PROFILE

Andrew Blatherwick

Chairman Emeritus, Relex Solutions
Andrew Blatherwick joined leading UK and International retailer Boots in 1977 rising to become Group Product Manager Foods before moving on to frozen foods retailer Iceland where he spent ten years, the last five years as Supply Chain Director. He joined inventory management systems company E3 Corporation as International President in 1995 and drove the business forward so that at the time of its acquisition in 2001 it had more than 500 retail and wholesale customers in 20 different countries. Andrew served as President of JDA International before joining Manchester-based Alphameric Retail as Managing Director where he helped reverse the business’s decline. He’s since brought his business development expertise to CoreProcess International (as Group CEO), Argility (as Executive Director – International Business Development), Manthan Systems (as President of Manthan Systems Europe) and is currently CEO at business consultancy A2B4P. He advises a select stable of companies in a non executive capacity focusing on business development and change management.
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  • Posted on: 03/05/2021

    Will Walmart make a sizable impact with its latest ‘Made in USA’ commitments?

    When you have the power and influence of Walmart things can really start to happen. It matters not if you are playing catch up or leading the way, the headlines will have an impact and others will follow. Walmart can really make a big difference if it is serious about regenerating U.S. production. With their buying power they can really drive change, but more importantly they can lead others to do the same and that will really have an impact. They can also get governments to work with them and develop long-term plans to make this a reality. What is needed is a sustained strategic move to buy local. When things get tough and others may get better prices abroad, they need to hang in there and make it a marketing strategy. The savings in supply chain costs need to be considered as well as the environmental benefits for all, which is a great selling message. If retail moves, they are a very powerful force for good. I hope Walmart can get a few others on board too.
  • Posted on: 03/04/2021

    EQ is the special ingredient to feed entrepreneurial success

    The two founders of Iceland Foods Group, one of the UK's biggest retail success stories, had only one O Level (very little formal educational qualifications) between them, but their EQ was very high - they were great entrepreneurs.
  • Posted on: 03/03/2021

    Will a third-party marketplace step up and give Amazon a run for its money?

    Retailers need to compete with Amazon on their strengths and not simply copy Amazon. They have local stores that can be used for collection and returns, have visibility on the high street and, most importantly, staff in stores who can help represent their brand and provide exceptional customer service. Amazon does not have that capability. It is in the hands of delivery drivers who do not even speak to the customers. Retailers really do need to use this precious resource and competitive edge to build their marketplaces and show online retailers that they can benefit from these strengths.
  • Posted on: 03/02/2021

    Macy’s leadership changes focus on digital ops and supply chain

    These changes clearly focus on the core to any retail business - getting their supply chain and omnichannel strategy right and their stores operating effectively is key in today’s world. The stores and supply teams working closely together to deliver a seamless omnichannel offering is vital and shortening the communications channels from CEO to these two key operators will make it much easier to make the changes necessary to drive the business forward. The stores are a key part of any omnichannel strategy, which might sometimes be forgotten given all the hype about online retail these days with click and collect and curbside pick-up returns strategies. Single customer visibility at the stores is a critical part of that mix and working closely aligned to supply chain is the only way to make that effective and efficient. Macy's has an uphill struggle to turn the corner and make this a thriving business again. Cutting lengthy management chains is a great place to start. Act fast decisively and with one focus and you are heading in the right direction. The change in IT leadership is interesting as retail does have different challenges to the hotel business but if the chemistry works then new thinking can only be positive. They are going to have to invest in new technology to make this work so this new team will have to work very closely.
  • Posted on: 03/01/2021

    Automated checkout ‘will be everywhere’ sooner rather than later

    The cost of this technology is still prohibitive for many retailers, however as it develops and RFID gets ever cheaper there will be opportunities for late adopters to catch up at a significantly lower cost. The question still is, will all checkouts be cashless and would that be a good thing? We know from the lockdowns during this pandemic that a lot of people are lonely and see retail as their only interaction with other people during the day. And the checkout is the most social part of their day. In Scandinavia there are now "Slow Lanes" where people can go and the checkout staff are trained to talk to and interact with the customers. There are lounge areas where people can sit and talk to other customers. Not everyone wants to be in and out of the store without talking to anyone. There is a need for a mix of options if we are to match all our customers' expectations and needs. How you run both in parallel is an interesting problem and is technically not insurmountable but will take more technology to sort that out.
  • Posted on: 02/24/2021

    Can making deliveries once a week make e-commerce sustainable and more profitable?

