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.
  • Posted on: 01/13/2021

    What leadership lessons have retailers learned during the pandemic?

    The first lesson must surely be "it is better to be lucky than good," as those in the right sectors have done so very well out of the COVID-19 pandemic, others have found it much harder. The second lesson must be to make sure your company is as flexible as possible. That takes great management and yes the empowering of your team but also great technology to enable you to react quickly, efficiently and accurately to the very fast changing situations we have seen over the past 10 months.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2021

    Convenience retailers aren’t letting the pandemic get them down

    As a lot of consumers are shopping more locally and some are trying to avoid the large shops the convenience retailers have a real opportunity to show themselves and make themselves part of the consumer's shopping habit. Many have done a great job in reacting to the pandemic with more convenient offerings, technology enabling online shopping, BOPIS and curbside pick-up. In the first wave, when shortages happened due to panic buying, many convenience stores had the stock when the large retailers were hardest hit. They will come out fighting and in a great place to move forward in the future. People have got back into shopping more local and have probably found the local convenience store a really great alternative to the big shops. They will not replace the big grocers but they can certainly live with them, and that’s why so many big grocers have either bought or established convenience stores of their own.
  • Posted on: 01/05/2021

    Albertsons ditching in-house drivers to deliver online orders

    It is not surprising that Albertsons is making this move as the law allows third parties to get away with significantly lower pay for drivers and the overall cost to the company is much lower. Whether it’s right for third parties to be allowed to pay their staff lower wages is more a matter of conscience than business, but the fact that they can makes it inevitable retailers will use them. Grocery margins are always tight and with the competitive nature of food retail you need to protect what you can. However, when will someone realize that having really good staff who represent your brand and deliver an exceptional level of service can be a competitive advantage? All it takes is one bad experience with a third-party driver and you can lose a customer and not even know why. If you train and look after your own staff correctly they can be ambassadors for your brand and business, help you keep customers and probably increase them by word of mouth praise for your service. It is unlikely to happen but when retailers are looking for that precious competitive advantage things like this can make a real difference.
  • Posted on: 01/04/2021

    Will store closings in 2021 beat last year’s record total?

    The basic fact is that there were already too many stores and most retailers really needed to reduce their estates and get rid of nonperforming and unprofitable locations. What happened in 2020 really sped up that process and made retailers take a long hard look at their performance and estates. Add to that the length of time that COVID-19 forced people to stay at home and buy online, which instilled a habit for online shopping that was already growing but certainly accelerated in the last year. This caused weak retailers that did not have a good online offering to suffer more with many going out of business. Will this change in 2021? Eventually it will get easier for retailers as people go back out to shop but let's not believe it will go back to the level of shopping at store that we had previously. Retail will continue to evolve very quickly with online a necessity for most retailers to be able to compete but also retail stores being a vital factor in their success. We know from research that when retailers open a store it increases the online shopping in that area and if they close a store the online sales in the area fall. This demonstrates their interdependence and retailers will continue to refine their operations around BOPIS/click and collect and curbside pick-up and returns which adds to that. It is unlikely that as many stores will close as in 2020. Let’s certainly hope not. But retail will continue to evolve very quickly, there will be some new exciting entrants to the market and some of the weaker ones will fall by the wayside.
  • Posted on: 12/22/2020

    Is free at-home pick-up of online returns practicable?

    First, we had free delivery. Now, we are looking at free returns. The overall cost of logistics may actually be larger than the actual price of the item! Whilst Amazon and Walmart can possible live with this for a while, other retailers will not be able to for any length of time without serious price increases, loss of profit and eventual loss of the business. It is madness to think that the whole retail trade can move in this direction and from an environmental point of view, is a total disaster. It is bad enough having delivery vans running round everywhere. To have them returning for collection of returns is something I do not want to think about. Let’s hope it is a short-lived aberration on the part of a few marketing people who have not thought this through. There can be only one driver and that is to put other retailers out of business if they try and replicate the move.
  • Posted on: 12/21/2020

