Supermarkets’ love affair with the customer ended long ago
As Superquinn moved closer to vanishing from the map last week, the supermarket wars moved up a notch
“Feargal Quinn was the housewives’ choice. Every Valentine’s Day he stood at the checkout with a red rose and a kiss for each female customer.” Photograph: Alan Betson
The last proprietor but one of the Superquinn supermarket chain, Feargal Quinn, wrote a book, Crowning the Customer. It was published by O’Brien Press in 1990. The copy I managed to get hold of has been taken out of the public library recently, read many times, and has lots of underlinings and marks in its margins.
It is a highly readable, well-organised book that does not take itself too seriously. Its first chapter is called “How a small (165cm) grocer got to write a book”. In its optimism, focus on customer service and sheer verve, the book reads like something from another galaxy. For example, chapter eight is called “How (and why) to create more complaints”. Then there’s a seven-point list of what to do if a customer complains: “Express regret quickly. Trust the customer. Never, never put the customer in the wrong,” and so forth. At which point any Irish customer is entitled to ask: What the heck happened?
As Superquinn moved closer to vanishing from the map last week, the supermarket wars moved up a notch. So there has been much analysis and a lot of justified criti- cism of the supermarket sector. There’s a sort of collective shrug about Superquinn being subsumed by SuperValu. But Superquinn, SuperValu – there’s all the difference in the world. Not now, obviously.
Not now that Superquinn’s two dozen supermarkets are being swept into the SuperValu trolley once and for all. Not now that the staff in Superquinn turned white-faced last Tuesday as the news broke (along with word of the closure and job losses at four Marks & Spencer stores). And not now that more time was spent talking about the fate of Superquinn’s sausages – which have always been a bit pale-looking, in my humble opinion – than talking about the fate of the 102 support staff at the Superquinn offices in Lucan, many of whom could lose their jobs.
The sausages are fine, by the way. On Friday they were wearing a defiant sticker on each pack of 12, which declared, a little flabbily, “I’m here to stay”.
Not now that Superquinn sales have fallen by 22 per cent in the past decade.
But then. Back then. Feargal Quinn was the housewives’ choice. Every Valentine’s Day he stood at the checkout with a red rose and a kiss for each female customer. “It was a bit much,” said a female customer close to The Irish Times.
She refused to be kissed, allegedly.
This is all before Quinn was chairman of An Post and insisted on stamp machines. Became a senator. Began advising other business people on that TV show Retail Therapy. And sold Superquinn to Select Retail Holdings for €429 million in 2005.