    At last someone is thinking logically about online shopping deliveries. Congratulations Nate Faust. This initiative really does make so much sense for retailers, consumers and, most importantly, for the environment and sustainability. We cannot continue to proliferate the number of one trip deliveries, packaging waste and cost of shipping as online retail continues to grow across the world. Customers will get a more consistent service delivered at a time to suit them with less packaging to dispose of. No, they will not get the products same-day or next-day but how many consumers really need that? The drive for immediate delivery has come from marketing departments trying to find a competitive edge other than the product, price and customer experience. I would hope that customer pressure drives this to become a very successful initiative and it can be replicated in other countries. Then we can get back to focusing on what really matters in retail competition. It obviously will not be right for all categories, but for many product groups and online retailers it makes a lot of sense. This may offer a lifeline for many start-up online retailers, as it is becoming impossible for them to compete with fast, free delivery being offered by Amazon et al.
  • Posted on: 02/19/2021

    Are current supply chain bottlenecks a bigger deal than normal?

    Once world shipping lanes get out of kilter, it is very difficult to get them back in shape quickly. Containers in the wrong place, ships in the wrong place or being held up at ports -- it is a big issue that takes time to sort out. However we have spent a lot of time in recent months talking about retailers and consumers starting to respect and prefer buying local. This is just another driver towards that policy and while cheaper goods from China will always be the bulk of the volume, the upper end of the market using local manufacturing and quality materials will take a larger share than in the past. Retailers can look at their supply chains and split the volumes from far shores planned in advance and a known risk of timing, and topping up with local sources at higher prices but fulfilling demand.
  • Posted on: 02/18/2021

    Is suburban retail (malls, too) primed for a comeback?

    We are seeing similar patterns in the U.K. where the change to home working or at least part-time home working looks like it will extend beyond the end of lockdown. People are moving out of the major urban areas and into smaller communities, towns and villages where property prices are lower. This, coupled with the care for that community and supporting local business, will make those smaller local shopping outlets more appealing. As people start to go out and shop more, this will only get stronger. While a lot of people have become more used to and happy with online shopping, after the pandemic online will fall back from its current very high position though not back to its level before the pandemic. The challenge for all shopping centers is to regenerate the excitement and theater necessary to draw consumers back out to the shops and retail only is unlikely to achieve that. The mixed mall approach should have more success and given that there is a buildup of consumer demand, particularly in U.K. and other parts of Europe that have been locked down for longer, consumers just want to get out of the house and go shopping. This is a huge opportunity for retail but they have to grab it fast. If they fail with poor availability, boring assortments or outdated stock, the consumer will just as quickly switch off and go back to the online experience they have become used to.
  • Posted on: 02/17/2021

    Should retailers just say ‘no’ to Instacart?

    The seismic change that has taken place in the last twelve months projected a number of retailers into having to make decisions they may not have done for a few years. The speed has changed and they have not had the time they thought they had to develop technology solutions to address the even faster growing online market. So Instacart or other third party providers offer an immediate solution to meeting fast changing customer demands. Is it the best option or one they should look at as a long term solution? Probably not. In fact, if they are serious about being a strong retail brand then certainly not. Retailers need to have contact with their customers, the ability to provide a seamless brand identity and service to their customers and manager and control their full supply chain. To own only a part of that is not a route to long-term success. What does this mean for Instacart and the others? Probably a massive growth initially and then a decline in the long term. They are facilitators to the ability to do the right thing and over time there may well be enough new players needing this sort of stop gap to keep them happy. But let’s get real. If you are going to be in the retail business, then do it right and own you own future.
  • Posted on: 02/16/2021

    Digital gains are changing how Best Buy puts its associates to work

    All retailers will have to face the changing nature of their business as increases in online sales have accelerated by 10 years during the pandemic. However that does not devalue store staff and retailers must ensure that they are well trained, well motivated and able to serve the customer in a way that will bring shoppers back, whatever channel they are in. Yes, staff will have to be more flexible and understand the various channels and how to work across the retail offering. But retail will now more than ever need to be customer-centric, delivering theater and great customer satisfaction if they are to thrive. Staff are absolutely key to that.
  • Posted on: 02/15/2021

    Are huge marketplace seller aggregators a good thing for Amazon and retail?

