Wednesday 3 May 2006

The Tesco Empire: Roman or Soviet?

I spent May Day plotting the downfall of international labour and devising a foolproof scheme to become a multi-millionaire. Ideally one that would command a bit more public support than my last brilliant plan to open a whisky distillery in Coquetdale.

I wanted something that would strike a chord in the new green age of Dave the chameleon. So a fresh, natural product was a must. Totally recyclable packaging, naturally. Serving customers in their own homes, like the Internet, and using a totally environmentally friendly delivery system.

I was so excited as it all came together that I even missed Coronation Street. The only snag being that, at the end of a hard day of intellectual ferment, I realised I had invented the electric milk float. One of the many theoretically great ideas already killed off by the ruthless onslaught of our caring, sharing supermarket giants.

In my time I’ve written quite a few press releases about all the jobs created by expanding retail chains. We hear less about all the ones lost as milkmen, village shops, butchers and greengrocers fall by the wayside. My sympathy for them is limited by the fact that, for a nation of shopkeepers, we never seemed to be particularly keen on the bit that involved actually being open at convenient times, or providing products and services people wanted to buy.

I do try to support independent retailers whenever I can, and am fortunate to live within reach of two market towns too small to have attracted the attention of one of the supermarket giants. Yet. But the fact that they are already back on the urban high streets they once deserted, peddling their new convenience formats, suggests that it can only be a matter of time.

I find great consolation in the thought that all empires fall eventually. True, it took Rome a thousand years from the first barbarian invasions to the Turkish capture of Constantinople. But the Incas and the Soviets collapsed like packs of cards in no time at all. The question we need to ask is whether Tesco is more in the Roman or the Soviet mould.

It was certainly a Roman triumph that came to mind the other day as I listened to Sir Terry (‘Land bank? What land bank?’) Leahy commenting on his latest excellent results. I just hoped he had remembered to position the traditional slave behind him in his chariot, whispering in his ear ‘Remember, you are only mortal.’

Keith Hann is a PR consultant whose hopes of fame and fortune rest entirely on the National Lottery.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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