Retail Detail – Martin Schoeman, CEO of SPAR Sri Lanka

Martin Schoeman began his fascinating career journey in FMCG Food Retail in 1991 in South Africa as a Trainee Manager of the largest hypermarket and supermarket group in South Africa at the time. Today, as the Chief Executive Officer of SPAR Sri Lanka, he sits at the proverbial mountain.

“I began right at the bottom of the ranks as in those days we were not classified as management, but as regular service and operations staff until the successful completion of a rigorous one year of practical and theoretical programmes. I was qualified as the Sales Manager in March, 1992, and from then on, I held various middle and senior management positions with various food retailers.”

In 2014, Martin was appointed as a Director of SPAR South Africa in its Lowveld Division. Thereafter, rising up the hierarchy of SPAR, he was sent for a project in Qatar as the Head of Operations, in 2017. Martin, later culminated his enthralling tenure at SPAR as the General Manager of SPAR Sri Lanka.

“I became CEO in October, 2020, with my primary focus on my strategy to grow the brand with SMMT entrepreneurs in the country. I have been a part of the SPAR brand for 26 years.”

With vast experience in all aspects of the business, Martin considers himself to be a generalist in the field of Food Retail.

“I lead from the front and my team appreciates and respects that. I have no problem with being in the boardroom driving strategy or on the shop floor packing shelves for a new store launch. I live the culture of SPAR and firmly believes that culture eats strategy every day of the week. Our culture is underpinned by our values of passion, relationships, integrity and loyalty.”

The SPAR operation in Sri Lanka is the result of a joint venture between Ceylon Biscuits Limited, a well-established and wholly owned Sri Lankan company that has been in operation for over 50 years, and The SPAR Group Ltd.

The primary goal and strategic intent of SPAR Sri Lanka is to provide a supermarket retail business model and support to Sri Lanka’s SMMT operators. The SPAR offering is customised to the Sri Lankan market and we have access to best operating practices, resources, expertise and trends from our SPAR Partners in 48 countries worldwide.

“Our stores are clean and our parking areas are large, well-marked, safe and well lit. We offer a vast selection of essentials as well as cater for those moments of self-indulgence. The service offered to our customers has been rated as ‘superb’ and our staff are motivated and well trained. Our employees are our strength and by taking good care of them, they in turn provide a better service to the customers. Everything is about the experience of shopping at a SPAR store!,” Martin added.

2020 was a devastating year for most businesses worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most players in the market resorted to cost reduction strategies, however, SPAR continued to serve its customers by quickly commencing online operations. Moreover, SPAR ensured that its employees received their full months salary and annual incentives.

Martin affirmed that in order to remain competitive in business, digitalisation is a must in the Supermarket industry. “Digitalisation should be on the strategic agenda of all players in the retail market and it is certainly on ours. We have prioritised the various aspects of retail digitalisation and will be rolling out our strategy over the coming months and years.”

Furthermore, Martin stated that he believes 2021 will be a positive and better year especially for the Food industry.

“SPAR will, amongst a number of other things, see an enhanced and revitalised shift to healthier eating, bigger shift to more free-from and organic purchases, more meal preparation from scratch of fruits and vegetables, a greater focus on home hygiene with better germ fighting personal wash products, household cleaning products with perceived enhanced germ and virus fighting elements.”

He continued: “At SPAR, we consume more time on innovation and learning about what the consumer will be looking for next from their favourite supermarket. We perfect these concepts and then roll them out into our businesses. We have started to enhance offerings in our stores with general merchandise. We have also expanded the shopping experience by offering ATMs, world class pizza and consumer electronics through our collaborations with Harpo’s and Abans, health and well-being by offering an instore pharmacy and we are expanding our Tops liquor offering to more stores as well.”

With over two decades of experience in the Supermarket industry, the expert stated that Sri Lanka has to focus more on three important factors:

  1. The variety available to consumers : Suppliers and manufacturers should be encouraged more to innovate and experiment with new products and ranges and in-store activations should be better planned and executed. Retailers can greatly assist with this.
  1. Difficulty in attracting and retaining skilled people at SPAR : We have been able to improve our staff retention statistics tremendously. Working in a supermarket is looked down upon and staff are often treated poorly by employers and customers alike. We have been able to employ various techniques and incentives to attract and retain great people in our business and we continue to develop our teams. The most important of all of these is to treat our teams with respect and to trust them to do their best.
  1. The ability of retailers to reduce the cost of their offerings to consumers because of a lack of ‘smart’ equipment : For various reasons the availability of ‘smart’ and energy efficient equipment is quite limited.

In conclusion, the CEO mentioned that he perceives to continue to ameliorate its ‘Home Meal Replacements’ category, to improve its offerings in fresh meat, to bring innovative digital solutions, to become the responsible brand of choice in the communities it serves and to develop SMMT entrepreneurs under the SPAR banner by giving them the right tools, advice and support.

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