The ‘Own Business Whisperer’

Bairro Alto, a trendy district in Lisbon’s old town, is filled with locals, tourists and restaurateurs. Somewhere among all the hustle and bustle is our man: José Homem, sales force manager at MAKRO Portugal since 2011. Under his arm he has a thick black leather folder which will be filled with orders at the end of the day.

José makes phone calls while simultaneously taking notes, takes orders and checks availabilities while walking resolutely across the cobblestones of Bairro Alto

Altogether José takes care of 300 customers in 3 contiguous districts in Lisbon. He not only knows their names and what they prefer to serve their guests – he also knows their needs and fears, their wishes and dreams. After all, before joining MAKRO Portugal, José was in the business too as owner of 2 restaurants. He knows what having to generate half of one’s annual revenues during the summer months means. He is aware that his customers get little or no sleep during that period.

The Portuguese restaurant founder needs connections

Lisbon is a booming tourist destination. The city records about 6 million visitors per year – and the figure keeps climbing. Many of the restaurateurs in Bairro Alto have specialised in tourists. To cover their expenses – and earn some money, too – they must charge prices only tourists can afford. The average annual gross income in Portugal is slightly above €23,000 – by comparison, in Germany it is €45,000. ‘Here in Lisbon, rent for a restaurant with 100 seats can be as much as €15,000 a month. To secure work processes and make sure his customers get good service, a restaurateur needs a staff of 20. Their wages, the rent, insurances, monthly safety and hygiene audits and, of course, taxes – all of this must be deducted from his revenues,’ José explains. Before a restaurant can open to begin with, the Portuguese restaurant founder needs one thing more than anything else: connections. ‘Connections have always been important in Portugal,’ the 50-year-old knows.


On the occasion of the “Own Business Day,” METRO presented the results of a representative study reflecting the mood in independent businesses. OBD Study

In a city that lives as much on tourism as Lisbon, the special challenge for businesspeople is to create offers for visitors and locals. The individual character of the place, the special regional spirit, is a result of the independently run restaurants. These businesses deserve being celebrated for the contribution they make to their communities – that’s why METRO has launched the Own Business Day (OBD) in 2016 to celebrate the self-employed in a special way: Every year on the 2nd Tuesday of October, we want to promote independent businesses and give them the attention they deserve. MAKRO Portugal is participating every year since then.

For dessert, the owner serves fresh figs from the garden

José makes phone calls while simultaneously taking notes, takes orders and checks availabilities while walking resolutely across the cobblestones of Bairro Alto. ‘Today is a very good day,’ he says. There is a sparkle in his eyes – even though no longer self-employed, he is still a businessman through and through, shaking hands non-stop. It is hot, but there is a pleasant breeze from the sea. For his lunch break José leaves the busy streets and goes to a long-standing customer’s restaurant which tourists would call an ‘insider’s tip’. The locals eat here. For dessert, the owner serves José fresh figs from his sister’s garden.

We must know our customers. It’s the only way we can become better

José Homem

Trust is good for business

During the past 10 years a lot has changed for the better,’ José says. ‘The range of dishes offered is larger and restaurateurs pay closer attention to the quality of the products they work with than ever before – and of course to the ambience, too, in which they serve their meals.’ Good food as an experience – and MAKRO Portugal supplies the ingredients. As partner and product sponsor of the Lisbon Hotel School and Portugal’s national chef team, the wholesaler is in close touch with experts in their field. José also regards himself as his customers’ partner. Thanks to his own background, he is able to give their concerns the same priority as those of MAKRO, from which both sides ultimately benefit. ‘We must know our customers. It’s the only way we can become better. And the better we become, the more the restaurateurs trust us – and trust is good for business.’

Sales force managers like himself supply important industry information which enable MAKRO to constantly adjust and further develop its portfolio – also outside of the food segment. ‘We are currently expanding our free internet presence for customers,’ José says. ‘Things are advancing slowly; many customers are sceptical about being offered something for free for which they had always used to pay money. But I think the websites are a good start to make our restaurateurs gradually feel more excited about other digital tools, too, that make their work more efficient and facilitate their everyday job.’

When the nightlife in the streets and the bars of Bairro Alto really gets going and his customers have their hands full with their own customers, José Homem heads home to a suburb of Lisbon. Does he personally – a trained cook himself – still find time to cook? ‘Oh yes! On weekends the kitchen is mine,’ he says with a beaming smile on his face. The dish he likes to prepare best is caldeirada de bacalhau – a stew with the traditional Portuguese stockfish.

José Homem and Hilário Castro - Two men who understand each other

As a passionate chef and wine bar owner, MAKRO customer Hilário Castro, who has been with the company for many years, attaches great importance to the best ingredients. We dive into the turbulent alleys of Lisbon and visit the passionate gastronome.

In the Streets of Bairro Alto: Close to the Customer, Close to the Guest

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