New Liaisons Not Necessarily Dangerous

Jun 04, 2009

By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire

Finding ways to maximize staff, facilities and technology by sharing them
with competitors may be the new Dangerous Liaisons. According to a report
in The Times, U.K. manufacturers and retailers are looking at creative
ways to use what they have – or what someone else has – to mutual
and cost-effective advantage. Fair, objective contracts can often reduce
some of the expense, stress and chores needed to sustain in-house activities.

As the paper explains, "with mergers off the cards for all but the
most cash-rich companies and the pressing need to make savings, companies
are looking to less permanent liaisons that can bring mutual gain." Andy
Tinlin of Accenture is quoted as saying,"Collaborative ventures are
being seen very much as an alternative to M&A."

Explaining that shared functions such as procurement can provide synergy,
Mr. Tinlin went on to describe "a fundamental shift from doing it all
yourself to focusing on the customer proposition, brand and relationships."

Similarly, Stuart McKee of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) contends, "Every
business has some part on which it could collaborate…with a competitor." Although
there are obvious challenges involved, especially avoiding disclosure of
commercially sensitive information, PwC is so sure of its potential that
it has created "prepack contracts" to cover the legalities for
joint ventures.

One organization actively putting cooperation into practice is the Institute
of Grocery Distribution (IGD) which has been playing matchmaker to retailers
since 2006, specifically in terms of transport and distribution routes. A
series of sponsored events has helped companies swap details of routes and
look for opportunities to share transport. Tarun Patel, head of IGD’s supply
chain division, said they wanted to help reduce wasted time and energy from
vehicles returning empty from their destinations. He cites Tesco and Unilever
as an example, pointing out that they were sending empty trucks in opposite
directions between two specific points. They now share.

Mr. Patel goes on to say that collaboration has enough benefits to outweigh
concerns about secrecy especially when companies realize that they are saving
both money and miles. Environmental savings can provide advantages to business
as well as brownie points with customers.

Discussion questions: Are retailers ready to look at collaboration for
cost-saving or environmental reasons? What areas do you think may be non-competitive
enough for retailers to share resources?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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4 Comments on "New Liaisons Not Necessarily Dangerous"

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Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
12 years 11 months ago

One area where retailers can collaborate without worrying about secrecy is the area of factory audits for social compliance, i.e., for things like child labor, working hours, etc. Most of the retailers’ “Code of Conduct” are pretty much similar. Therefore, instead of every retailer sending in their own auditors, it would pay to send in one auditor and share the audit results. Also, in case a factory is certified by a given retailer, it would be wise for another retailer to accept that certification and not conduct an audit of that factory.

Bruce D. Sanders, Ph.D.
Bruce D. Sanders, Ph.D.
12 years 11 months ago

Key to the success of resource sharing will be retailers becoming more open to looking at each other as having shared objectives, as being teammates as well as competitors. With the wealth of information gathering services, stimulated by the interactive capabilities of Web 2.0, there are progressively fewer trade secrets to be protected by avoiding collaborative arrangements.

However, based on what I’ve seen happen to other information sharing initiatives, my guess is that as the economy improves, retailers will again become more protective, so the resource sharing will decrease.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
12 years 11 months ago
I’m a simple guy who needs visual aids or, at least, a real example or case history to help me understand. Otherwise, premises such as this are about as real as a Mideast Peace Accord. Was this report referring to examples such as the following?: U.S. retailers cooperate with each other, such as working through a trucking intermediary to share delivery and backhaul services. National brand manufacturers that produce DSD products both branded and store-labeled will deliver both to stores on the same truck. Back in Pittsburgh, our chain rented frozen food storage from a competitor. Here in NorCal, competitors Raley’s and Save Mart share a warehouse and several private labels. Perhaps these are the types of collaboration this report suggests. Who knows? Another way to view this concept is vertically rather than horizontally. Why limit collaboration strictly to competitors? How can different categories of retailers collaborate without fear of sharing proprietary secrets? How can a department store chain share services and knowledge with a supermarket chain? If this concept is to go anywhere, broader… Read more »
Mark Lilien
12 years 11 months ago

Retailers who pool their buying via co-ops like Retex already help each other. Retailers who bargain with unions as a united front help each other. Bookstores who lease space to coffee restaurant operators help themselves and the food service folks. Business owners who actively participate in local chambers of commerce and downtown business associations help each other. The smartest retailers refrain from ruinous price competition and ruinous real estate competition.


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