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April 06, 2005

In the middle is not distinct

David Harding at Accountancy Age talked about the appointment of Darren Shapland as Sainsbury's new FD in Supermarket sweep-up for Sainsbury's yesterday. The bulk of the article is about Mr Shapland's retail experience with current employer Carpetright and others such as Arcadia and Superdrug. All of which sounds fine. What bothers me is this line, taken from near the end of the article:

The board looks likely to try and position Sainsbury's somewhere in the middle range of supermarkets, somewhere between Somerfield's at one end and Waitrose at the other.

Noooooooooooooooooooooo!

No. No. No. No. No.

And no again.

Sainsbury's sales have declined precisely because it occupied the middle ground between price-focused supermarkets on the one hand and the food-focused Waitrose on the other. I can't predict the future, but I know for damn sure that the solution to Sainsbury's problems is not more middle ground muddle.

Creating Passionate Users has a great post on why it's important to avoid this Zone of Mediocrity. The post is about book sales, not food retail, but it should be required reading for the Sainsbury's board. Kathy Sierra's argument is well supported by the research she cites from Mikhail Gronas, an assistant professor at Dartmouth, reported in the New York Times (sorry, NYT requires registration):

Professor Gronas found that books high on what he called the "controversiality index" are given almost as many one-star as five-star ratings, creating a horseshoe-shaped curve. As it turns out, these books also tend to have high sales.

I would love to see Sainsbury's as a leader in UK food culture, with a product range, store design and food-passionate staff to match. Not eveyone will agree, but surely there are more people who want a distinctive, food-focused Sainsbury's than who want another middle of the road outlet store for agribusiness?

Comments are open - what do you think?

Posted by Adrian Trenholm on April 6, 2005 at 08:33 AM in Marketing | Permalink

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» Can you be successful in the middle? from life (over IP)
173 Drury Lane comments on an article in Accountacy Age about Sainsbury's positioning in the UK supermarket biz. The author's take is that, by positioning themselves between the high-end and low-end retailers, Sainsbury is in the Zone of Mediocrity... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 18, 2005 3:31:10 AM

» Can you be successful in the middle? from life (over IP)
173 Drury Lane comments on an article in Accountacy Age about Sainsbury's positioning in the UK supermarket biz. The author's take is that, by positioning themselves between the high-end and low-end retailers, Sainsbury is in the Zone of Mediocrity... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 18, 2005 10:42:07 PM

» Can you be successful in the middle? from life (over IP)
173 Drury Lane comments on an article in Accountacy Age about Sainsbury's positioning in the UK supermarket biz. The author's take is that, by positioning themselves between the high-end and low-end retailers, Sainsbury is in the Zone of Mediocrity... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 18, 2005 10:48:08 PM

Comments

The trouble with "in the middle" is that you end up positioning yourself relative to others. You become the one who fits in around the others - which means you hand over the lead to them. It's hard to see that as being very inspiring either to customers or staff.

I think the challenge for Sainsbury's is partly to find a cause it believes in, something that it can get behind; rather than just averaging out the opposition and multiplying by 1.1

Posted by: Johnnie Moore | Apr 6, 2005 4:41:41 PM

bring it on. tesco has no "food feel". on the other hand Waitrose does. Waitrose already focuses on food in something like the way you tell Sainsbury too, from a senior management perspective. its use of fair trade and named local producers overseas is a good example. your points still stand i think - but Sainsbury's possibly needs to out waitrose waitrose. and that has to be scary when your focus is the mass market not the Long Tail of retail. But what an asset in Jamie, whatever he costs

Posted by: james governor | Apr 13, 2005 12:50:55 PM

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