1. Identify the company’s most recent international expansion and use relevant frameworks in assessing how cultural differences may hinder the growth of sustainable competitive advantage within the region.
2. Using the company’s most recent financial result, analyse its financial ratios, share price performance, and how it has performed since the financial crisis.
Since its establishment in the 1980s, Kingfisher Plc has grown from a UK-based multi-retail sector conglomerate to an international retailer focused on the rapidly growing home improvement sector, and is currently ranked 52nd in the FTSE index with a market capitalization of ?6,320 (DigitalLook website, 2011). Despite stumbling at the financial crisis, the Group has recovered strongly which is represented by their improving financial performance. With more 840 stores across eight countries in Europe and Asia, Kingfisher Plc isEurope’s leading home improvement retail group, and is the third largest in the world, with the Russian market as its next target. In light of this relatively recent expansion into Eastern Europe, this paper aims to consider the impact of cultural differences on the growth of Kingfisher’s sustainable competitive advantage withinRussia. The evidence suggests that Kingfisher’s experience in international forays and investing abroad mean they are accustomed to entering markets such asRussia, and are well equipped to implement FDI effectively to ensure their Russian venture will prove fruitful in the years to come.
Introduction: Kingfisher in Russia
The Kingfisher group is an internationally recognized power in the retail sector, ranked 52nd in the FTSE Index in terms of market capitalization, and has several well known brand names such as B&Q, Castorama and Brico Depot along with well-established businesses in its domestic UK market, Ireland and France; the past decade has also seen growing exposure to fast-growing, developing economies such as China, Poland and most recently, Russia. Following on from the Group’s success in Poland, in the last 3-4 years Kingfisher decided to venture further into Eastern Europe by attempting to establish its home improvement offerings in the Russian market. In a bid to fulfill the Group’s growth and returns criteria, under its Castorama format, Kingfisher aimed to tackle the large, growing and highly attractive Russian market (not least due to the strong GDP growth, even stronger retail market growth, declining inflation and stable exchange rate) (Press release, 2004). After all, Russia has 13 cities with more than 1m inhabitants with a population that is also enjoying high disposable income due to low taxes, utility charges and housing costs. Since 2008, the Group has set up 5 Castorama stores in Russia and aims to continue in that vein for the foreseeable future (Kingfisher Annual Report 2009).
Impact of cultural differences on sustainable competitive advantage
Although it poses a valuable opportunity with great potential, there are significant cultural differences between the Russian market and Kingfisher’s domesticUKmarket which present the firm with challenges, particularly in the workplace, that can lead to communication difficulties, varied expectations and ultimately inefficiencies that would serve to hinder competitive advantage. Perhaps the most important model to date for studying cross-cultural communication is Geert Hofstede’s framework that defines national cultural values via five dimensions :
The first, power distance, describes the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations (and indeed society) accept and expect the unequal distribution of power. Thus small power distance nations are more democratic whereas large power distance nations are more autocratic and paternalistic (Mishra, 2008). Figure 1 in the appendix shows us that Russiamaintains a relatively high Power Distance Index (PDI) compared to both the US(who share very similar cultural values to the UK) and also to the rest of the world. In fact following a study of 39 of the world’s leading global players, the UKwas ranked 30th in terms of PDI (Yates, 2005). Figure 1 also indicates that Russia has low individualism and is a less masculine culture. The former suggests that Russia has a predominantly collectivist culture, whereby people are integrated into cohesive and loyal long-term groups; the UK by stark contrast, is ranked the 3rd with respect to a highly individualistic culture with far les inter-personal ties, less sharing of responsibility and encouragement of individual personalities and affiliations. The latter similarly, demonstrates a significant difference in national cultures whereby Russia represents a more feminine culture with greater emphasis placed on relationships and equality, whilst the UK has a highly masculine culture which values competitiveness, ambition, and the accumulation of wealth and possessions. Russia has relatively higher scores than the UK in the final two dimensions demonstrating a high degree of uncertainty avoidance (UAI) and a strong orientation towards long-term objectives and ideals. A high UAI score indicates a low tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity, with strict laws and rules to discourage innovative and deviant ideas, and resist change. On the other hand, British culture is far more accepting of alternative opinions and values differences and novelty. Unwillingness to adapt to change could prove particularly prominent for the Group’s expansion as in the past, the Russian home improvement market has for the most part, been dominated by small-to-medium, family-run businesses which offer products and services that are a far cry from the standardised offerings of large Western multinational retailers such as Kingfisher and Ikea (Leroux, The Times, 2009). The final dimension too, highlights another key difference in terms of British and Russian long term orientation. Russian society places greater importance on future rather than the past and present; thus key values are perseverance, thrift and shame. British society contrastingly, values actions and attitudes affected by the past and present, such as personal stability and creativity (MindTools website).
