Q: First of all, how was your career change accommodation in 2017 and please tell us the main lesson that you have learnt from your executive career that is common for industries like retail, electronic retail and IT?
Violeta Luca: I would start my answer by saying that I’ve missed retail, as I am genuinely passionate about it. One of the biggest opportunities for me was actually to discover and learn about food industry while grasping the complexity of the METRO Business, starting with the organizational culture, the customers’ needs – both B2B and B2C, the strategic choices and execution priorities. Although METRO trade is bigger in scale than the previous retailer I was in charge with, the ramp-up was fast as business principles are applying in each and every industry and I was fortunate to have a strong team around me. Thinking about main lessons of my career I feel like bringing up one about vulnerability. So much of leadership involves walking a tightrope between vulnerability and conviction. Most likely none of us can ever be fully confident that we are 100% on the right track, yet we are meant to inspire confidence in others.
By recognizing that vulnerability is a component of all roles and that it creates the potential for positive change we come much closer to losing our fear of it. For leaders and managers, the challenge and opportunity comes from the humble recognition that no one is invincible, it comes from giving the team members the self-assurance that decisions are being made in a balanced, thoughtful way. It comes from showing that, in the end, the most strategic approach is the one with the strongest foundation and potential for winning. Finally, if one doesn’t feel any vulnerability at all, it might be because the extra mile is not there.
Q: One of the stated goals of METRO Cash & Carry Romania for 2017 was to increase focus on the ‘’Traders Clients’ and to further improve the company’s position on the local market. In what extent were the market conditions favorable to your goals?
Violeta Luca: The market was more than favorable, and the need for fast, easy and pleasant shopping within the community allowed us to focus on the traditional proximity stores, the retail segment where METRO is the market leader, with the brand LaDoiPasi. By the end of 2020, we aim to reach a total of 2000 LaDoiPasi stores, targeting the rural areas and the small and medium urban agglomerations. This autumn we launched an extensive repositioning campaign of the brand, aiming to promote both our B2C and B2B value propositions. In a nutshell, LaDoiPasi is METRO’s bet on today’s and tomorrow’s entrepreneurs across all Romania.
In addition to LaDoiPasi retail franchise, we have made significant investments aiming to improve Traders’ buying experience with Metro, by ensuring multichannel interaction, digitization, increased stock availability and flexible delivery services.
Q: What can we further expect from ”La doi Pasi”? How do you plan to reach 2000 units by 2020? And what are the market trends that make you fully confident about reaching such an ambitious goal?
Violeta Luca: LaDoiPasi proposes an independent and sustainable business model that reflects both client expectations and entrepreneurial aspirations, the common denominator being the local community.
Through our LaDoiPasi franchise program, small retailers benefit of consultancy for all business areas, starting with branding, products assortment, access to competitive purchase pricing, know-how transfer, modern equipment and integrated marketing communication. All these elements that we provide to our LaDoiPasi partners contribute to a pleasant shopping experience for the final customer, and also to a long-term profitable business for the Romanian entrepreneur.
New LaDoiPasi concept rethinks the traditional trade by simply addressing the main expectations of the customers: rapidity, proximity, familiarity and community membership. Our main goal is to be able to support entrepreneurs and small retailers with a viable business model adapted to socio-economic dynamics. By supporting the development of proximity stores, we also contribute to strengthen traditional trade and the local entrepreneurship ecosystem.
Furthermore, the market trends are supporting our goals also as the consumer preference is evolving in favor of proximity stores, the expectations being that convenience stores number to double by the end of 2020.
Q: In terms of macro-trends, 2017 was probably the most ‘’liquid’’ year if we’re referring to the availability of money (lower taxes, higher wages, minimum low interest rate). What is the sum of these ‘’unique’’ market conditions in your business?
Violeta Luca: Looking back, I would say that the positivedevelopment of the Consumer Confidence Index in 2017 is reflected in sales growth and this trend is mirrored also by our B2B partners’ behavior, who are willing to invest in developing their own retail business. However, all of these factors are extremely sensitive to the social and economic climate in Romania. The most important thing for retail in Romania, and economy in general, is to operate in a stable environment, with predictable taxation and legal requirements. We need to think and act more towards medium and long term sustainable development and one of the prerequisites is to have a stable economic climate.
Q: Probably the highest visible crisis in Romania NOW is related to the workforce scarcity that adds to a high competition between companies. How does this manifest in the retail sector? To what extent is digitalization able to compensate the workforce scarcity?
Violeta Luca: One of my favorite books is ‘A beautiful constraint’, by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden because it inspired me to look into each and every limitation with the mind of possibility and to ask myself if I can do things differently, if I can use technology to overcome the challenge, ultimately if I can transform. “When ambition is exponentially greater than resource, that’s when real innovation happens.”
Digital transformation in retail is about looking beyond marginal enhancements and rethink processes, creating a connected engagement enabled by meaningful application of technology. It is not only about customer centricity, agility, innovation, smart analytics and new value propositions, but also about streamlining processes, reduce resources needed and improve efficiencies across the transactional cycle by transforming the business model. With the rules of the game changing, retailers need to rethink every aspect of their business – from sourcing and pricing strategies to inventory planning, employee training and customer experience management.
Whether retail is ready for it or not, consumers have become hooked on the real-time, personalized world of the modern digital landscape, and they expect their retail providers to follow suit. Today’s digital consumers are very demanding, they want what they want, and they want it now. Today’s retailers have never had more demands—or more opportunities—to reach their customers in new and exciting ways. Retailers are no longer selling things. They’re selling the experience of buying those things. And it better be a good one. Companies can’t afford to be only a little bit digital. It’s an allor- nothing train, and companies who refuse to hop on now will be left behind.
Finally, digitalization is a key enabler of optimizing resources allocation and utilization while fostering a better customer experience. Nevertheless, trade is mainly about human touch, advice, expertise, know how, care, even if it is not necessarily made via direct interaction, therefore our responsibility is to work towards finding ways to have knowledgeable and engaged employees.
Q: What’s your view on employment, trade and investment for Romania in 2018 and please give us your opinion about the evolution of your business sector in 2018.
Violeta Luca: What we have learned in the recent years and is very important for a healthy retail market in the future is that we have to be extremely client oriented. Today’s client learned to use everything offered in his favor, he is very choosey and highly demanding. This is why it is very important for retailers to implement a give and get policy with him. Today’s consumer needs things fast, proximity being the rule. This is a reason why METRO choose to focus and make LaDoiPasi one of its top priority, with a very courageous goal expanded until 2020.
Of course, besides wanting things fast, the client wants quality, and will charge the trader every time things do not go the right way.
Q: If you were to go back in retail almost 20 years, what would be your statement on ‘’Romania - then and now’’?
Violeta Luca: Romania was always a country of contrasts, even 20 years ago. It is a surprising land of contrasts, ambitions and goals, and this applies now as well as 20 years ago. And I will give a simple but exact example in order to sustain this statement.
Romania has valuable and well-known names in different sports: from Nadia Comaneci to Simona Halep. But only 50% of Romanians practice one sports activity per year.
Q: Do you have a final comment for our readers?
Violeta Luca: I’ve learned that in life we can have anything we want but not everything and today’s world is more than ever about making choices .