Starling Supermarkets are moving up!
By Tom Roche…….
There’s no shortage of choice when it comes to supermarkets in North Cyprus, with at least five major groups and a host of independent stores competing for business. Now a familiar name is under new management and battling to win customers.
Starling has four shops in Bellapais, Zeytinlik, Alsancak and Lapta. They have been bought by Cyprus United Retail Ltd which plans to open new outlets in Famagusta, Güzelyurt and Lefkoşa. (The Starling Express chain of convenience stores is no longer part of the group).
The troubleshooter whose task it is to turn around Starling’s fortunes is entrepeneur Hüseyin Ekrem Ergil, who admits the shops have been losing the store wars.
“This has been a problem company. It was making a loss but it has potential. We have been doing this business for a long time. We catch a business when it is sinking but before it hits the floor. We move it up, put it back into profit and make it professional. We have good brand names and loyal customers. We can turn this around.”
Hüseyin says many local businesses are poorly run. “Unfortunately in Cyprus we are not professional enough. What has happened here is that the owner of a business wants to be the the director, the accountant, the chief designer, the salesman and the PR, but they can’t do everything.
Also they try not to pay any tax to the government and keep their accounts as if all the money is their own personal funds. OK they have money in the bank, but it is not all theirs. Ninety days later, when they have to pay their suppliers, there may not be enough. Meanwhile they are driving around in big cars, which are really owned by the bank. They have a big house and live a luxury life, but when it comes to paying thelr workers, they don’t have the money and eventualy they don’t have credit anymore.
In retail you only gain the money in your pocket when you sell. You can’t count anything until you sell it. So you sell 100 products with ten per cent profit, you will earn ten lira on each one, but if it stays on the shelf you have nothing.”
Shoppers may have already noticed changes at Starling with brighter lighting and clearer layouts. Hüseyin has ordered a revamp of the fruit and vegetable areas, with more fresh produce from the company’s own farm. “ You should try the tomatoes. Some of them are a funny shape but the quality is as good as can be,” he says.
He is bringing in experts to retrain staff and make them more customer friendly. “If you make your staff happy and teach them to help the customer, your company will grow. I have ordered a stricter dress code and we will teach staff to look at the customer, have a good attitude and to offer help with packing.” He also sees the ex-pat market as very important and wants to employ more English-speaking staff.
Hüseyin has traveled the world buying and selling on behalf of North Cyprus business. He was previously the general manager of Lemar, the country’s biggest supermarket group. He has just arranged a major export deal for one of his suppliers, sending hellim cheese to Kuwait.
He is also a bon viveur who enjoys good food, good wine – and gin and tonic. “I like to drink, eat and live well. It’s not about price. I just love to get something delicious,” he said.
Hüseyin is also a kindly man who believes in using his buying power to help others. One of his first acts after taking over Starling was to agree a sponsorship deal with Hope 4 Pets, the voluntary group that rescues and rehomes sick and unwanted animals. He is also planning further charitable donations.
But he hints darkly at dirty tricks in the struggle for supermarket customers; shopping ‘spies’ checking each others prices and spreading black propaganda, even stealing trollies to push up rivals’ costs.
“I am not going to worry about what other people do,” he says. “Customers will see our quality and freshness and judge for themselves. I compare a company to a railway. We put in new systems to make it go in the right direction, so it cannot be driven off the rails again.”
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