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As you read this, we are winging our way back to the USA on the next leg of our Japanese documentary project, having completed a fascinating visit with Superquinn in Ireland.

As you might have gathered from our rapturous writing earlier this week, we’re big fans of the company, and the people who run it. Not that Superquinn is the be-all-and-end-all of retailing; what the company does is very, very good for the specific markets and customers it serves. That doesn’t mean that its stores and approaches would work for every customer or every market.

However, there is something about Superquinn that would work for any retailer that we can think of -- the inexhaustible joy that the company seems to take in creating a positive and differentiated retailing experience, as communicated so effectively from the top down by Feargal Quinn, the founder of the company.

(Actually, it isn’t just from the top down. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Feargal Quinn work a checkout line, chatting up the customers, joking with them in his effervescent Irish way, teasing a little old lady, or showing a grandfatherly interest in a small child. This has nothing to do with being at the top. This has to do with being a retailer. Or maybe just having the soul of a shopkeeper. And loving it.)

Earlier this week, we wrote of a couple of the innovations that Superquinn offers consumers, such as the Superscan technology that allows shoppers to scan items as they are placed in the trolley. Or the Greenbags that have replaced plastic sacks for many in the country now that there is a tax on plastic bags designed to cut back on items going into the nation’s landfills.

Innovation -- or to use another word, differentiation -- is what Superquinn is all about. The company believes that success is keyed to finding the strengths that make it different from the competition, and then maximizing them, building on them, and then creating new points of differential advantage. It is an ongoing, relentless process. (And probably not for the faint of heart; we suspect that working at Superquinn can be exhausting, because much is expected in terms of emotional and intellectual commitment to the job.)

Creating a differential advantage doesn’t always mean utilizing the latest technology. It can mean creating a Cook’s Pantry section in which fresh meat and chicken are cross-merchandised with sauces, pastas and other condiments, becoming an idea factory for shoppers. It can mean developing a DNA TraceBack system that allows for the tracking of every piece of meat sold by Superquinn, and Food Safety Advisors on duty in every store, so there’s no doubt about food safety issues. And it means being willing to test almost anything that seems like a good idea, just to see if it makes sense for the consumer and the company – in that order.

During a chat with Feargal Quinn yesterday, he remembered that when he was in school and playing ball, he once had a pretty good game…but that the coach announced to the team after the game that “Quinn made a lot of mistakes. But he made them fast.” Which allowed the team to ultimately triumph.

Works for us.
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