homepage_name! > Editions > Number 138 > Interview - UNIVEREXPORT

Vesna Vučurević, President of Univerexport Group

UNIVEREXPORT – 30 years of shared love

Today, Univerexport owns more than 160 retail stores, has acquired three trade chains, enhanced the in-house production of organic products, wine, dry-cured ham, the agricultural and meat industry and all that accompanied by considerable investments and innovation. Furthermore, there is the distribution center that complies to all international standards, which can be found online under the symbolic name eLAKOLIJE (“It’s easy”) – all being aspects that deserve to be mentioned. Retrospectively, we can say that every day counted because of something that helped the company progress.

1. Ms. Vučurević, Univerexport celebrates 30 years of business this year. Univerexport, the small family business with four employees, grew into a group with almost 3,000 employees, while still being a company taking pride in maintaining the spirit of family business. How do you explain that? We have been associated with the term ‘family business’ for years, which is connected to our beginnings just as much as our continued existence. Univerexport, bearing a name coined from the import and export of consumer goods, was founded as a family business and we endeavored to retain the values and work ethic, which today makes up a family of 3,000 people. This is an anniversary year and the most successful fiscal year so far, but our persistence is not only based on professional aspects, but also on interpersonal understanding and support, values we continue to cultivate, just like all other special features due to which our customers rate us as their favorite shopping place. 2. Are you satisfied with the previous achievements and, in your eyes, what are the key moments concerning the company development? Univerexport´s path of development up to now has been divided in two parts, equally challenging and significant for our current status. The first and second 15 years both had their challenges, highs and lows, and were equally challenging periods, but at the same time completely different. Both cycles marked and defined Univerexport´s path, which now owns more than 160 retail stores, has acquired three trade chains, developed an in-house production of organic products, wine, dry-cured ham, an agricultural and meat industry and all that accompanied by considerable investments and innovation. Furthermore, there is the distribution center in compliance with all international standards, which can be found online under the symbolic name eLAKOLIJE (“It’s easy”) – all being aspects that deserve to be mentioned. Retrospectively, we can say that every day counted because of something that helped the company progress. Some days these were big investments, openings in capital cities or new production plants, while sometimes they were small things that had great effects. All things considered, it is highly rewarding to manage this team of 3,000 employees, as it´s them making Univerexport what it is today. 3. In the course of the year, retail stores have been opened almost throughout the whole territory of Vojvodina and since 2010, the sales network started to grow in the territory of Belgrade as well. What have been the results so far? How did customers in Belgrade react to Univerexport? The opening of new retail stores in Belgrade was the next logical step in widening the sales network, which was accompanied by a big challenge: presenting Belgraders our distinctive features and making them get used to the everyday experience of a favorite trade chain, formerly only present in Vojvodina. There are several aspects responsible for our success, which we will slightly selfishly keep to ourselves, but we are sure that the homemade meat from our farm, delivered to store shelves within 48 hours, and never imported or frozen, is one of the things that distinguishes us from others and integrates our products in to many of Belgrade’s consumer habits. So far, 10 retail stores offer our products and our results convey the impression that we are increasingly popular. Considering the results in this part of the market, the future of our development is certainly oriented towards this direction. 4. Please tell us more about your biggest investment, the distribution center opened in 2017? How large is the surface area, what is the capacity, how will the distribution work, and what kind of technology do you use? The construction of the distribution center is the most significant investment in the framework of the company´s business activities. In the construction, modern business processes and models are implemented, resulting in the better management of the whole process, from ordering to distribution, which leads to a new and more efficient ordering, distribution and delivery process. The distribution center with a surface area of 30,000 m2, most of which is occupied by the receipt and storage of goods, is equipped with the most modern technology, from handheld scanners and voice picking devices to a storage height of up to 12 meters. With the construction of the distribution center, Univerexport started a new phase of modern business, in the framework of which the company successfully reacts to all market challenges. This became obvious at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic when the delivery and distribution chain operated without interruption. 