Blackfriar: From out of Morrisons’ mist comes a breath of fresh air

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WORD reaches Blackfriar that staff morale at Morrisons is at a new high following the appointment of David Potts.

New boss Mr Potts and former chief executive Sir Ken Morrison have been spotted doing store tours together, chatting to customers and colleagues to get the low-down on where the Bradford-based supermarket went so wrong.

Staff are saying that it comes as a breath of fresh air that Mr Potts is listening to them and values their opinions.

On a recent tour, Mr Potts accompanied a mum who has stopped shopping with Morrisons. She told him that she’d given up on the chain as the prices were too complicated and she didn’t trust she was getting a good deal while she found it too hard to navigate her way round the store.

The fact that ex-Tesco executive Mr Potts has managed to coax Sir Ken along on his visits says volumes.

Mr ​Potts has ​been quick to make changes, axing the majority of the management team he inherited a week after joining and these are moves that have won Sir Ken’s approval.

There was little love lost between former chief executive Dalton Philips and Sir Ken, who famously described the former’s strategy as “bull****”.

He told shareholders at the group’s AGM last year: “When I left work and started working as a hobby, I chose to raise cattle. I have something like 1,000 bullocks and, having listened to your presentation, Dalton, you’ve got a lot more bull**** than me.”

In stark contrast, Mr Potts has announced plans to cut head office staff by 720 while adding 5,000 shop floor staff to improve customer service.

​He has also made himself popular with customers by bringing back​ staffed express checkouts, getting rid of the computerised queue management system and quietly removing the controversial misting machines, which were seen as a sign of just how profligate the previous management team had become.​

​Mr Potts said that the drive to “rediscover Morrisons’ identity” has been welcomed by Sir Ken.

“I am especially fortunate to still be able to call on the wisdom and experience of man with such stature in the industry,” said Mr Potts.

He told reporters at the group’s first quarter sales conference last week that customers “hold the keys to the kingdom” when it comes to deciding what direction the embattled group should take following a further fall in sales.

​Mr Potts has visited over 90 stores in the eight weeks since he joined and says he will be guided by what customers and colleagues say the supermarket chain should be doing.

“I honestly believe if we listen very hard to customers and our own colleagues we won’t go far wrong,” he said.

​“They already hold the keys to the kingdom.”

The group announced a 2.9 per cent fall in like-for-like sales​​ in the 13 weeks to May 3​ against very weak comparatives which shows how far it has to go.

Yet the signs are that it is moving in the right direction – colleagues certainly seem to think so.

Over at Mr Potts’ old stomping ground Tesco, new boss Dave Lewis appears to be facing up uphill battle.

According to Espirito Santo’s latest SpendTrend survey, 38 per cent of customers have seen some improvement at Tesco in the past six months, which leaves a whopping 62 per cent that haven’t.

The research said that the improvement follows better pricing, clearer promotions and more interesting products.

Yet the survey also found that Asda has re-established a 4.4 per cent price gap over Tesco, leaving Tesco as the most expensive of the big four grocers in the past month, according to The Grocer.

This is dangerous territory for Tesco. The survey showed that mid-market player Sainsbury’s has been cheaper than Tesco for each of the past five months, which is not good news at all for Mr Lewis.

It’s a tale of two Daves: Mr Potts is on the up while Mr Lewis faces some tough questions.