THE first time I saw the misting of produce at Morrisons, there was undeniably a wow factor.
Rows and rows of fresh fruit and vegetables stretched before me at the grocer’s concept store in Kirkstall, Leeds.
It was a visual feast of multi-coloured splendour. Or something.
I wandered forth into this retail cornucopia and reached out to pick up an apple.
Unfortunately, it was rotten.
And that sadly was my first impression of the new Morrisons under Dalton Philips, the retail whizz-kid who promised so much but ended up delivering so little, in spite of some very big spending. He paid the price for his profligacy at the start of the year.
His successor, David Potts, started in his role last Monday and wasted little time with some simple, but significant, improvements.
First up, communication. In a message on the group’s Facebook page, Mr Potts introduced himself to staff and customers on the first day of his new job.
Tellingly, he chose to wore a short-sleeved shirt, an echo of the trademark attire of Sir Ken Morrison, signalling perhaps that he too is a dyed-in-the-wool retailer in the pattern of the former chairman.
The video message was short and not at all slick or polished; Mr Potts simply invited comments on what people liked or disliked about Morrisons and promised to listen as hard he could. He won’t be short of suggestions. Morrisons is like the Yorkshire version of Marks & Spencer. Everyone has a view on it. That’s a reflection of the esteem with which the company is held and also helps explain some of the antipathy directed at the past management when things started to head south.
Next up, Mr Potts explained to 2,000 head office staff that he would be working in a store over Easter week and that he wanted them to help the supermarkets for at least one week each year.
This is part of a new initiative, he said. It is called “Team Work”. Again, this is hardly rocket science but every great business is built on it.
Yesterday, Morrisons announced it would be making changes at the check out, with the scrapping of a computer system called Intelligent Queue Management - bound to be anything but with a name like that - and the end of “Scan Rate”, a tyrannical tool that measures the performance of checkout staff by calculating how many products they scan per minute.
The Intelligent Queue Management system used infrared sensors to determine how many customers are flowing through stores. Now checkout teams will be asked to use their eyes and experience to meet their customers’ needs.
And instead of scan rate, staff will be mainly measured on their level of personal service and teamwork, according to the firm.
These are examples where emphasis and initiative is being wrested from machines and returned to humans. Inspiring, both, and based on feedback from staff, apparently liberated in the new regime.
Mr Potts said: “We intend to be an organisation that listens very hard to its customers and staff and, wherever possible, responds quickly.
“Our colleagues in our stores are best placed to use their experience and personal judgement in deciding how best to serve their customers, keeping queues low at the checkouts and improving the customer’s shopping trip.”
Mr Potts has invested £1m in Morrisons shares, so he has a financial stake in the success of the business, as well as a reputational one.
Andy Higginson, the new chairman, has already overseen some big decisions, not least the sacking of Mr Philips, but also an end to the lunatic misting of fresh produce.
Further, Morrisons advertising campaigns will no longer feature Ant and Dec, the Geordie duo once described to me by former director Roger Owen as “regionally accented nobodies”.
There is hope yet.