How the Woolworths Board failed their Masters test (ICYMI)


I am not immune to retail stupidity.

So it was that when I recently drove past a Masters store, and thought I’d see what was on special, thinking there might be something that I did not know that I did not need until I saw it cheap.

To my surprise, the “specials were “10% to 20% off”, and it struck me that it did not seem much like a fire sale to me and I could not help wondering that if they didn’t know how to conduct a liquidation sale, then chances were that maybe they just weren't very good retailers.

It is hard to tell for sure, because I don’t know how long they still plan on trading and what rate of sale would be a optimal to extract the best margins; but my instincts were that it was poorly executed.

Much has already been written about Woolworths and Masters and there are limits to what one can say being outside the inner circle; but there is at least one obvious, in fact I would call it ‘glaring’ truth that must be addressed.

I don’t think anyone can lambaste Woolworths for trying something. Anyone who has ever owned a business will know that not everything you try will work out. In fact, success often surprises us more than we care to admit.

Failure is part of the business landscape, and I certainly won’t be the first to cast a stone at the Woolworths Board.

I am not going to point a figure at their brand, their marketing or inability to put on a decent sale. I am not going to try and fault their ranging or pricing or even their locations. I am sure they spent a lot of money on that. (They had to spend the $3.3BN on something.)

But I do hold them accountable for something.

Human beings are unique in may respects compared to other species of animals. But the one unique attribute I take great comfort from is that human beings alone have ballistic prowess. That refers to the fact human beings are the only animals that can actually hit a moving target.

In order to hit a moving target, you need to be able to anticipate speed and direction and calculate the forces necessary to deliver your projectile to a certain point in the future.

Monkeys can throw nuts at each other. But they can’t hit a moving target.

Am not the first one to figure this out.Wayne Gretzky, Canadian ice-hockey player is often quoted as having said: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

We need to apply our ballistic prowess in all spheres of life. And that is what the Board of Woolworths did not do.

The two big guns in Supermarkets have been copying each other for years: liquor, hotels, hardware, fuel, loyalty cards, metro stores - you name it, they clone it.

That strikes me as stunningly poor leadership. Specifically, poor vision. Helen Keller said “the only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” Ain’t that the truth.

It is not surprising then that the fastest-growing supermarket chain does NOT do loyalty, fuel, hardware et al?

Who knows if ALDI will be around in 10 years? Their strategy may also fail. The puck may never arrive at the place where you think it is going to be at some point in the future. No one knows for sure. But the one thing that you won’t be able to accuse them of is that the simply copied the competition.

If you are going to fail, do it on the merits of your own ideas. But to fail simply because you can’t even copy properly, is a pretty serious indictment on the leadership.

Don't you agree?