New Morrisons boss David Potts believes he has taken the reins of the “British underdog” in grocery, but is confident he can turn it around.
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Potts emphasised that he is in the process of “listening very hard” to customers and staff in a bid to “rediscover our identity” and win back shoppers who have defected to the discounters.
But Morrisons’ new chief executive admitted he was “not match fit” having only joined the grocer on March 16, adding that it will take time for him to “provide a match-winning assortment for Morrisons customers”.
Potts was speaking to the media for the first time since joining the grocer, on the day it revealed a 2.9% drop in like-for-like sales excluding fuel for the 13 weeks to May 3.
“I find myself in the very fortunate position to be the leader of a brilliant British company – the British underdog in many ways”
David Potts, Morrisons
Potts said: “I honestly believe that if we listen very, very hard to customers, listen very hard to our own staff and to our own colleagues, then we won’t go so far wrong.
“They already hold the keys to the kingdom. They already know why people love Morrisons and we need to work tirelessly to bring that to life in more and more stores, on more and more days of the year.
“I am confident that we will do that. Like all things in retail, the execution of what an organisation believes is vital. I find myself in the very fortunate position to be the leader of a brilliant British company – the British underdog in many ways – but I also understand that it’s our customers and colleagues who have the answers to the questions.”
Potts said he was in the process of collating those answers and building his own picture of what products mattered to Morrisons customers. Its SKU count fell by 300 to 21,650 in the first quarter, but Potts would not be drawn on how that might change further this year.
He added: “I don’t spend a minute of any day not seeing opportunity for this company to provide a better shopping trip for customers. But again, we have only just started to listen to customers in a very concerted way.
“I myself am not fully match-fit in terms of my senses and awareness of what is a great offer for Morrisons’ customers, but I know that as more days go by, I will increasingly understand how I can help provide a match-winning assortment for Morrisons customers.”
Potts was also tight-lipped on his overall strategy for the grocer as it bids to return to growth, but reaffirmed that he would initially be concentrating on building trading momentum within its supermarkets and pausing the roll-out of convenience stores.
In terms of Morrisons’ ecommerce offer, which it launched after penning a deal with online grocer Ocado in May 2013, Potts said it was “early days” to discuss the future of the partnership but added he would be scrutinising its internet operation in the same way he is doing with its other channels.
Online like-for-like sales were up 1% during the first quarter despite the overall dip in sales across the board.
“What is important is that Morrisons follows the customers,” Potts said. “I feel, six-and-a-half weeks in, that it’s quite early to have a point of view on matters internet with regard to our food retailing investment.
“I have visited Dorden, our large shed in the Midlands that provides stock and I’ve visited two spokes in Sheffield and Enfield to see how that works on the journey to customers houses.
“I’m gradually getting a bit more involved in it, but it’s early days on that important subject.
“The job I’ve got is whole and I have to include all of our channels.”
After unveiling the appointment of Darren Blackhurst as commercial director today, Potts added that Morrisons was “in the market” for a retail director and a marketing director as he continues to build his new-look team.
A host of senior staff have left the grocer since Potts took charge and set about streamlining his management team. Retail director Martyn Fletcher, customer marketing and digital director Nick Collard, convenience managing director Nigel Robertson and group trading director Casper Meijer are among those to have parted company with Morrisons since March.