Name: Jack Sinclair
Title: Executive vice president, grocery merchandise, Wal-Mart Stores
Biggest challenge: Reshaping the overall shopping experience in the grocery departments of Wal-Mart Stores.
BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Wal-Mart is looking for passion and innovation, and Jack Sinclair is the executive the company thinks can supply it.
“His passion for people, products and customers will bring new perspectives and innovative thinking to our company,” said John Fleming, Wal-Mart's executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, in early January when Sinclair was named executive vice president of grocery merchandising.
Sinclair, 47, declined to talk with SN for this article. Wal-Mart Stores said his job will involve integrating planning, category management and store experience into the overall grocery business unit.
Early in his career, Sinclair worked for Tesco, leading to rampant industry speculation that he was brought to the U.S. to work on a smaller-store concept that can compete with Tesco's small-format Fresh & Easy stores — presumably the Marketside concept Wal-Mart plans to begin testing in Phoenix later this year.
Whether or not that is the case, Sinclair left Tesco more than 17 years ago, working at U.K.-based Safeway plc for 14 years, where he ultimately held the title of group marketing and trading director before leaving in 2004 after a merger with another company left his role murky, United Kingdom sources said.
Since then, Sinclair has been a director of McCurrach UK, a Glasgow, Scotland-based grocery merchandising consultancy. He was also president of Caravan, a U.K.-based grocery industry charity, in 2003 and 2004.
Sinclair's biggest challenge “is to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the [falling] economy,” according to David Rogers, principal at DSR Marketing Systems, Deerfield, Ill. “This is Wal-Mart's golden chance to get back to its glory days, after two years of drift, by reinforcing its price image and bringing increased discipline to store operations.
“Margins have been allowed to float up, and store operations and conditions have eroded amid all this silliness about chasing sushi customers.
“Sinclair's hiring is a reflection of the new/old direction Wal-Mart wants to go in. It's lost [track of] the plot, and the combination of a declining economy, an increasing rate of inflation and consumers under pressure is providing Wal-Mart with an opportunity to revive itself.”
The grocery portion of Wal-Mart “is probably among the healthiest parts of its business, if not the healthiest, and it's still growing at a healthy clip — 7% to 9% a year,” said Jim Hertel, managing partner at Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill.
“So, I would guess Sinclair is being brought in to work on format innovation,” he said. “While Wal-Mart's larger stores have generally been successful, its record with smaller formats, like Neighborhood Markets, is less rosy, with those stores being less accretive to the bottom line, and with the company opening fewer stores each year than it anticipated opening at the beginning of each year.
“So, part of Sinclair's job may be to take the Marketside format that was developed before he got there and mold it, shape it and fine-tune it.”
Art Turock, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consultant, said Sinclair is likely to be involved in helping Wal-Mart develop other types of alternative formats, possibly including a health-oriented format, with Wal-Mart testing concepts in its larger stores for possible spinoffs to smaller freestanding sites.
One challenge Sinclair may have to help Wal-Mart deal with is tougher competition from traditional supermarket operators, Turock said. “Kroger is a better retailer than it was five years ago because of customer research data; Safeway's lifestyle stores have made that company more successful; and the regional chains like Publix, H-E-B and the various Delhaize operations have been able to hold off Wal-Mart.
“All have withstood the spread of Wal-Mart through better customization of their offerings, and that's making it tough for Wal-Mart to broaden its base.”
Turock said one way for Sinclair to help Wal-Mart attract new customers could be to go after higher-income consumers looking for bargains. “There's a broad trend toward premiumization in several grocery categories, and the challenge for Wal-Mart will be trying to reach that higher-bracket consumer who otherwise wouldn't be attracted to Wal-Mart's lower-end assortment.”