December 24, 2018
The philosophy behind the success of one of the most important Albanian companies in the household appliances market

Cases where Albanians who left our country, and now after many years of work do run their companies or businesses in Greece are common.

Fewer are those of our Greek neighbors, who brought their work and success to Albania.

A special story of “brain migration” from Greece to Albania is that of Alexandros Kosenas, or Alex as he is called by his close collaborators.

With a 20-year experience in the retail sales sector of which 16 years consisting in international one, he is counting now the eleventh year as the Executive Director of one of the most successful Albanian companies, Neptun, part of Balfin Group, that also operates with high results in some other regional markets.

Kosenas left Greece to join Neptun when the company was still in a stable phase for several years, but it seems that in the last decade the results speak for an exponential increase, as much as now, this Balfin Group Company, owns a considerable share of the market where it operates. Those who know the retail market well, attribute to him the combination of some innovations in the country like special seasonal promotions, added value in customer service, and the implementation of the first operational model of franchise in Albania.

He says that admires Albania’s culture and that he has quickly adapted to our country. When it comes to work, Alex is a person who does not have the habit of resting long, especially when it comes to embracing ideas and new business models that are oriented towards the future.

At a time when Albania and Greece are in a key era of bilateral relations, business success stories such as this one of Kosenas in Albania are bridges of unity.

He explains in detail his Albanian adventure through this interview.

  • Where does Neptun stand in the Albanian market and how much progress has been made in the last 10 years?
  • Neptun has been operating in Albania for 25 years and is the only retailer with an international presence outside the Albanian borders. Today, we are the largest operating company in our segment and we are the first company that comes up in the consumer’s mind when it comes to addressing household appliances retail sector. Also, Neptun is among the 35 largest companies in the country. In 2008, we had only 6 retail points, while today we have 26 Neptun stores and 3 SmartPoint stores. During these years we have improved our closeness to the customer by increasing our network and bringing our products and services to almost every city of Albania with over 30,000 inhabitants. Considering the geographic and demographic structure of Albania I see space for 5 other Neptun sale points throughout the country. However, increasing proximity is not enough. At this stage, our focus is to improve the customer experience, so we have invested in the remodeling of our network, where the best example is our new store in QTU in Tirana, for which I am proud to say that it has set future standards in our industry. Also, online commerce has recently become a business unit for us and starting from 2019 we have planned major improvements to our online presence.
  • Neptun has been operating for quite some time now in two other Balkan markets…
  • We operate in three states with a total number of 62 sale points. Besides Albania, we are present in Macedonia with 25 stores and in Kosovo with 11 stores. Today in each of these markets we are the largest authorized reseller of electronic products with incredibly successful results.
  • You have over 10 years in Albania and come from the experience of a larger market like the Greek one. What are the biggest differences between the two markets?
  • The Greek market is a neighboring market that has a long tradition in the retail sales industry and has more rules, so in some way it serves as an interesting point of orientation. Customer behavior and buying culture have many similarities, as the trade links between the two countries are solid. For example, seasonality are very similar between the two countries, such as the end-of-year holidays, which are the most profitable season of the year for both countries.
  • What is the demand situation in the Albanian market at this moment? Can you tell us some of the Albanian and regional consumer trends?
  • From my point of view, the Albanian market has a great potential but the most visible approach today, is a clear trend of the Albanian consumer to go to organized retail stores. Consumers are more informed, updated and more demanding and selective among authorized retailers and this is a positive signal. This trend has also been created by a serious investment of the retail industry, such as anchored leaseholder shopping centers, FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods), authorized retailer of the fashion industry and of course the electronics-household segment.
  • Local media often raise concerns about the migration of Albanians abroad. How much does it affects the market?
  • I think migration of Albanians abroad has touched and will continue to affect every business sector, so our sector makes no exception. This is a challenge that every company is facing, but the local private sector has a very limited influence on it. At this moment we are working on different scenarios and we need to implement an adaption strategy due to this phenomenon.
  • Economists say that product differentiation increases profit, does this stand?
  • Absolutely yes, we see this trend in many sectors, as the good of following this marketing strategy is that it is visible, obvious. Through product differentiation, businesses create added values, increase customer loyalty to their brand, and improve perception of their brand.
  • Neptun is part of Balfin Group, one of the largest investment groups in the region. How Much does it help?
  • Balfin is the largest investment group in the country, its presence at the tops of construction and operation of Shopping Centers covers activities such as Electronics, Clothes, Foods, Seasonal Products, etc. Within the Group, there is extensive knowledge about the operations of the retail sector and has great synergies among companies in this field. For example, in consumer electronics, Neptun (international) has the largest negotiating power with our partner brands (such as Beko, LG, Samsung, etc.), so by this synergy we are able to secure lower sales prices. Moreover, the Group’s financial standing enables its companies to undertake investments in their infrastructure and strengthen their competitive positions in the areas where they operate. And last but not least, thanks to the attractive status of being an employee of the Balfin Group, we have access to quality human resources, which is a key factor for success in our organization.
  • How does the competition works in the Albanian market, is it honest, or do you also have to face with unfair competition?
  • As I have mentioned, Neptun supports fair competition between sales networks. We live in a competitive environment and we all need to work for the sustainability of our corporations and for our consumers’s benefits. But there must be rules on how a company advertises its competitive advantage, there should be respect for the consumer needs, and there should be an active and regulatory state authority that should monitor these actions. Of course, clients are the ones who have the last word and they value which network is holding onto their promises but companies and state authorities have an important regulatory role. The consumer must be protected for his choices and the information he is served.
  • Is it difficult to stay on top in a market where there is still plenty of informality and where almost every payment is made in cash?
  • Informality is always a big challenge for any company that follows the rules. Of course, in our market positions it is clear that despite the environmental difficulties we operate, the correct implementation of a business strategy brings the desired growth. But on the other hand, an environment without rules is an obstacle for companies but it operates at the same time against the consumer as well. A regulated environment promotes healthy competition and helps businesses invest in long-term projects and enables customers to discover the true value behind the price of the products they buy.
  • Your company also undertakes social initiatives to help society, is it a cost?
  • I do not see Social Responsibility activities as a cost or profit for our company, they are more an obligation we have towards society. In recent years, we have actively supported organizations that help children with Down Syndrome. We feel really proud of the contribution given, but I would like to emphasize that on Group level, Balfin’s support is far greater and wider than that.
  • You come from the land of Socrates and Aristotele, what is your philosophy in doing business?
  • My philosophy in doing business is actually inspired by two behavioral features: a solution-oriented approach and a continuous and infinite effort towards gradual improvement. In short, I believe that using the right reference points and trying to improve the weak points leads a company towards continuous improvement and keeps it on track with full potential.
  • An article in a specialized magazine claimed that Neptun owns over 60% of the country’s electronics-household market. Is it possible to grow beyond this?
  • Neptun has gained this market share gradually, and with a lot of effort and investment. I believe we have laid the foundation for maintaining our position in the market. We have strategic relationships with leading industry leaders, and at the same time take the necessary actions to optimize customer experience and keep the brand at the required level. Of course, we operate in a very competitive and dynamic environment and in order to be successful, a company must always be attentive and capable of understanding global trends and adapting them to the domestic market. As for the possibility of growing even more, the answer is yes, as there are categories where Neptun has potential for further growth, but the most important thing is that this growth is to be sustainable and not short-term. So we remain focused on our vision of being “always the first in the minds” of our customers when it comes to the electronics-household market and at the same time managing the markets where we operate in terms of volume, profit and geographical coverage.