With the changes that the world and business have undergone in the last 20 months as a result of the global pandemic, it has been quite challenging for organized retailers to face new challenges. But even more challenging is the idea that the biggest changes in the industry have not yet happened.
Julian Mane, Vice President of BALFIN Group in the retail sector, leads the companies focused on retail and real estate management of one of the most successful investment groups in the Balkans. In an interview, he reveals more about the future of the industry and the role of BALFIN Group in these new developments.
- How did the pandemic affect BALFIN Group’s retail activity?
- Like all enterprises around the globe, BALFIN Group was affected by the COVID-19 consequences, especially the retail sector due to the very nature of the service and the situation created. However, we take pride in turning external threats into opportunities. The partners and staff showed us that professionalism, enthusiasm and cooperation could overcome any kind of obstacle. We were obligated to develop a new relationship with customers, meeting their needs in new conditions, and often through digital channels. In return, the purchasing power and consumer behaviour helped us to adapt and maintain a leading position in the market, even during the most unpredictable period. Some of our Group’s offers can be considered vital during that time: electronic devices when all communications and activities were being performed online; clothes, food and all the necessities to continue daily activities, apliances for families and institutions, and much more. Our capabilities and rapid response to dynamic developments in all companies enabled us to keep our activities intact, continue the relationship with all our partners, and even grow and improve various aspects of our business. In terms of retail, the recovery has been quite positive, especially when we take into consideration the first 6 months of the previous year in quarantine. Sales compared to last year increased by 40-50%. Nevertheless, 2021 is a very good year for the retail industry, and that’s because consumers are spending money on household purchases, largely due to restricted movement overseas.
- What is the development philosophy of BALFIN Group?
- BALFIN is constantly seeking to expand into its existing sectors in the region and beyond. Our mission is to bring new and modern concepts to Albania and the region and to invest in promising areas. Over the years, we have naturally expanded by developing our retail sector from the ground up. Nearly 25 years ago, BALFIN opened the first organized retail activity in Albania, in the electronics and food sector, and then developed the first shopping malls in Albania and Northern Macedonia, revolutionizing the market and shopping experiences. It is in our genesis to carry this legacy forward.
- What are the expansion plans of BALFIN’s retail sale activity?
- In the retail industry, all Group Companies have concrete projects to expand their store chains, increase the number of brands and partners, and further improve the quality of customer service. This will be an investment of about 6 million euros in the Western Balkans region.
The supermarket chain of SPAR Albania is expanding through new openings, but also through the franchise system, continuing to improve offers and services, especially online. I must emphasize that SPAR can be considered a pioneer of transformation in the digitalization of online sales processes, as one of the industries with the highest demand. SPAR was the first company to adapt to the immediate needs of the market and totally transformed the business model, bringing an e-commerce website and then a mobile app. Jumbo continues to grow in Albania and the region, specifically in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. Jumbo will create about 70 new jobs in the coming months, deriving from the opening of new stores, while the next expansion plan will be investing in a new market, beyond the Balkan region, to Moldova. Fashion Group Albania has marked a significant increase in sales, especially after the digital transformation, and will soon bring new international clothing brands to Albania. Neptun has introduced the concept of Nova stores, an innovative franchise concept with very good prices, to be even closer to customers. It has been 10 years since the construction of TEG, so the latest developments and innovations in the field of retail and shopping malls brought the need for a mall expansion project. The renovation will not only increase the value of the investment but will directly and positively affect the customer’s perception of the mall, through additional shopping and entertainment spaces for all visitors. We will bring the “Retail Park” innovation, which is a concept that has been operating for years in Europe and the Balkans, adapted for rural areas or suburbs, and our goal is to invest in a network of retail parks in Albania. The commercial complex offers a diverse selection of shops and brands, similar to shopping malls, but with a more consolidated structure, thus creating more free spaces available to citizens. Their area will range from 6,000 to 12,000 m2. This concept also offers tenants favourable conditions to carry out their activity. We will be present with our brands in these new investments, but there will also be a variety of international brands. With this model, and through a new expansion, we want to give a clear message that work and growth continues and that our commitment is always focused on every opportunity which brings our way of doing business closer to customers, to improve the standard of living, wherever we invest.
- What does the future of retail in Albania look like and what is BALFIN ‘s vision?
- The retail industry is changing like never before. The new generation is full of digital buyers who have grown up through screen interaction. Something as simple as buying groceries in the supermarket can now be a single click. The empowerment of technology will continue to grow and shape the way consumers define purchases. We are entering the world of “phygital” – the physical and digital store at the same time, where the dividing line is fading. BALFIN Group’s retail activity is well prepared to embrace this change. BALFIN Group’s retail companies are working to go step by step with the innovation and purchasing experience. Currently, Retail Park is our most sgnificant investment and testimony in this regard. Finally, it is important to mention that BALFIN has a sustainable growth, not only from return on investment, but also a positive impact on communities through economic development, employment opportunities, innovation and social investment.