    Christmas ads show gift-giving in completely different lives

    As you would expect, the Amazon ad is beautifully produced and has a very loving message to try and soften the Amazon image. It is ironic that a company that has done well out of this pandemic should choose to select "The show must go on" as a theme. I guess that point is not lost on many people. The sentiment and pulling at heart strings is there and it is not overly branded. In fact it shows their strength of brand that they can now just show the last slide with no name on it. The Smiths ad is really clever and has a lovely twist to it, using humor while still getting across a loving caring message. There are some great lines in there about stereotyping and playing on the female emotions of being put upon by men. The last line works well, it gets across a strong message for the products sold in Smiths though I fear the retail brand may get slightly lost in the humor. I really like this ad and hope it works well for them. Not sure they could use it in another more hard hitting year but in this year where sentiment is more at the forefront it works well.
  • Posted on: 12/15/2020

    Lidl and Tesco keep their Christmas spots ‘merry and bright’ for 2020

    Everyone needs a break after nearly a year of bad news, lockdowns and not being able to meet friends and party, so it is not surprising that both these retailers are giving a happy upbeat message. However what is interesting is that they are far less price-focused than in previous years. Both of these retailers are price-conscious and normally price plays a very major part in their ads. This year the ads are more creative with a message. The reference to Captain Tom in the Tesco ad is very clever as Captain Tom became such a huge story this year and for that to be possibly the one thing that is unforgivable works well. The message is also very good - everyone deserves a break this year so no “Naughty List.” Tesco would get my vote between these two for its creativity and very human positioning, but congratulations Lidl on recognizing that there is more to this year than price.
  • Posted on: 12/11/2020

    Stores move to the front and center fulfilling customers’ expectations

    With the huge changes taking place in retail this year, the rapid acceleration of online, BOPIS/click and collect and curbside pick-up are requiring retailers to pull on all their resources and renown resourcefulness to survive. The larger ones are in a much stronger position to be able to invest in the shift in supply chain and customer focus putting even more pressure on the rest. Undoubtedly, the supply chain and how the stores are utilized as part of this will be the defining factor of winners and losers, fortune favors the brave and it will be the brave retailers that invest in technology, transformation of their business and stores that will prosper. Visibility of inventory across the whole supply chain is vital to this success. Inventory solutions that are flexible with sufficient automation to enable retailers to be efficient, nimble and reactive to customer demand through different channels is key. It is a very exciting time because the new breed of retailers that master this period will become very successful delivering better service to customers in all forms. The ones who are afraid of what is happening will wither, making room for new entrants into the market. Retail shops are not dying, they are simply transforming as they have constantly done over the past 100 years.
  • Posted on: 12/09/2020

    UK retailers try to top themselves with 2020 Christmas spots

    The Christmas adverts this year are all a little softer, more compassionate than in previous years and that is very appropriate for the times and how people are feeling. People have been very generous this year trying to help each other out, shopping local and giving to charities so the message in both ads is appropriate. Very different production budgets but both great at getting the message across, I love the very personal feel of Hafod but John Lewis always come up with beautiful Christmas ads and have done it again this year. Congratulations to both.
  • Posted on: 11/30/2020

    Amazon aims to keep holiday deliveries ‘spoiler free’

    Whether it is a problem or not, once again Amazon marketing has it right with this initiative. They show they care and are trying to be very customer focused while introducing some good add-on options and some that are already in place. Whether this will make a difference this Christmas is questionable as most shoppers are going to be short of time to shop this year and many more will be nervous about visiting stores, so Amazon will be in a very strong position anyway. Retail chains really need to hit back hard with their click and collect/BPOIS and curb side options that are equally important if someone really wants to keep their surprise gift a secret. What will keep more customers awake this year is worrying about their gift arriving on time and in good condition, and all retailers need to make sure that in this unprecedented year they really deliver against that measure and take full benefit of the opportunity.
  • Posted on: 11/24/2020

