The morning sun first bathes the Rhine in dazzling light, then the small red and white building on the riverbank and finally the wide trunk road that runs in front of it. 4 lanes of cars and trucks thunder past, while commuters pedal to work on the cycle path. In the afternoon, Düsseldorf’s Joseph-Beuys-Ufer becomes a promenade for a gentle stroll; and now, just before 9.00 a.m., this is one of the main arterial routes into the city. Pietro and Nino Meffe take it all in their stride. Their kiosk, the ‘Fortuna-Büdchen’ , sells its first sandwiches of the day at around 9.30 a.m., and the first guests arrive for their morning pint a little later.
Traders and franchising at METRO
Independent retailers, known as Traders at METRO, are a core professional customer target group alongside hoteliers, restaurateurs and caterers. Product ranges, individual products and packaging are consistently targeted at professional customers in all of the more than 30 countries in which METRO operates. METRO additionally operates a retail franchising model in 10 countries: Poland, Romania, Russia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Pakistan, India, Czech Republic and Slovakia. METRO offers the participating independent Traders their own brand identity, special products, national advertising and other services such as training and advice on product ranges.
Traders as an economic factor
The Meffe brothers are a well-oiled team, every movement is well-practised. While one wheels the crates of drinks in, the other one opens the awnings and the shutters on each side of the serving hatch. Cheese roll €1.70, sausage with roll €2.50, read the menu boards displayed around the little shop on the distinctive, bright red shutters. And also: ‘WHERE IS HOME?’ This question is emblazoned on a framed poster in capital letters, surrounded by signatures and with the added phrase: ‘Thank you for your untiring dedication!’ Pietro Meffe nods in the direction of the poster as he places sugar and milk out to which customers can help themselves. ‘Our regulars gave us that, during the pandemic.'
The ‘where is home?’ question is more of a rhetorical one. 3 flags fly on the roof of the hut: one German, one Italian – and of course the Fortuna standard. After all, the kiosk is named after the football team Fortuna Düsseldorf. Pietro Meffe’s family has Italian roots. He himself was born in Italy in 1959 (‘the place is so small, no one has ever heard of it’) and his family moved to Germany shortly afterwards. Pietro and Nino Meffe run the Fortuna-Büdchen along with brother no. 3, Antonio. Their sister also helps out every day. The fourth brother, who ran the shop since 2006, exited the business in 2019. The kiosk itself has been around for much longer. ‘I’ve known it since 1978,’ says Pietro Meffe. Even during his apprenticeship he spent the occasional Sunday here.
Weekends are still the busiest time today. But it is not just football fans who buy a ‘beer for the road’ on their way to the football stadium, some 5 km distant. On weekdays both blue- and white-collar workers spend their break here over a coffee and a roll, while passers-by purchase snacks and drinks. The kiosk is open every day, from the morning until at least 10 p.m. On balmy summer evenings, when there is a lot going on, they may stay open until 1 in the morning. Nino Meffe estimates that they serve up to 2,500 customers per day at peak times like these. The 51-year-old is actually a painter and decorator by trade, and his brother is a qualified retail salesman. They both agree that they cannot imagine being without their shop. What is the defining feature of their work? ‘Contact with people. What job gives you this level of personal contact with so many customers?
An institution in the neighbourhood
Just a few kilometres away, Ilhan Şen is similarly enthusiastic about his business. ‘We’ve built up our regular customers over 30 years,’ says Şen, visibly glowing with pride. The 44-year-old now manages the family business Deniz Market , established by his mother Leyla a good 3 decades ago. The Turkish supermarket is located in Derendorf, a popular district in the north of Düsseldorf. 7 roads meet at the crossing in front of the shop. Schoolchildren wait for the tram, mothers walk by pushing prams. The grocery store’s huge fruit and vegetable display, with its apples, oranges, mandarins and grapefruits, aubergines, cucumbers, pumpkins and many other types of fruit and vegetables, is like a colourful beacon to passers-by. This is not least a result of the LED spotlights that Şen installed himself. A tidy, well-organised presentation of the goods is important to the shopkeeper: ‘For example, we put each tomato in position individually to avoid them getting dented.’ One part of the display smells of fresh peppermint, another has the aromatic scent of garlic.
