As Brits return from their holidays and the new school year begins, supermarkets are expected to launch a fresh wave of price cuts. But a new survey of supermarket store managers, commissioned by The Grocer, suggests more price cuts may not be the best answer to falling sales.

A survey of 170 store managers at the big four has found widespread disenchantment with the increasingly prescriptive plans delivered from central HQs. Over two-fifths (43%) want a greater say in stock allocations and shelf planograms to meet demand - and 17% admit they can’t currently make any changes whatsoever, according to the survey, which was conducted by Core2Store last month.

Store managers from Asda and Morrisons appeared the most frustrated, with 53% and 47% saying they would like more power over key trading decisions. “Our promotional space and ability to order extra stock has been removed and we have to stick to the planogram decided centrally,” said one store manager. “I can only sell what is sent to me.”

What power do you have to introduce extra facings to meet demand for promotions in your store, over and above the space allocated by head office?

I can change as much as I need in my store

Asda 13.9%

Morrisons 12.8%

Sainsbury’s 42.4%

Tesco 34.6%

I cannot change anything in my store

Asda 19.4%

Morrisons 29.8%

Sainsbury’s 15.2%

Tesco 9.0%

I would like more central awareness of my store’s issues

Asda 5.6%

Morrisons 0.0%

Sainsbury’s 9.1%

Tesco 9.0%

I would like stock allocations better linked to my needs

Asda 8.3%

Morrisons 10.6%

Sainsbury’s 6.1%

Tesco 6.4%

I would like to change a little more than I am able

Asda 22.2%

Morrisons 23.4%

Sainsbury’s 18.2%

Tesco 29.5%

I would like to change much more than I am able

Asda 30.6%

Morrisons 23.4%

Sainsbury’s 9.1%

Tesco 11.5%

Another described a situation that occurred on the morning the survey took place.

“I put in a manager’s order for 120 cases consisting of four flavours. The stock has arrived and I may have 20 cases of each.”

“Our freedom to locally choose products has been restricted as all lines are chosen corporately,” added another.

It wasn’t just greater power over ranging and stock that store managers wanted. Only 30% felt they had enough staff to manage weekend demand, with 53% claiming they needed more staff to meet demand. Of these 25% said they needed “a lot more labour”, a figure that rose to 34% and 29% among Morrisons and Asda store managers respectively.

In addition 10% would like better stock allocations, including 13.2% of Morrisons store managers, while 4% wanted a smaller range, including 12% of Sainsbury’s store managers. Conversely, none of the 69 Tesco store managers felt smaller ranges were a priority.

Store managers also felt frustrated by their inability to stock more local products and to influence HQ over products not currently ranged in their stores. Only 15% could add as many local products at their store as they needed, while 14% had no ability whatsoever. More than a third (36%) wanted a greater say.

Tesco store managers were the most empowered. Just 3% said they had no ability to influence ranging decisions and 28% could add as many local lines as they wanted. “The fact that Tesco have retained their Local Choice initiative in the face of extensive central reorganisation shows Tesco values the feedback an empowered store manager can bring,” said Colin Harper, MD of Core2Store.

“Managers could represent the best defence against discounting given a more flexible approach in store.

“When all retailers offer similar prices, key to increased footfall and customer retention is local choice, requiring flexed space and improved availability. The only way to achieve this is via store managers, who could offer a route back to profit - if they get an audience.”

One trading director said he was not surprised by the results. “Creating the right balance, empowering store managers to provide a bit of flair and feedback, is really important. Some of the retailers have swung the balance completely.

“The worst feeling as a store manager is that you’re implementing from on high and the only thing you take ownership of is cleanliness and service. The best retailers allow their store managers to have some skin in the game. If you’re not prepared to listen, you’ll end up with a one-dimensional, boring offer. Worse still you’ll lose out on sales.”