Also worth considering is the notion of psychic distance and critical role it plays in firm internationalization, as first put forward by Johanson & Wiedersheim-Paul (1975) in their Uppsala Model of Internationalisation. The authors define this concept as “…factors preventing or disturbing the flow of information between firms and markets in terms of differences in language, culture, political systems, level of education, level of industrial development, etc.” The upshot of this concept is that when selecting a target market for international expansion, firms tend firstly to enter geographically proximal and culturally similar countries. Johanson & Vahlne (2003) explained these patterns by maintaining that as a firm operates in a foreign market, it gathers experiential knowledge that enables it better identify and evaluate business opportunities and eventually make new market commitments. Its domestic British market is both geographically and culturally distant from the potential Russian market, yet Kingfisher has successful experience in international expansion into culturally diverse nations such asFrance,Turkey andPoland.
Since its inception, the Group has expanded rapidly by acquiring retailers and knowledge in markets all over the world. However the financial crisis hit the Group hard, represented in Figure 4, which depicts a dramatic fall in share price between 2007 and 2008, bottoming out at just below 100p during 2008. Observing Figure 2, one can see this same trend reflected in the firm’s earnings per share (EPS) and price to equity (P/E) ratios: the 2006/07 period saw EPS reach highs of over 12p and a high P/E of approximately 20 years. Both measures are good indicators of earnings growth whilst the latter also highlights the relative expensiveness of the stock, and level of investor demand for the shares. But in 2008, EPS growth fell by a dramatic 11% and P/E also dropped significantly to around 14 years. However 2009 saw the firm begin its post-crisis recovery with a consistently rising share price and growing EPS, although P/E ratio was still falling. Last year saw a profound, near 50% increase in EPS, a slight rise in P/E and even an increase in dividends; share price at the end of 2010 had reached its highest since 2007 at around 260p. The forecasts for the following years in Figure 3 indicate further revenue and EPS growth, albeit at a slower rate, and generally good performance and stock health despite a forecast fall in P/E ratio (DigitalLook website, 2011).
Kingfisher Plc, perhaps more so than other global retail giants due to their British base, was certainly hit by the recent financial crisis and this was reflected by the fall in earnings and share price in the 2007-2008 period. However the Group’s diverse range of products and services as well as its brand reputation and vast geographical reach, has enabled it to weather the storm and bounce back positively. Its commitment to international expansion and its keenness to explore potential new markets have been key to its rapid growth and establishment as a true international player. However the Group’s expansion intoRussiais at an early stage and cultural differences would need to be tackled in order to obtain significant market share. As outlined earlier, theUKandRussiaare culturally distinct and operating a foreign subsidiary and catering for Russian demand both require an understanding and knowledge of the Russian market. However, it is crucial to note that the firm has already been successful in diverse markets by hiring top management staff who are well-experienced in the markets they are targeting. InRussiafor example, Kingfisher hired Peter Partma as country manager due to his 6 years experience as country retail manager in IkeaRussia. By employing international retailing talent with appropriate market specific experience such as Mr. Partma, the Group has managed to close the gap in psychic distance and introduce Russia-specific knowledge to their management. Furthermore, having set up some 15 stores inPoland, an Eastern European and culturally alike nation toRussia, the firm has knowledge of how to cater for demands, tastes and ideologies similar to those of the Russian people. So whilst the culture divide between Kingfisher’s home country and its latest foreign target is considerable, the firm’s existing expansion projects and experience of international markets, on top of its wealth of market specific talent and know-how via its management team, has helped mitigate the effects of cultural differences and enabled the transfer of critical knowledge into the firm which will prove vital to its success.
“Delivering value: Key steps and aims” (2009) Kingfisher Annual Report and Accounts
“Digital Look: Kingfisher Company Research” (2011) http://www.digitallook.com/companyresearch/10053/Kingfisher/company_research.html
“Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions: Understanding workplace values around the world” (2011), Mindtools: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_66.htm
Johanson, J. & Wiedersheim-Paul, F. (1975) “The internationalization of the firm: Four Swedish case studies.” Journal of Management Studies, p305-22
Johanson, J. & Vahlne, J.-E. (2003), “Business relationship learning and commitment in the internationalisation process”, Journal of International Entrepreneurship, Vol. 1 p.83-101
“Kingfisher plc appoints management for expansion in Russia” (2004) Kingfisher Press Release
Leroux, M. (10/2009) “Kingfisher turns again to Ikea for help as it focuses on expansion”, The Times
Mishra, G. (2008) “Using Geert Hofstede Cultural Dimensions to Study Social Media Usage in BRIC Countries”, International Values and communication Technologies
Yates, M. (2005) “Cultural Differences: It’s More than Geography that Matters” http://www.growing-global.com/detail.asp?ID=23
Figure 4: Kingfisher Share Price