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: 08/03/2020

    How is Tractor Supply acing the pandemic?

    Tractor Supply has shown that retailers can survive and prosper in today’s world, not be starstruck by Amazon and perform both online and in-store. Yes, it has helped that they are in a sector that will benefit from people being at home with more leisure time during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown but it is way more than that. Tractor Supply has been agile in the way they have developed, created lots of different opportunities for the consumer to shop with them and most importantly provided a real experience that shoppers can enjoy. It has not gone into its shell given the stiff competition from pure online retail but caught the wave and made the whole customer experience a comprehensive one that customers appreciate. Lots of other retailers could do well to look closely at what they have achieved and how -- instead of simply saying that they cannot fight the move to online, Amazon and COVID-19 all at the same time.
  • Posted on: 07/23/2020

    Is there a path to profitable grocery delivery?

    It is true that breaking down data silos will help enormously in driving grocers forward and enabling them to become more efficient. However, they also need to break down operational silos too. There is immense value in using the vast amount of data in a retail operation to improve supply chain flows, inventory management and operational management but unless the operational departments are also working closely together, the data flow is of significantly less value. Inventory management does not need to have real-time data to make it efficient, provided that they have good quality data forecasts can be very accurate and the supply chain plan very efficient and effective. There are very few items even in a grocery store that sells more than what is on the shelf in one day, using good forecasting and integrated supply chain and space and assortment solutions can ensure that inventory is optimized and customer service level or availability optimized at the point of sale. Again this is about integrating the operations and the software solutions. Real-time data can certainly help in staffing and operational management, getting the right people to the right place to do a job. However, the use of a good forecast can also help plan this. Too often, retailers say “they cannot get real-time data and therefore do not do anything.” This is very dangerous and whilst striving for real time is a great target, retailers can do so much in the interim by using modern solutions, where AI is a very valuable asset but not in isolation, to improve their supply chain, inventory and operational efficiency. Getting the operational silos and solutions working together now is the imperative.
  • Posted on: 07/23/2020

    How can retail advance more women to leadership supply chain roles?

    Retail and particularly the supply chain is an ideal environment for women in business and for women to realize senior positions. Supply chain is all about juggling lots of balls at the same time, looking for the most efficient way of operating and handling large numbers of men and all things women excel at. The problem is that supply chain is often seen as a dirty trucks and sheds industry, where machismo is more important than brains. It starts at the schools and we need to get supply chain professionals out to schools to educate and capture their imagination at a young age and show them that it is not that old traditional image, but a vibrant intellectual challenge of an occupation.
  • Posted on: 07/22/2020

    It is a different year. Walmart is closing on Thanksgiving.

    Walmart always seems to be one step ahead of the competition and leads the pack. This is a very clever move. In one statement they said "we listen to our staff and we are a great place to work." As more and more people come to realize that retail staff are the key to a great performance, happy customers and great customer service, Walmart is putting itself up there as the retailer of choice to work for. They may get away with lots of not so good things, but this effort will be remembered when people are looking at where to work. Getting and retaining good staff in retail has never been easy, too often in the past they have been seen as cannon fodder by the retail owners, not valued and expect zero loyalty. Well you reap what you sow and people are fast realizing that treating retail staff properly can pay back hugely. Congratulations Walmart, first is always best and whilst other will follow, you will be the one remembered for this action.
  • Posted on: 07/20/2020

    Why does it take a crisis for retailers to get innovative?

    It is unfair to say that it has taken the crisis to waken up retailers. Certainly in Europe many retailers were already using BOPIS or Click & Collect as part of their strategy and developing many new ways of fighting back against pure play online retailers. However, I agree that there were also a large number of retailers who seemed to be caught in the headlights of ecommerce and unable to move forward when they should have been looking at all options for meeting changing customer expectations. Will the crisis change that? I doubt it. The good ones will embrace the additional speed of change and prosper, the poor ones will just use it as another excuse for not performing. Retail has always been a dynamic environment where retailers have grown and changed the game. The crisis is likely to bring along more young pretenders with new ideas and exciting offerings that will challenge the market. We’ll just have to wait and see if any of them join the giants of the industry.
  • Posted on: 07/17/2020

    Is retail’s contactless future here now?

