Former head of TESCO says high street death is “progress”

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Sir Terry Leahy, the former CEO of TESCO, basically is for the high street of small independent shops to decline and die and he says that this death is “progress”.

This attitude of TESCO does not surprise me at all. It is also this person's desire to have, in line with this “progress”, to have a large supermarket, ideally in his view a TESCO, on every high street and especially more large out of town super- and hyper-stores.

After the debacle with the horse meat in hamburgers I do not think that we need more supermarkets of the TESCO kind on the high street. What we need are reputable small retailers once again, like what the high street used to be made up of.

We need to, once again have the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, and, obviously, the grocer and general store on the high street, and less of the large supermarkets of the TESCO kind and also less restaurants, bars, clubs and such like.

The only way to revitalize the high street is to get those business that really would provide a (local) service to customers and who also are prepared, and this is down to the proprietors, to go out of their way to get the customer what they want.

Our high streets once were full of those shops whose proprietors would go out of their way to get the customer what he wanted, even if that meant ordering something in especially for that customer. The reply often was “we haven't got it in stock but we can get it for you”.

It is true that today the Internet also has a lot to answer for but then again it was the store owners who were no longer prepared to get people what they were asking for and with the Internet the world is, to a degree, the customer's oyster and almost anything can be ordered on-line to be delivered by mail or courier.

Mail-order companies have been around, however, ever since about the middle of the 19th century and the Internet is, basically, just the modern version of it. Instead of receiving catalogs by mail and then ordering by mail, sending in a check or postal order, today we order and pay online and they send it by mail or other carrier.

However, and that despite being able to even order our groceries from the large supermarkets on-line, we still want the high street grocer and butcher and baker and the rest, for sure. And even more so if those stores offer the right kind of service.

Service often is the answer to many of the problems of the high street and high street stores. Too many shops are not prepared to give the customer the service he or she would like and deserve.

Any store prepared to go the extra mile for customers will always have patrons as word of mouth is one of the best advertising mediums. This also, obviously, applies the other way round in that a shop where owner and staff are not prepared to engage the customer will lose out, and that may be, to a great degree, the reason for the death of the high street.

Personally I have to admit that I do some of my shopping at supermarkets but not at the particular one of which Sir Terry was once CEO. The ones that I use have great staff which are always friendly and will look for something that one cannot find. Unlike staff I have encountered in the stores of the company he used to head.

However, I prefer to buy my fruit and vegetables at a high street greengrocers and also rather go to the local hardware stores than to the big DIY chains. The latter often as the high street store is closer than the DIY chains' stores and while the latter might be cheaper the high street hardware store – especially one – the owner will go out of his way to obtain things I am looking for if he has not got them in stock.

There have been suggestions, coming back to the fiasco at TESCO with the horse meat in beefburgers, that the company was well aware why the things were so cheap. Namely that almost a third of the meat contents was not beef but horse meat.

Instead of more supermarkets like TESCO we need fewer of them and we need affordable rates for high street retail units so that the shops can and will return to our high streets and town centers.

© 2013