Everything was black.
Ceilings, walls, shelves – nearly every surface was charred, covered in soot or had melted. ‘I knew straight away: there’s nothing to salvage here,’ says Valéria Fialová. Looking at the photos depicting this scene, she shakes her head. ‘And it stank so much of smoke. We even had to bin the stuff from the storeroom that was still intact.’ 27 December 2017. Fialová and her husband Jan Fiala closed their general store in the Slovakian town of Valča – population 1,800 – at around 6.00 p.m. as usual. However, this was anything but a usual evening. The phone rang at 7.30 p.m. It was a neighbour: ‘Your store’s on fire!’
The couple ran the 500 metres from their home to the store, saw smoke rising from the small, free-standing building and tore the door open. ‘I couldn’t move,’ recalls Fialová. Her husband hurried to the stream behind the building, fetching water by the bucketful, and then got hold of a fire extinguisher. 3 hours later the fire brigade had extinguished the flames, with the clean-up work taking the rest of the night. Fialová eventually went home to sleep. ‘But I didn’t sleep a wink,’ she says. Instead she was pondering on how to move on from this. ‘At no point was there any doubt about whether we’d reopen.’
Everything had to be replaced
At 7.00 a.m. the next morning, she called METRO, whom she previously had only ever bought stock from. However, she knew that METRO also offers a franchise concept called Môj obchod . The franchise model means the retailers remain independent and decide themselves the extent to which they want to take advantage of what is on offer: from the logo through promotional materials and office equipment up to advice on the product range and store design.
Fialová and her husband had previously thought about taking on a franchise with their store, which has been owned by the family since the early 1990s. However, this would have required conversion work. Before the fire, their store was a ‘pultovka’, a shop where sales are made exclusively over the counter and that doesn’t offer self-service – which is a requirement for the Môj obchod model. Given that everything had to be rebuilt after the fire in any case, Fialová said to herself: now’s the time. All or nothing.
Vladimír Šulek, Franchise Business Partner at METRO, headed straight for the scene. He had known the pair of shopkeepers for 20 years. ‘The store is their life,’ says Šulek. ‘So we set everything in motion.’ Fridges, shopping baskets, price labels needed to be sourced. Šulek and his colleagues managed to shorten the delivery times, extended a credit facility and advised on the process of rebuilding. Half the neighbourhood rolled up their sleeves to bring the interior and facade back up to scratch. Just 1 month and 3 days later, the store reopened. Bright, friendly and remodelled as Môj obchod (‘My store’).
‘We got a lot of very positive feedback from our customers,’ Fialová said. ‘Not to mention an incredible willingness to help.’ When she speaks about the period after the fire, the 48-year-old wells up with tears. ‘Overwhelming’, is how she describes the wave of support that her family experienced.
Appreciating every customer
Today, Fialová stocks 1,600 products. Her particular passion: handmade flower arrangements, which is actually her hobby. Crafting with a glue gun, artificial flowers and decorative elements helps her relax. At one point someone asked her whether she had ever thought about selling her handicrafts. Now even an extension is planned so that she no longer needs to store her range of handicraft tools under her desk. The new part of the building is also intended to house seasonal items such as barbecue charcoal, which is not needed in winter. Currently, Fialová and her husband still have to take the goods home to store them in their garage, depending on the season. The boundary between private life and work is fluid – not least because her customers, most of whom she knows by name, can place orders by mobile phone at any time. And also because the store only closes its doors for 3 days a year – Easter Sunday, Easter Monday and on 25 December. There is good reason why the trader calls the shop her ‘second home’. ‘We’re always talking about the store, what we can still do to improve it,’ says Fialová.
The fire was probably started by a short circuit on a refrigerator, though the exact cause was never established. Fialová didn’t let it get her down. On the contrary. ‘For us it was the kick we needed to make a fresh start,’ she says. Although she suffered permanent hearing loss in one ear after all the stress, she exudes a positive attitude with every sentence. ‘You reap what you sow,’ is something she firmly believes. And: ‘I appreciate each customer. If my customers are happy, then that rubs off on me.’
The Slovakian trader franchise network Môj obchod had more than 670 shops in financial year 2020/21, far exceeding the target of 591 shops. Founded in 2012, Môj obchod is now Slovakia’s third-largest grocery store network. The benefits for traders: special offers, tailored advice and office equipment as well as a strong brand, awareness of which METRO boosts through, for instance, TV campaigns. Traders also benefit from data-driven analyses on customer groups and buying behaviour, which METRO uses to develop tailor-made products and marketing initiatives . METRO is making the network even more future-focused thanks to a modernised format: with product categories such as ‘food to go’ or ‘food for later, food is no longer subdivided purely into categories such as fruit or vegetables, but is geared more strongly towards consumer behaviour.
The data collected on purchasing behaviour showed for example: price alone is not the decisive factor that persuades end consumers to shop at Môj obchod. Instead, the freshness and quality of the products and the location of the store are the 3 most important criteria in deciding on a purchase – with price in fourth place. METRO can use insights such as these to develop even more targeted offers for traders, based on the motto: ‘Your success is our business.’ This also includes digital solutions such as state-of-the-art cash register systems. METRO also advises the franchisees on the placement and arrangement of shelves and products. A key part of the modernised format is the focus on convenience solutions: a modern shop offers end consumers convenient and straightforward extra services such as cashback and post, printing or copying services. Traders can also depart from the classic model of exclusively selling general goods by offering snacks or coffee to go – the franchisees themselves can decide which options suit them and their customers.