    I have not used any cash since March and I’m sure many other people will say the same. Retailers have found it easier and have used the pandemic to force customers to use the "new" technology. It is not new but for many using it on a regular basis has become a habit and that is new. Retailers will welcome this as handling money has always been a cost they could do without. They get their money into the bank faster, there is less cost of cashing up in stores and banking. The only risk now is that fraudsters are likely to target this as a way of creating revenue. It is not as easy as other types of fraud so hopefully it will not be a big problem but it will be a factor to watch out for. Cashless is now safer for everyone, better for retailers and, as people become used to it, easier for the consumer too.
  • Posted on: 07/10/2020

    Retailers need way more fulfillment space to keep up with booming online sales

    While a lot of retail has moved online over the past few months, these are not new sales but rather sales transferred from the stores. So why is there a need for so much more space? A number of retailers will go out of business or need less space so ultimately they should start to even out the space requirement. Some retail space in shopping malls may well be turned over to dark stores and click and collect centers. People say the rents are too high but property owners will start to take whatever they can get for this space as retailers back out. It may not happen at the same time but space will become available. It is a change of use and not new space that is needed.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2020

    What roles will store displays play in retail’s new normal?

    The merchandising of a store has always been of prime importance in maximizing sales in-store, whether that be of items needing clearing or to drive traffic. What is often missed is the need to also be local and feature what is in demand in the local area and not just national plans. Most retailers still use national plans for their stores and leave it to the store staff to adjust for their assortment. With modern technology this is firstly not necessary but also leaves this vitally important aspect of your operation to chance. Store specific plans based on store specific forecasts are now possible. They can then be linked to the supply chain and inventory management plans to ensure that good availability and supply chains that are optimized at all times. When items are displayed off-shelf they do create a buzz and increase sales. These displays need to be managed to build stock beforehand and then the stock wound down towards the end so that you do not get left with too much stock when they go back to the regular display. All this needs planning and managing in one coordinated top to bottom supply chain and merchandising plan driven from the same forecast with inventory flowing through the chain in a timely manner. The capability is there, retailers now need to use it more than ever before.
  • Posted on: 07/07/2020

    Has the pandemic changed shopping behaviors forever?

    It would be very surprising if people had not been affected by their experience over the past three to four months. It would take a great optimist to think that the world will return to normal and they can go about their life in the same way as before. Some of these changes will be small and some may evaporate over time, but changes will remain. From the study, two points stand out for me. People are looking to shop more locally and there is an increased sense of community are closely aligned and could make a difference for the long term. If we then add people wanting to shop where they have a high level of trust this could also play to the same agenda. The old direction of travel that we are one world and movement of people goods and cultures is speeding up has certainly been put on hold, for how long it is difficult to say. The trend will be changed forever and more local sourcing, shopping and loyalty to something you trust is here for the long term. From a pure commercial point of view, many retailers will look to have at least some of their sourcing locally to ensure continuity of supply if this sort of pandemic strikes again. Customers have realized that they are safe in their one community and that consumerism for the sake of it is not necessarily a good thing. Retailers' supply chain will change and marketing departments will understand how important these factors are and if seen as very important will drive the business that way. It may not eventually be a radical shift, but it will certainly not be the same.
  • Posted on: 07/06/2020

    Has COVID-19 exacerbated online return challenges?

    Returns have always been a problem for many online or omnichannel retailers, and with the massive increase in sales online it is obvious that the returns are also going to increase and apply even greater pressure on an already creaking system for many. This will impact some online retailers badly as their customers can more easily change retailers if they do not get good service at purchase and at return. This is one of the additional complexities of online retail. You may not have stores but reverse logistics is a major part of the business and has to be thought through and as efficient as the sales engine. Many get it wrong and will not last long if they do. It is not only the returns process, it is also what you do with the inventory when it is returned. If you are coming to the end of a season this can be a major issue. The cost of working returned goods is high, especially if it then becomes redundant stock.
  • Posted on: 07/01/2020

    How can grocers hold onto their new most valuable customers?

