It may seem like a forced analogy but there's a lot to be learnt from one of nature's perfect organisations - the pride. Lions are ruthless, organised, work as a team and are willing to take risks - and so should you be.
That was the message delivered to young managers in the food and drink industry who attended last week's IGD Leading Edge forum at the Hotel Russell in
There was plenty of practical advice on offer at the event (see boxout). But keynote speaker Ian Thomas, a South African who spent 20 years watching lions in the wild before turning to the more sedate world of business speaking, used the lion metaphor to paint a brutal picture of an increasingly global retail industry fighting over tighter resources and leaner profit margins.
Hunting for market share was going to get a lot tougher because of growing global demand for food from the emerging economies, hand in hand with the biofuels industry pushing up grain prices and rising interest rates, subsequent speakers warned.
Like the lioness pack that approaches a Cape buffalo - a beast "that looks at you like you owe him money"- businesses should develop enough confidence in the team to be willing to take risks, advised Thomas. "With a strong team you can approach high-risk situations with the confidence you're being backed up. In a lot of businesses, if you stick your neck out, people just watch to see what happens to you. But if you surround yourself with strength you can achieve anything."
Other speakers drew further parallels between the way a pride and a successful business operates. The hunt is characterised by a quick, co-ordinated response to the promise of prey. As soon as the target is detected, the pack moves swiftly and as one.
"We need to improve our flow of information and implement the decisions we make faster," said Nielsen's retail services senior manager Mike Watkins.
Businesses needed to invest in technology, personnel and business processes to ensure their responses were lightning quick, he said. That meant more analysis and decision-making needed to take place at store level.
Innovation would be key, added James Walton, IGD's chief economist. "In the past, when people talked about innovation in food, we used to think NPD. But we're going to have to show innovation in every area of the industry, from raw materials to retail," he said.
Sixty-four per cent of retail executives thought innovation and differentiation would be the most important issues for retailers in the next five years, according to IGD research presented by senior business analyst Jonathan Gunz.
Speaking especially to international retailers, Gunz emphasised the need to incorporate regional practices in-store, citing the Chinese custom of choosing a live fish that is then killed at the counter. "Pick the right theme, right place, right time to innovate," he advised.
Successful businesses take risks, said Watkins. "The consumer takes risks by trying new products, so we should take risks with what we offer," he said, noting that the four dominant current consumer trends - health, ethics, convenience and premium - would not have been predicted by traditional market research.
The messages hit home with delegates. "Our food products have been affected by rising prices," admitted Liam Cunnah from Unilever's graduate scheme, "so we're feeling the effects", while Jenny Brown, public affairs assistant at the ACS, said: "It made me think about what qualities a team needs to work well."
Now they just have to put the advice into practice. five top tips
Improve stock repositioning: develop, then embrace, new technology to tailor product placement to individual stores. After promotions and price cuts, repositioning your stock is the best way to boost sales.
Adapt to restaurant trends: more people enjoy cooking at home . Quick, easy options that communicate authenticity will be successful, especially if they can be passed off as being made from scratch.
Tailor your offerings for an ageing, wealthy population: accentuate health benefits and cut down on reams of on-pack information in unreadable tiny writing. Tone down colours and make sure products are easy to open, and available in smaller portions.
Increase interaction in-store: make sure you develop a rapport with the consumer. Whole Foods Market and retailtainment in Korean supermarkets engage consumers by making the shopping experience more fun.
Sustainability: don't make premature assumptions. New Zealand lamb producers claim they are more efficient than their British counterparts, offsetting the food miles involved, for instance. Saving rainforests from development sounds noble, but it's important to consider the impact on people's livelihoods.
Source: Leading Edge speakers