Store managers today feel less independent than five years ago, but believe head office appreciates their understanding of their local market and, on the whole, communicates better with them. However, they would like more control over issues such as pricing, promotions and ranging.

A survey of managers across five multiples, undertaken for The Grocer by Storecheck Marketing, shows 93% of managers believe their role has changed over the past five years. Managers at Sainsbury and Somerfield have seen the most change, with 100% saying their role is different.

One Somerfield manager says: “We used to be hands-on but now it is all about being financial business managers.” A store manager from Tesco believes: “We are more like company directors, more strategic than five years ago.”

Storecheck Marketing interviewed managers picked randomly from the top 700 supermarkets in the UK. A minority 41% feel more independent from head office than five years ago. Sainsbury managers feel the least independent, with only a quarter saying they have more autonomy, followed by Somerfield at 29% and Asda at 33%.

Asda managers overwhelmingly think Wal-Mart’s arrival has brought tighter control and a loss of independence. “We are more process driven. With Wal-Mart in charge a manager’s job is to implement process,” says one, while another agrees: “With Wal-Mart it is more tightly controlled than before.”

At Sainsbury, managers say their role is more exciting and challenging, but that there is much more pressure. “Five years ago it was just about selling, but now it is like being a global business manager. You get more involved in finance and HR and are much more accountable.”

Tesco and Safeway managers feel most strongly that they are more independent from head office. According to one Safeway manager: “More decisions are made at store level, and we are encouraged to be independent.”

However, those who have been at the chain for longer disagree. As one says: “Five years ago head office was very dogmatic, then we had more freedom, but now it is dogmatic again.”

Top marks go to Tesco, with more than two-thirds of its store managers feeling more independent. “Head office is more supportive than it was and the business has changed from being office-led to being led by the store. It is more regionalised than five years ago,” says one. “Before, managers led things personally, but now it is more balanced,” says another. “There’s a better balance and relationship between staff, customers and the financial side of the business.”

But, again, those managers who have been in retail for longer are more jaded. As one explains: “Twenty years ago managers had total autonomy, but this has been reduced due to the corporate image. The workload is greater and there are more markets involved, such as”

Another adds: “There is less independence. The business is more corporate and international.”

Nearly two-thirds of managers are content with head office consultation on issues relevant to their store. Tesco is top again, with more than 80% expressing this view and one praising communication as “fantastic”. Sainsbury and Somerfield managers are the most negative.

Nearly 70% of managers across the chains believe their understanding of their local market is appreciated. Asda managers agree most, at nearly 92%, while Tesco also scores well. Sainsbury managers think the company has improved while those at Safeway and Somerfield think their knowledge is appreciated but that head office does not exploit it to its full potential.

Half of all managers want more control over pricing, promotions and ranging, with the latter the most popular. At 75%, more Safeway managers want control than in any other company, while 62% of Sainsbury managers and 57% of Somerfield want more input in those areas. Tesco managers feel the least need, with only 12.5% saying yes to the question, while Asda’s proportion is 42%. One Sainsbury manager says: “There’s no time for more control. A manager’s role is serving customers.”

The issue on which most managers agree is price flexibility in their stores. Less than a quarter are positive, with only Safeway managers believing they could usefully use time-related pricing to any real extent.Nearly two-thirds saw possibilities here, with food to go at key meal times seen as the most likely place where it would work.

Elsewhere, managers thought that changing prices throughout the day would annoy customers. “Customers would react badly, they are clued up,” says one Somerfield manager, while at Asda the responses include “Yo-yo pricing is wrong”.

Sainsbury managers make up the biggest opposition to the idea, with only 6% in support. “It would be unfair and may prioritise certain groups over others,” said one.

Overall Tesco and Asda managers appear most supportive of the way their role has changed. “All managers are aware their jobs have changed in the last five years. Face to face they will say that this change has been dramatic,” says Storecheck Marketing MD Colin Harper.

“We believe the core to successful retailing in the future is understanding manager issues.”