Morrisons ‘must go back to basics’

TROUBLED supermarket chain Morrisons must find a leader who understands “basic shop-keeping” if it is to win back disillusioned customers, according to one of the company’s former directors.

Roger Owen, who is a former aide to Sir Ken Morrison, said Morrisons needed a dynamic trader who knew how to fill the shelves, after a period in which the Bradford-based group has lost ground to German discounters.

Mr Owen made the comments as speculation grows that incoming chairman Andy Higginson is drawing up a list of possible replacements for current chief executive Dalton Philips, who has presided over a period of falling sales, which has left the group sliding towards the exit of the FTSE 100. The group issued a huge profit warning in March, compounding share price falls that have seen the stock lose a quarter of its value this year. A report in a Sunday newspaper said that Ian McLeod, the former CEO of Halfords, is “close to the top of the list” being compiled by Mr Higginson of possible replacements for Mr Philips. The report also claimed that other possible candidates for the CEO role at Morrisons include John Browett, a former Tesco director who is now the boss of the fashion chain Monsoon. Yesterday, a Morrisons spokesman declined to comment on this report.

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Mr Higginson joins the board on October 1 as non-executive deputy chairman and will become chairman after Sir Ian Gibson retires in 2015.

The Lancastrian brings some heavyweight retail experience to the role, having served as an executive director at Tesco for 15 years.

Yesterday, Mr Owen said: “Higginson will have done his analysis and be in a position to make his decisions. If he is, then good on him.”

Former property director Mr Owen, who has previously compared Morrisons to a “supertanker heading towards an iceberg”, said that Mr McLeod had a good reputation. Mr Owen added: “Whoever takes on the job, there is plenty of ability still in the company. They have been ignored in favour of people who don’t know the Morrisons’ business. The facts are irrefutable. The trap door is open for a FTSE exit.”

Mr Owen said Morrisons needed to look at its head office overheads, and he also criticised steps to cut store staff, particularly those who were responsible for stacking shelves in time for early morning customers.

He added: “People will come back to Morrisons if they get it right. There is enormous affection for Morrisons. In the last four years, Morrisons should have banged forward, and they’ve failed.”

A Morrisons spokesman referred the Yorkshire Post to the retailer’s earlier response to Mr Owen’s comments, in which it said: “Judging modern retailing through the lens of the past is never very enlightening. These are unhelpful and unwelcome comments reflecting a different era in retailing. He might be better served taking more of a thoughtful view of his role as a director of a board that left Morrisons, uniquely among the big grocers, with no online and no convenience offer.”

In June, Morrisons launched an extensive price slashing campaign in a bid to steer the company back to success after a period when it had struggled to cope with the threat from discount retailers. At the time, chief executive, Dalton Philips said: “We are making a real difference to the cost of the weekly family shop by reducing prices on products that our customers use regularly. These are permanent price cuts, not promotions, and they won’t be the last.”

Morrisons is also looking to its M local convenience stores to help it recover.

The grocer also belatedly began rolling out an online operation earlier this year.