    Target CEO points to one-stop shopping as key to chain’s success

    Are the Targets and Walmarts of this world taking over what used to be the domain of the department store? It is interesting that at a time when department stores are finding it more difficult to find a space in customers’ hearts and more importantly shopping wallet, the hypermarkets selling food, apparel, household goods, etc. are doing particularly well. Clearly, food is the driver that brings in the customers who are then shopping for other items as they try to reduce the number of stores they visit. But why have the departments stores, many of which have food departments, not managed to replicate this success? Have they missed the "value" message that customers are looking for in these hard times or is it that Target and Walmart have made it easy to shop along with good online shopping as well? The older department store sites are typically older building on many floors and are not so easy to shop but that cannot explain the difference in performance. They just have the mix of merchandise and offering wrong.
  • Posted on: 11/23/2020

    Big chains are raising pay and more retailers are likely to follow

    During the COVID-19 pandemic retailers have seen how important store staff are to their operations. They have also seen the difficulty of high staff turnover in tough times. It makes sense to invest in your staff and keep the best as it will pay off big time in the long run. What you do need to do is to make sure you are getting the best out of the staff, make sure their performance is good and they are effectively scheduled to serve customers, and then you can identify the keepers from the rest. This is not news but retailers have gotten away with low pay for a long time and it has not been critical. Recent events have changed that and the realization is that cheap labor is not really cost effective.
  • Posted on: 11/19/2020

    Can retailers get store brand growth back on track during the pandemic?

    During the early part of the pandemic, focus was on getting stock and keeping shelves full. In many cases the national brands were better geared up to managing availability because that’s their sole focus and store brands lost out. However as retailers get back in control and are better able to plan and work with suppliers store brands will not suffer in the same way, they will get trial and if they are good quality at the right price will gain acceptance by the customers. Retailers do have the power to influence online sales on their own sites and it is in their interest to push store brands from a profitability perspective but more from a loyalty point of view. Retail buyers have to become more like brand managers and really work at the relationship, planning and supply chain management of their own brand items to compete with the national brands. Once they do that then the retailer has all the capability to build the strength of their own brands. Post pandemic this will continue to be a long term shift, especially as more retailers take back control of their online presence.
  • Posted on: 11/18/2020

    Are CPG brands headed for a very merry Christmas?

    During the pandemic people are not eating out or traveling as they were, so naturally the sales of CPG brands and own-label brands of CPG products has risen considerably over this period. It is likely that the trend will continue until the new normal is established. So the question really is, will it continue after that? A percentage of people will not go back to the old ways of traveling abroad or long distances for vacations and there will be more "staycations" and people entertaining at home, but it is unlikely that over a long period of time the eating at home trend will continue at the expense of eating out. It does not need a massive swing for the ongoing sales of CPG products to remain high and this can only be a good thing for the world economy. A shift from travel and international haulage to local manufacturing and short haul transportation is no bad thing from an environmental or economic point of view. Shopping local, staying local and buying local product should be encouraged as there are other industries that have had to lay off people and those jobs are desperately needed.
  • Posted on: 11/16/2020

    Will pop-up e-commerce fulfillment centers help Walmart manage demand?

    This is another great initiative by Walmart. Flexibility is the name of the game in retail supply chains right now. The ability to vary store and home delivery volumes is vital to be able to manage this season. It is an obvious thing to do when stores are seeing lower volumes and online is growing rapidly. But the real advantage here is the learning for the future and the ability to plan and be flexible in your supply chain going forward. Who knows where we are going to be next week never mind in one month’s time when the real seasonal peak is upon us? By using the network of regional distribution centers, they can get closer to the consumer while still utilizing stock in the current network and still have the ability to flex picking volumes at stores. This just provides another level of flexibility for those all-important fastest moving items. The advantage of this approach rather than purpose-built fulfillment sites is the utilization of inventory. You won’t need additional stocking points, forecasts can be rolled up to total site level without increasing safety stock very much and there is less additional administrative overhead. Great work Walmart, you will be in good shape to meet the seasonal peak and learn so much for the future.

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