Safeway struggles with a wonky trolley

One of the most oft-written company comments in the late 1980s was how fortunate it was for Argyll Group that it had been cheated by Guinness out of the Distillers bid prize because if it had succeeded it would not have gone on to acquire Safeway. At the time Safeway seemed an inspired acquisition. Today things do not look quite so rosy and indeed they may never have been as good as they were painted. Ever since Argyll acquired the supermarket chain in 1987, the group has been in catch-up mode. While rivals Tesco and Sainsbury raced down the supermarket aisle of progress, Safeway was left looking like a frustrated housewife with a wonky trolley.

It would be unfair to characterise Argyll as the sort of company that sits on its hands and watches the world go by. This is far from the case. Safeway's original portfolio has been supplemented by 150 larger, swanky edge of town superstores. Older underperformers have been weeded out and viable outlets extended and modernised. Even so, it is plain that the company still faces a legion of problems. Now there is to be a Herculean effort to close the gap. Most of the ideas that lie behind its Safeway 2000 campaign are copied from rivals. It is also undoubtedly the case that management should have acted sooner. Furthermore, the initiative hardly compares in boldness and scope with Operation Checkout, Tesco's hugely successful campaign to transform itself away from the pile 'em high sell 'em cheap philosophy of the past. Nonetheless, it is something, and judging by the share price reaction, the City is grateful.

The draconian job cuts will address the criticism that Safeway stores have too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Seven or eight management jobs will disappear from every store. Out go the department managers and many supervisors. Again Sainsbury and Tesco have already done this but Safeway could not have acted sooner because it did not have the technology in place. Safeway is also beefing up its non-food lines, extending the range of magazines, videos and CDs on offer while matching the discounters on grocery lines with its Savers range. Newer ideas such as creches, dry cleaners and photo processing labs are being extended.Much more needs to be done, however. Safeway's sales per square foot compare poorly with its two main competitors. Even if it reaches the pounds 15 a square foot targeted in three years' time, it will still be well behind Sainsbury's at pounds 20 and Tesco's at pounds 17.

Just to keep up Safeway needs to run very hard indeed. Sainsbury and Tesco are bigger, richer and have a portfolio of out of town stores Safeway will never match under current planning restrictions. Argyll may have to resign itself permanently to the position of poor relation.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

Recruitment Genius: Annuities / Pensions Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...

Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

£18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss