Blog: Dean BestSpar boss springs surprise in Barcelona

Dean Best | 7 May 2009

No matter how well you think you know something, life always has the capacity to surprise.

As an avid football fan, I wasn't surprised that fans of Barcelona's local club would celebrate their team's result against Chelsea last night but the sheer scale and exuberance of their celebrations on La Rambla (huge crowds, fireworks, people scaling street lamps) really raised eyebrows.

Back at the more serene surroundings of the World Retail Congress further outside the Catalan city today (7 May), delegates again heard about the potential that the Chinese retail market has to offer.

It's a story we've all heard before and, even though the global downturn has slowed economic growth in China, the scale and dynamism of the market offers a lot of promise to domestic and international retailers.

However, today's seminar on the Chinese market threw up some interesting statistics, including one that each province in China has a population of circa 50m people – or roughly the population of England.

Given the headlines surrounding the expansion of the likes of Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Tesco and – today on just-food – Seven & I into China, it is significant that the country's domestic retailers still control the vast majority of the market.

Just 19 of China's top 100 retailers (as listed by the China Chain Store & Franchise Association) are foreign-owned. Carrefour is the largest but is behind the likes of Lianhua, the country's largest supermarket chain.

Another notable surprise was the bullishness of Spar International's ambitions in China. Dr Gordon Campbell, the Netherlands-based retailer's managing director, told the WRC that the company plans to treble its store network in China.

The notion that the likes of Carrefour and Wal-Mart had captured China's retail market was “nonsense”, he said.

“This may sound like a strange vision but our vision is that we will operate this in many provinces in China, with one main partner and many minor partners – some with even single stores and some with multiple stores. Then we will become among the largest retailers – if not the largest – retailer in China."

It will be interesting to see how the likes of Carrefour, Wal-Mart and Tesco – not to mention Lianhua and Wumart – respond.


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