From a single outlet in 2009, today, The Convenience Shop (Holding) plc has over 400 employees working in 76 outlets strategically located in 30 locations across Malta. As CEO, Martin Agius is proud of the group’s exponential growth and how it has been able to overcome the tough challenges many within the small retail business sector are facing.
CEO Martin Agius’ visionary and entrepreneurial spirit has led to immense changes within The Convenience Shop (Holding) plc. “It required resilience to take the reins of a family-owned business and embrace the responsibility to lead it to become an important player within the food retail business in Malta,” he admits.
Martin wasn’t always in this sector – in fact, he’s relatively new to it and just three years into his journey. But his experience spans two other industries extensively: hospitality for over 15 years and manufacturing for over 25. He was responsible for positioning the household brand Coca Cola as the beverage leader in Malta, as well as holding the second-highest per capita consumption worldwide. He now plans to look ahead and leave another imprint on the small retail business sector.
Walking the shop floor is crucial to Martin, and he believes this helps him to understand the pulse and challenges of the day-to-day business. With that in mind, he starts his day early by addressing emails and actioning important tasks, before visiting a minimum of two outlets. By 9.30am, a tight agenda with defined priorities has begun.
Martin finds his role as CEO both vibrant and challenging. His consistent drive to achieve the Group’s objectives and to coach the team to attain its overall vision by being systematic through a well-planned agenda is what makes him hum. Martin divulges, “I dislike surprises and last-minute changes. My agenda is normally set at least two weeks in advance.”
The directors of The Convenience Shop (Holding) plc are highly visionary businessmen and realised in good time that this traditional, local sector would soon become an important destination. The Group quickly identified that more and more people were looking for convenience, thus an opportunity for growth was in sight within the market.
What began as a single outlet in Zebbug expanded exponentially with a single, specific formula: that of a genuine, family- run business with a focus on proximity and delivering a customer relationship and local feel to shoppers.
“The Group prides itself on its name: convenience,” Martin says. And every service it offers is orientated around just that, with all outlets open daily, including weekends and public holidays, with extended hours. The shops offer any product, at any time, in any place that is most convenient for their customers, now even in the comfort of their own home. Customer satisfaction is the key priority to the Group, with the objective always being to help ease its customers’ hectic lives and provide a hassle-free solution for their daily needs.
Martin shares that the small retail business sector has changed dramatically in these last two years. The shoppers’ lifestyles and, as a result, their behaviours have changed due to the pandemic. Their expectations have heightened and they shop less frequently. As a result, the Group needed to change its dynamics and ensure that it meets shoppers’ needs and expectations.
In 2020, in a natural move at the height of the pandemic, the Group launched The Convenience Online – an online shop for those who wanted their essential needs ordered and delivered – all the while ensuring that its ‘convenience ideology’ was an integral part of the service. The immediate solution was to offer an express delivery service, enabling customers to obtain last-minute ingredients or daily essentials within a few hours. And to increase the efficiency of their service, they recently teamed up with delivery companies such as Wolt, and the results are highly encouraging.
And developments have further evolved. While in the recent past, The Convenience Shop was a destination for staple top-ups, a recent shopper study has shown that it is now recognised as the leading daily shopping destination, at 20.4 per cent. Martin says, “The Convenience Group holds a defined vision with a franchise formula that differentiates us from the rest of the pack. I really believe that the benchmark of our yellow brand of convenience holds a lot of weight in terms of staying the course, while others have been forced to close or scale down in the face of adversity. Moreover, the economies of scale offered by our franchise model provide more width and strength overall and, as a result, within each outlet.”
While food supply was at an advantage from a business perspective when other outlets were forced to close due to the lockdown in 2020, The Convenience Shop (Holding) plc experienced an unexpected blow to its tourist and expat zone outlets, which account for 20 per cent of the business.
It was during these challenging times that the Group was forced to focus on the core of the business: creating more efficiency and leaner processes to maintain and ensure control of its KPIs. By optimising its core competencies, the Group is now continuing to increase its offering to the whopping 12 million-plus transactions that the shops collectively experience annually. Martin says, “a big push is still being made to capitalise on these transactions by offering a one-stop shop, and presenting key, fast-moving consumer goods, as well as fresh food. Whereas, previously, we offered the staples, now we provide a choice of fresh dairy products, daily-baked bread and breakfast items, as well as confectionery goods, delicatessen products, frozen items, beverages, groceries, and more.”
Martin claims that the small retail business sector had already been experiencing dramatic changes prior to the pandemic, with a noticeable decline in the local and traditional segments, part of which has shifted to convenience. While The Convenience Shop (Holding) plc is considered a small retail business, its economies of scale (due to the franchise model) work in its favour against many of the challenges other small retail businesses are facing.
But, as with all sectors, human resource supply is an ongoing concern. Martin says, “we value the work ethic of our employees in all sectors – ranging from operations and sales to customer service and management – as they work together toward the same goals. As a Group, we truly care for every person on our team and their contentment is of great importance to us.”
Despite the human resources apprehension, Martin describes the outlook for this year as highly encouraging and exciting. “We expect further changes, with developments of franchisees within our segment,” he says.
Corporate social responsibility is not overlooked by the Group either, and is also key to its team’s philosophy. Martin says, “we support various NGOs and vulnerable people with yearly donations. In 2019, The Convenience Shop for Puttinu Cares was launched in Qormi, whereby all profits from operations are donated to the Puttinu Cares Foundation.”
Now, again at cruising altitude, the CEO foresees that 2022 will include acquisitions across all the divisions of the Group’s investments in IT and process reengineering, making The Convenience Group (Holding) plc even more relevant within the small retail business sector. Martin concludes, “2022 will continue with growth and expansion in its width within the market, so that we will have even more shops within close proximity of our shoppers.”
This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2022 – an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders.
MaltaCEOs 2022 serialisation: For seven years, WES Trade has helped an expansive range of clients internationalise their products and services.
MaltaCEOs 2022 serialisation: Unsurprisingly, given his technical background, Joseph’s approach is very hands-on.
MaltaCEOs 2022 serialisation: CEO Paul Magro counts building successful teams and opening an office in London among his achievement.
MaltaCEOs 2022 serialisation: CEO David Magro is keenly aware of the responsibility his position carries.