The death of Sir Ken Morrison marked the passing of a retail generation as well as one of its most outstanding entrepreneurs.

Sir Ken was one of a few individuals who, in the post-war era along with other legends of the industry such as Tesco founder Sir Jack Cohen, modernised food retail and built one of the biggest supermarket empires.

The tributes paid to Sir Ken showed that his success was down in no small part to management by walking around.

On social media, former Morrisons colleagues recalled their encounters with him. How he would put £10 notes on gaps on shelves to starkly illustrate the cost of poor availability. How he would rather spend money on more check-out staff than on management consultants or non-execs.

Sir Ken’s career is a reminder of how important a view from the ground remains, even though retail is becoming an ever more complex business as digital disruption continues.

Today, management by walking around might mean, from a customer point of view, really understanding shopper data or website navigability.

But its old-fashioned application still applies.

Shops still account for the lion’s share of sales and are where most staff work, so it’s about walking the floor, knowing what staff think and leading by example when it comes to company values.

Many retail leaders pride themselves on ensuring they spend plenty of time in stores, although sometimes their presence is wryly dubbed a ‘royal visit’.

More time may be spent in advance of their arrival on a fresh lick of paint than on freshness of produce.

Sir Ken didn’t always get everything right. His overarching confidence in himself and his way of doing things meant the Safeway deal did not go as planned.

But the attention to the nuts and bolts detail that he exemplified can never be overestimated.

It was a big part of what made Sir Ken, in the view of former Asda boss Archie Norman, “simply the best shopkeeper of our time”.

January blues

After a better Christmas than many expected came a worse January than anticipated.

Although there were some bright spots, the latest BRC data looked gloomy.

Year-on-year sales growth “ground to a halt” in January, and on a three-month basis the figures revealed the slowest festive season growth since 2009.

For retailers, it was another reminder that this may not be an easy year as cost pressures are felt and the impact of resulting price inflation may prompt consumers to keep a watchful eye on their spending.

The data also showed how longer-term structural shifts are having an impact. As multichannel retail grows, there was a noticeable increase in returns during January.

No wonder retailers are now thinking in all sorts of imaginative ways about how to protect and build their businesses, whether it’s Sainsbury’s tie-up with Argos or Tesco’s with Booker.

Imaginative thinking will be needed this year.