He's done great things at Budgens so can John von Spreckelsen work the same magic at Somerfield, asks Tony Brown Somerfield first encountered John von Spreckelsen in its bid to take over Booker back in September 1998. On that occasion, both Somerfield and Budgens failed in their bids to take over the ailing wholesaler. But von Spreckelsen had made his mark. He had already started to build on his reputation as an astute retailer, gaining experience firstly with German retailer KAFU-Wasmund, before turning his attentions to Budgens in 1991. The nine year reign of German born John von Spreckelsen, aged 57, has transformed the fortunes of Budgens, taking the company from a market capitalisation of £22m in 1991 to £124m today. At last year's managers' meeting, held near the company's HQ at Ascot racecourse, he told a delegation of store managers and head office staff that the company had been through a record year based on a diet of convenience foods, own label brands and a commitment to UK produce. It was not just a one off ­ over the last five years the company has reported double digit sales growth every year. So in appointing von Spreckelsen as full time executive chairman, Somerfield will be hoping for a dose of the same medicine to turn around its sickly fortunes. He will surrender 1.4 million "super options" at Budgens but be amply compensated for his trouble, receiving what is reported to be a £500,000 a year pay package ­ almost double that he received at Budgens ­ and an options package described as "highly incentivised". Mike Godliman, director with Verdict Research, said von Spreckelsen had turned around Budgens by identifying local convenience retailing as a niche market. "Somerfield has stated that neighbourhood is going to be its focus. While the company has its own problems, there is no better man for the job," he said. In many ways his strategy mirrors that of Simons, the man who will forever be tainted with the disastrous £1.4bn takeover of Kwik Save. Simons had already started a strategic review to take Somerfield back to its roots as a neighbourhood retailer alongside the roll out of its internet home shopping service 24-7. It is unclear how von Spreckelsen can change that policy as he is keeping his ideas for the future of Somerfield well under wraps. But it will be a big challenge to resolve the significant operational problems now facing the company and stem falling sales. Unlike Budgens, Somerfield is a national operator being squeezed by bigger rivals with better offers. And what about Kwik Save? Von Spreckelsen has already experienced this end of the market through Budgens' small Freshsave chain. These were discount stores with a strong fresh food element ­ something Kwik Save has been trying to do for years. Freshsave was axed by von Spreckelsen and it's clear he is no fan of discounting. So you can expect the Kwik Save auction to continue, rather than see Somerfield do another strategic U-turn and try to run two different fascias and formats. Von Spreckelsen said he would be conducting a thorough assessment of the Somerfield business before making any statements ­ probably when the company announces its results in July. He will be working with Alan Smith, announced as chief executive last week, who joins from Punch Taverns. "Alan has considerable non food retail experience and we will complement each other well," said von Spreckelsen. Smith replaced David Simons who left with a £460,000 payoff after the Somerfield board lost faith in his ability to turn around the company. Rumours Simons was planning to lead a management buy-in have been quashed. And Somerfield has ended all takeover talks. So with no predators in the wings, the way is clear for von Spreckelsen to make the changes he wants. He said he was looking forward to a successful working relationship with Smith and his new board. The chemistry had better be right. {{NEWS }}