When I first heard that a supermarket chain called Asco was being launched, I assumed it was a joke. This is the silly season, after all.
But the directors of Asco are serious (see p5). They want to open 30 supermarkets in the next three years, starting small with an 11,000 sq ft high street site in Warrington but they promise to eventually launch out-of-town supermarkets of up to 60,000 sq ft. Gosh.
You’ve got to admire them. In the middle of a recession when even the likes of Aldi appear to be taking fright at the scale and depth of the competition it takes a lot of guts to launch a c-store, let alone the first independent supermarket chain since the debut of CK’s Supermarkets in 1988 (we don’t count Ocado because it isn’t a chain; since it’s not possible to visit, some argue it’s not even a supermarket).
What chance has Asco got? The safe bet is to dismiss its prospects out of hand. But no doubt sceptics gave CK’s Supermarkets no chance when Chris Kiley launched his mid-Wales chain 21 years ago, and argued that competition, including Kwik Save, Gateway and Somerfield, would prove too fearsome.
So what’s Asco got to offer that’s different, new and exciting? The name will bring some attention, but it’s also intriguing to hear of its promotion plans. Asco will eschew bogof deals, apparently, but is promising round-pound and 99p offers at the same time no-one’s done that before. Then again, no-one has combined the names of the UK’s two leading supermarkets before, so at least it’s using the same logic in both cases.
The only aspect of the business that seems markedly different is Asco’s ranging policies. By stocking a supplier’s entire range it is hoping to buy the products at prices its limited scale wouldn’t normally allow. It’s worth a shot.