the first six weeks of this financial year. The City gave a sigh of relief but questioned whether it was simply a short-term fix.

Partington denies this. 'We're managing the business for the long term. We did hit difficulties but that was down to problems with availability and distribution. We did take our eye off the ball."

With such prosaic operational mistakes does he feel let down by the company? "No. …

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