The boss calls the large fruit and vegetable display his ‘locomotive’. It attracts passing trade. At the same time, those in the know are aware that around 5,000 items are available inside the shop on a floor space of 270 m2 – among them Turkish delicacies such as meat or sacks of bulgar wheat, select oils such as hazelnut or black cumin oil, pistachios, nuts, dried fruit and sweets as well as a large spice selection. ‘People go out of their way to buy these from us,’ says Şen. And once the customers are here, they pop a few more things in their basket as they go around the store. For that reason, Şen also offers essentials and further international products that he buys from METRO alongside the Turkish specialities.
Just like the Fortuna-Büdchen, Deniz Market is also a family business. Ilhan Şen’s wife Serpil works as the cashier, while his 71-year-old father Yagmur negotiates with suppliers. Founder Leyla, who named the store after her maiden name Deniz, prepares daily meals for everyone. And Ilhan Şen’s daughter Leyla, 17, named after her grandmother, also helps out. Both the family and the business are an institution in the neighbourhood: customers chat while they shop, people know each other.
Offerings tailored to local demand
Just like Düsseldorf’s small shopkeepers, many Traders are indispensable institutions in their neighbourhood . This is true around the world. Whether a grocery store, kiosk, street food seller or petrol station: owner-managed stores are characterised by their proximity to the end consumer and in many regions are not just local suppliers of provisions, but also important meeting points. For METRO, Traders are a core professional customer target group alongside hoteliers, restaurateurs and caterers. This is because strong local competition between multiple independent suppliers and a large group of accessible customers create an economically interesting market.
Alongside the straightforward sale of goods to Traders customers, METRO counts on a franchise partner network in selected countries. Adapted to local markets and geared towards the local demands, the franchising system is intended to boost the business and profitability of Traders. There are currently around 8,200 partner stores in 10 countries – a number that is set to rise to 12,000 by the end of 2024. Poland leads the way with more than 2,000 stores under the Odido brand. This market is well-developed and the offers are tailored accordingly. The branding was revamped in 2021. Convenience solutions are also popular, that is to say, modern food and product offerings that are divided into categories such as ‘food to go’ or ‘food for later’. The market in Romania is different: although some modern stores can be found for instance in cities like Bucharest, many of the 1,700 stores of the Romanian brand LaDoiPași are located in highly rural areas. For that reason, the product ranges here are accordingly broader.
‘The price has to be right’
Alongside shopfitting and advice, Traders also benefit from specially developed own brands. For instance, the products offered under the Fine Life brand along with their design, pricing and marketing are geared entirely towards resellers. Fine Life products offer Traders a margin of at least 25% – after all, profit margins are especially important for small retailers. Pietro Meffe from the Fortuna-Büdchen concurred: ‘The price has to be right. That’s the most important purchasing factor.’ And also: shopping needs to be a quick process, which is why a well-organised wholesale store is important. ‘I don’t stroll through the store, I want to be in and out quickly,’ says Meffe.
Ilhan Şen has a slightly different view. ‘Although I like selling, I also like shopping,’ he grins. For that reason, the boss of the Deniz Market always goes to the METRO store in person. He now knows the staff on the meat counter as well as those in the cheese department. ‘We say hello, have a chat,’ says Şen. Yet when it comes to fruit and vegetables, he is adamant: ‘I only buy those from Turkey.’ Sun, earth – for the 44-year-old, nothing comes close to the taste of the products from his family’s homeland. Figs from Troy for example, Şen gushes: ‘They’re unique!’ And this chimes with the special enthusiasm that each Trader has for their business. Whether the Şen family, the Meffe family, or the countless other large and small Traders customers around the world. Or, to come back to the poster on the Fortuna-Büdchen: wherever your home is.
‘Elevate’ is the name of METRO’s programme for promoting its franchise business. METRO places its trust in expert colleagues who know and develop the Elevate business in the various countries. Coordinated by the METRO head office in Düsseldorf and realised by the professionals on the ground, 2 new ‘ambassador stores’ have recently opened in Slovakia, and others in Poland, Pakistan and Czech Republic. The ‘ambassadors’ or ‘concept stores’ are flagship stores: fitted out in the latest design, featuring pioneering products and offers such as a full-service coffee bar. Designed by METRO – operated by independent traders.