Euan Sutherland will join The Co-operative Group as chief executive in March, moving from Kingfisher where he is currently chief operating officer. Retail Week takes a look at his to-do list when he joins the mutual.
1. Better exploit The Co-op’s ethical stance
The Co-op has an incredibly strong ethical stance which sets it apart from other retailers and gives it a USP. But it has never really used this stance fully to its advantage. When the credit crunch hit, the Co-op gained some advantage over traditional banks with a marketing campaign aiming to show customers that it is a company that could be trusted. And while this worked well, it was short lived. The Co-op has the opportunity to become a much-loved brand in the same vein as retailers such as John Lewis and Waitrose but Sutherland has a lot of work to do. Admittedly, the Co-op’s shoppers are perhaps not as concerned about the environment and corporate social responsibility as those of John Lewis, but Sutherland can still work on making it a better loved brand. And his experience in marketing at companies such as Mars will give him a head start in this area.
2. Get the Somerfield acquisition firing
The Somerfield acquisition in 2009 propelled the Co-op’s food division, making it the fifth biggest grocer. But chief executive Peter Marks – who Sutherland is replacing – underestimated the difficulty of integrating the two businesses. While Co-op is a mutual, Somerfield was private equity backed, but Marks brushed aside any cultural differences. Just a few months later an internal board report was leaked to Retail Week which showed plunging sales in the ex-Somerfield stores as the integration was seemingly proving more difficult than Marks envisioned. More recent figures show Co-op’s food division still needs a lot of work in order to compete with the big boys. Sutherland has sat on the food division’s board as a non-exec for two years so will know what he is getting into but with no other food experience, he will be thrown into the deep end and need to get a handle on the sector quickly.
3. Better exploit Co-op’s food convenience locations
The Co-op has been promoting the fact it is a chain of convenience stores in its marketing, but more can be made of this to hammer the message through to shoppers. Its food stores are local shops and Co-op plays a key role in the communities it serves but more attention is needed to make those stores the first port of call. All the other big grocers are all going gung ho for convenience stores and the market is fast growing. Sainsbury’s for example is opening one or two convenience shops per week and also Morrisons wants more convenience shops. And as the trend for shoppers to use convenience shops more and more so that they waste less from a big shop, there is a lot to play for in this sector.
4. Get a handle on the group’s wide-ranging businesses
The Co-op has businesses as diverse as food, funerals, insurance and banking. While Sutherland will bring invaluable retail trading knowledge to all these businesses, he will have to get a handle on the particular quirks of each. They are sectors he has not worked in before and he needs to get up to speed with the way they all operate.
5. Building the banking business
The Co-op wants to triple the size of its banking business. It merged with Britannia Building Society in 2009 and also purchased 632 bank branches from Lloyds in August. Integrating these businesses will be a big job for Sutherland but the potential is huge. As consumers continue to mistrust traditional banks, a credible alternative could prove to be the making of the Co-op’s banking arm.