Availability is something of an obsession. In the 12 months to June 12, 2004, Asda achieved 98.25% in The Grocer’s availability review. However, in the six months to December 18, Asda was only able to reach 96.6% availability, falling short of Morrisons’ 97.5% and Tesco’s 97.4% record. Spindler admits Asda needs to improve: “We are now doing better but we still have a long way to go until I am satisfied. As a shopper, I still get frustrated from time to time when I can’t find the product I want.”
Angela Spindler has been at Asda for less than a decade, but her rise up the management ladder has been so swift that when Tony DeNunzio surprised everyone by announcing he was leaving the top post, her name cropped up more than once. Though Andy Bond took the helm, Spindler is very much second in command. And despite speculation among some analysts that she may follow DeNunzio’s lead, for now she is happy to remain that way, she says in a timely interview with The Grocer on the day of Bond’s appointment.
“I’ve worked really closely with Andy since I joined Asda and know him really well,” she explains. “He’s great to work with and has such energy. I know under Andy we’ll all be focusing on our customers and driving through value and reinforcing our brand’s strength.”
It was the vibrancy of the grocery sector and Asda’s focus on customers that lured Spindler there from Mars in 1997. Described by one analyst as “one of the last intelligent top directors left”, she has spent the last year as trading and marketing director overseeing marketing, Asda brand development, merchandising, central operations and food trading.
Although Asda’s results have lost some shine recently, Spindler insists the retailer is trading strongly. She is particularly pleased Asda has maintained its position as Britain’s cheapest supermarket in The Grocer 33.
She believes that running her own family - she has two teenage children - has helped her deliver on the retailer’s pledge to be the cheapest supermarket. “We have really put the focus back on mums and I have personally developed and sponsored that project,” she says. “It’s absolutely critical to get everything right for our core customers and my job is all about focusing on the customers’ baskets and ensuring we offer the cheapest prices every day. That means we have to invest in price cuts for categories and products important for mums.”
Asda recently cranked the price wars up a gear when it slashed prices by £100m in one weekend. Tesco responded immediately by cutting prices by £67m. Despite DeNunzio’s admission that Asda would have to settle for second place in UK grocery, Spindler is not unduly fazed by the competition. “Tesco is huge, but we don’t worry about what they’re doing and don’t let them distract us. While Tesco talks about matching prices, we talk about lowering them - price is what’s important to our customer and it’s critical to our brand.”
The recent move to introduce an Every Day Low Price Plus strategy should generate extra sales, she says. “We had too many different link saves around the store and that confused customers. Now we have really worked hard to reduce the number of types of offer to give our customers cleaner, simpler prices. The things that really matter are queues, prices, fresh food and availability and we are making progress on all fronts.”
Asda is currently midway through an overhaul of its warehouse management system. It has introduced a “Thursday store day”, whereby Asda House staff are expected to visit their adopted stores to assess availability first hand. And it is also working with suppliers to improve box labelling to prevent mistakes in identification throughout the supply chain.
“It’s no good having great ideas unless you can follow them through,” reasons Spindler. “If it’s complicated, it won’t work because our colleagues on the shop floor have to understand what we’re trying to do so they can deliver the concept to our customers. When I first joined Asda it was great fun but perhaps we were too fast-moving at times. I think we are far better at managing that pace now and there are better systems in place.”
Another project Spindler has personally overseen has been the improvement of quality of own-label chilled food, from the Good for You range to Smart Price. “I take great pride in the work we have done to improve the health of our food. We have taken hundreds of tonnes of salt, fat and sugar out of Asda brand products.”
Spindler frequently visits stores to monitor progress. There’s a lot to be learned from talking to customers and shop floor colleagues, she says. When it comes to her weekly family shop, colleagues in the Halifax, Bradford and Pudsey stores stop her in the aisle to ask her opinion, or more likely to give theirs. This can lengthen the shop quite dramatically but Spindler says: “I will never give up doing the family shop. When I am experiencing what our mums are experiencing I will know what’s working and what’s not.”
The bigger question for Spindler is whether she has reached that point career-wise at Asda. As one analyst puts it bluntly: “She must feel as though the world is everaporating in intelligence around her. Her health agenda is arguably the right strategy executed in the wrong brand. If she’s half smart, she’ll take it elsewhere. Her opportunities are multiple.”
I take great pride in the work to improve the health of our food. We have taken out hundreds of tonnes of salt, fat and sugar
Do you manage to achieve a good work-life balance?
It was much harder when the children were little and they relied on their mum. When I arrived home after a hard day at work I would have one round each leg begging me to read them a book, but now when I come home I can’t find them and it feels that they don’t have time for me.
I like to keep fit by walking my two dogs. I’ll take them out two or three times during the week and then go for longer walks at the weekend. I also play the guitar but I do it very, very badly.
I also still enjoy doing the family shop but it can take me quite a while to get through the store because everyone knows me. It can get a bit embarrassing at the checkouts - like the time I was taking up a good Champagne offer and had six bottles in my trolley.
1983: I began my career on the graduate programme for Cadbury Schweppes. I moved through the sales organisation and at the time of the Coca-Cola Schweppes merger was appointed national account manager for fast food.
1988: I left the business to join Pedigree Petfoods, part of Mars, where I spent the next eight years in a variety of functions: sales, marketing and HR, with the last three years spent as trading director for the grocery multiples.
1997: I joined Asda as business unit director for chilled foods, and after 18 months for meat and produce. I became deputy trading director in 1998 and joined Asda’s management board. I added responsibility for supplier strategy, value engineering and pricing to my business unit responsibilities. After the acquisition of Asda by Wal-Mart, I became food trading director, heading all of the food business units. In 2001, I moved to retail development director and was subsequently appointed to Asda’s executive board where I was responsible for property acquisition and planning, store development and design, plus e-commerce. In May 2004 I became trading and marketing director.