    The longer that people's concerns about COVID-19 continue and they continue to shop online for their groceries the more that behaviors will become entrenched. Grocery retailers do not have to do anything special except manage their inventory well to ensure it is fresh and has good availability, and customers will continue to shop online in greater numbers. However if they fail on availability or freshness those same customers will find alternative competitive retailers and switch to them. Once things settle down and the risk is significantly lower, a percentage will go back to their old behavior of not buying fresh foods online. But for many that fear will have subsided and they will continue with the new normal. It is at this point that grocery retailers will have to start to work harder to keep those customers because the competition will ramp up again as retailers try to regain some of their past shoppers or entice them online or into their stores with special offers and promotions. However, good inventory availability and fresh product always has been, is and will continue to be the main driving force for shoppers' choice of outlet, online or in-store.
  • Posted on: 06/29/2020

    Does Microsoft need stores?

    Given the strength Apple have built with their stores for exceptional service and customer service I feel that Microsoft may be missing the point of having stores. Apple have used their stores to enhance the brand, giving confidence to their customer base and gaining respect from anyone who has even been inside one. This type of connectivity with your customer is very difficult to achieve online.
  • Posted on: 06/26/2020

    Will a smaller Macy’s be a better Macy’s?

    A higher-end retail store cutting staff is not always a good thing. Their customers expect service - that is what makes them different from mass merchants. Similarly, an own-brand strategy can be a high risk for a retailer like Macy's. They have to ensure that whatever they put under that brand is the right quality, style and design. If not, they will further damage the brand. Most shoppers of higher-end department stores are looking for leading brands or very high-quality own label, like Harrods or Selfridges. These are very limited in number and they "represent" the store and brand. The local focus would seem to be a better idea, making them different from the competition and offering their local customers something special, particularly if it is great design and style. This is not easy to achieve but if they have the right merchandising team in place to pull it off then this could be a way forward.
  • Posted on: 06/18/2020

    The pandemic has changed retailing, maybe forever

    Few retailers have so far managed to trade online profitably. It is an unwanted necessity for most retailers - they cannot survive without a strong online business but they are struggling to make a profit out of it. With investment they will be able to improve productivity and manage the online business more efficiently and effectively, but how many retailers will be able to move into profit is questionable. This is partly due to the short order-to-delivery times that are been driven by Amazon and the marketing teams, but it is also due to the additional and high cost of delivering small individual orders to people’s houses. The other aspect of online retailing is that it is certainly not environmentally-friendly, with delivery vehicles filling our neighborhoods using energy and belching out pollution. I know the push to electric vehicles, driverless vehicles, etc. is moving along but it is still a ways away from reality for the bulk of retailers. To say that online retail will double in the next 12 to 18 months may be a stretch. With it will come some very painful decisions for retailers and consumers.
  • Posted on: 06/15/2020

    COVID-19 exposes retail’s supply chain shortcomings

    The retailers that had modern IT solutions helping them to react quickly, forecast better and understand what was happening at a local level were the ones that did best. It is not sufficient to have DC replenishment solutions, as the study suggests visibility throughout the supply chain is so important. If you have the ability to manage the whole supply chain from store right through to supplier, you have the visibility and capability to manage the flow of goods where it is most necessary and effective. Too often retailers have supply chains with separate systems for central replenishment and store replenishment which does not provide the visibility and flexibility required. A retailer needs maximum flexibility in these situations, certainly multiple supply points and suppliers is part of a strategy and I am sure we will see much more of this going forward. However, the main problem is still that too many retailers have not invested in modern solutions and rely on dated software that is not fit for purpose.

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