TWO hundred Co-op stores from the Isle of Wight to the Scottish Highlands are being targeted by rivals Somerfield in an aggressive retailing exercise branded "sad and disgusting" by a senior Co-op Movement executive.
A "strictly confidential" Somerfield managers' document entitled ?Co-op Flock Off' which features a cartoon image of the Co-operative Group's ?Colin the Sheep' being hanged on a gallows on the front cover has been obtained by the News.
The 12-page A4 format briefing paper – which is complemented by a four-page list of those Somerfield stores involved in the campaign – urges the 200 store managers circulated to treat their local Co-op stores like "lambs to the slaughter" and offers a bonus of up to £ 5,000 "if you close your local Co-op."
The briefing carries a warning to managers – "this document should remain in your store" – and includes details on how personnel should infiltratre and ingratiate themselves with nearby Co-op staff; offers a £ 500 bonus to anyone who can "introduce" a Co-op employee and urges Somerfield workers to help close, or "at least make life very difficult for your local Co-op."
One leading Co-op executive told the News: "This is a sad and pretty disgusting way to go about business and is a good sign that Somerfield are losing market share. Competition is one thing, but this briefing paper goes way beyond the bounds of acceptability.
"It really smacks of desperation by Somerfield, but underlines again how intense competition is in food retailing these days."
The document admits in its background material: "Recent analysis has shown that the Co-op are taking market share from Somerfield. Our latest Brand Image Monitor shows Somerfield underperforming against the Co-op in terms of overall range, cleanliness, store layout and checkout queues. However Somefield performs better on overall quality, price, value and offer measures.
"This provides us with a massive opportunity to target aggressively and pull back market share from the Co-op."
The paper says 200 Somerfield stores have been selected for the campaign because of the close proximity of one or more Co-op stores. Other criteria include Co-op square footage and market share and the Somerfield store staff's perceived local knowledge of potential opportunities.
Somerfield employees are encouraged to know about Co-op range, store turnover, waste, shrinkage, the ten ?price promises', their local Co-op's additional services as well as early morning and late night opportunities…and the first names of "a minimum of ten Co-op staff."
Under the headings "Shearing the Sheep" and "Engaging your store team" Somerfield managers and their deputies are told to "walk the Co-op as if it was your own store," check standards to highlight any opportunities; acquire all relevant literature and "strike up a rapport with Co-op management and staff."
The briefing lists various marketing initiatives in support of the campaign against Co-op stores including point of sale material using the phrases "Cheaper than your nearest Co-op" and "Easier, Friendlier, Fresher and FASTER."
As well as the so-called Colleague Incentives – £ 500 bonus to introduce a Co-op member of staff ("terms & conditions apply") and the £ 5,000 manager's bonus if you close your local Co-op ("measures apply") – the document suggests placing "Shearing the Sheep" posters in staff areas.
According to the document, the success or otherwise of the strategy will be determined by the following criteria: sales increases; market share; customer exit scores; physical changes to nearby Co-ops; saver card registrations; home delivery increases; staff recruitment; local feedback and "Co-op Closure!"
The final page – featuring another image of Colin the Sheep on the gallows – sums up the tone and thrust of the document succinctly: "So let's ?herd' these customers back into our ?flock' and make the Co-op's life ?shear' hell. We should treat our local Co-op like ?lambs to the slaughter' and let's have the ?best end' possible and…'Silence the Lambs.'
The separate four-page paper obtained by the News lists the 200 Somerfield outlets throughout England, Scotland and Wales participating in the campaign; gives their store number and shows the distance of the nearest Co-op together with details of the Co-op's market share and sales areas.
According to the list, stores operated by a large number of retail societies are being targeted by Somerfield and details will be supplied on request to any bona fide co-op which contacts the News.