    Is this not wholesale by another name? Or are they actually retailers that are just using Amazon to scale to the point of jump off to create their own online presence? If the latter is true, then Amazon could be consumed by its own success. I cannot see why aggregators would not set up their own platform once they reach a certain size. They will have all the resources and supply chain set up to enable them to do so without paying Amazon for the privilege. There is clearly some way to go before many of these reach a size to damage Amazon. After all, who other than Walmart is that big now? But they could eat away at it and if there are 40 of them, they could take a reasonable sized bite out of it!
  • Posted on: 02/12/2021

    Whole Foods gets a lot right and wrong

    Amazon's focus is and always will be online. Running a traditional retail business is tough - you really have to understand what your customers want and what brings them to your store, and then make sure you look after them. Whole Foods is a hostage to their own success in online business and that is causing problems for the traditional retail outlets. Customers do not want to be crowded by staff picking for online orders who are probably on a time-to-pick target that means they do not care what the "customers" in the shop think of them. This makes for an uncomfortable mix in the store. Walmart has understood this and are moving to local fulfillment. Amazon has not yet worked this out or if they have they are not interested.
  • Posted on: 02/10/2021

    Clothing retailers are trying to cut their way to higher profits

    What should really shock people is the level of carry over stock normally held in retail. More than $80 billion is a huge sum and is a massive hit on retailers' profits. This year is an exception and it is not surprising that retailers are cutting their orders. However what needs to change is the inefficiency of the process used by fashion retailers that could save millions of dollars and also massively reduce the impact on the environment of buying so much excess stock. The return of online purchased stock cannot be a surprise to anyone in retail. It is one of the costs of running an online business. It is also one of the reasons why online retail is less efficient than traditional retail and so getting people back out to the shops is vital for all retailers. The fact marketing people use this as a tool is even more amazing. They do not understand the cost of "free returns." They may be free to the customer but cost the retailer plenty. Let’s hope that this current situation, which is so bad for everyone, will make retailers sit up and think a little more about how they are trading.
  • Posted on: 02/08/2021

    Will same-day delivery pay off for dollar stores?

    Family Dollar has a big advantage insofar as it has so many stores that fast same-day delivery is possible. Using Instacart as a first step makes a lot of sense as it provides the technology and knowhow to trial such an initiative. If it works, how long they stay with Instacart will be interesting to see. As other retailers have found, Instacart is not cheap. At this end of the market that is something that is essential and discount retailers really understand costs. The threat here may be more to Instacart, which has the cost of set up and scaling to this number of stores with a likelihood of it not being long term.
  • Posted on: 02/05/2021

    Are U.S. manufacturing sources an absolute necessity for American retailers today?

    Retailers have for some time realized that the smart strategy is to have a mix of on- or near-shore and offshore supply. This has certainly accelerated over the past year and a large proportion of the gain for local manufacturers will remain longer term. However retailers also need to protect margins and therefore a percentage of Far East production will remain. The best retailers with good supply chain optimization solutions can manage this mix very effectively, planning the offshore with longer lead times, larger minimum order quantities, less certainty in a crisis but with higher margins and using the near shore in the plan to provide flexibility, certainty and shorter lead times while usually at a lower margin. The bigger question is whether, given the recent Far East Trading Block agreement and the ever-increasing middle classes with spending power in China, India and other Far East countries, suppliers can mop up their local production to such an extent that the cost of their production matches that of local production and therefore removes the margin benefit of offshoring. As this happens, more and more sourcing will come back onshore, which given customers' newfound desire to buy local will be a very good thing.

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