5. During the long-lasting growth of the sales network, Univerexport acquired three trade chains – Lurdy, Angropromet and Trgopromet. How and to what extent did this affect company growth? Naturally, all changes had an impact on the growth and progress of the company, the acquisition of the three named trade chains being among the key factors. This year, the transition of Trgopromet stores to the Univerexport brand will be completed, while Angropromet and Lurdy have been under the Univerexport brand since 2014. The company´s retail network grew significantly after these acquisitions, and consumers in Subotica, Kikinda and other places in Vojvodina gained the opportunity to buy quality groceries with origin and health safety guaranteed by the name of the company they buy them from. With this business move, Univerexport opened its gate to many consumers in the neighborhood. 6. The online store, eLAKOLIJE, was founded in April 2020 and is regarded as one of the stores with the longest tradition. What did you learn about online shopping and customers during this time? Online and traditional customers are different in many respects; they have different habits, different shopping frequencies and different priorities concerning their expectations. The most important thing we learned is to regard them exactly like that: as different target groups, and to adapt to their needs in the way they expect us to. Namely, online customers expect speed, timely delivery and clarity from the website they are ordering from, as well as building trust in grocery shopping from the fresh food program category. However, once you justify their trust by choosing the fresh food program (meat, fruit, vegetables etc.) as if you were buying those items yourself, and customers notice this, they have no reason to not use their favorite trade chain´s online service as if they were personally going to the store. Online services in our industry are continuously growing due to the modern way of life customers´ lack of spare time makes it the service of the future. Therefore, the right way to establish successful online trading is by regarding an online buyer as your favorite neighbor for whom you choose only the best. Our service with the symbolic name, eLAKOLIJE (“It´s easy”), implies an ease and simplicity of shopping. 7. Has the pandemic increased the scope of trade and do you have enough capacity to fulfill the expectations and orders of your customers? The pandemic has brought about numerous changes at the international level and we are all striving to keep abreast of the current events and plan in advance, trying to predict what could not even be predicted at the global level. You will admit that this is an unusual situation, especially when you are dealing with consumer goods sales, which is people´s priority. However, thanks to our fast reaction and the use of all available resources, we successfully overcame all obstacles and faced the potential crisis calmly and thoughtfully. Besides changing consumer habits in traditional stores, where the focus is on large-scale and less frequent shopping, requiring a bigger shopping basket, the pandemic has also influenced the growth of online shopping to a great extent. Meeting consumer expectations in such specific circumstances is not easy, but we would, however, answer your question affirmatively and conclude that we have succeeded in all aspects. This is supported by the stable number of loyal customers whose favorite place for shopping is Univerexport. 8. In your opinion, what distinguishes Univerexport today from the competition? Why do your customers choose you, from all chains to be loyal to? Our customers trust us. Gaining loyalty is actually the hardest task of all. It is constantly questioned, while being hard to get but easy to lose. We believe that our advantage is that we truly stand behind our words. Our marketing messages are not only intended to catch attention, but to emphasize the qualities we fully support. Our meat comes from our farm, where we participate in the entire production process and take care of the quality as if we were working for ourselves and our families. Our organic products pass through a long process of obtaining certificates before the final product is available and we watch the seeds grow which we ourselves planted. We make our bread and pastry ourselves, and we produce and store dry-cured ham and wine in carefully controlled conditions, as long as it is necessary for the taste to tell a story itself. These are all our products, made by our own hands. This is the first choice of our family and, therefore, for the families of our customers as well. Why should people not trust you if they know where your products come from? This is exactly what distinguishes us from the majority of the competition present on our market, which will be even bigger during the following years. 9. What are your plans for the future and has the expansion of online shopping changed the direction of future development? How many stores have been opened this year and what are the further plans? Are you planning on expanding to completely new regions and if so, when? The next short-term plan includes widening the retail network in Belgrade and strengthening the position in Novi Sad and Vojvodina. 2020 will end with 10 Univerexport stores at new locations, most of them in Belgrade, and 44 Trgopromet retail stores with a completely new design and the characteristics of the Univerexport brand. The direction of development we strive to follow includes our growth into a national chain, in the full sense of the word. 10. Retrospectively, what would you regard as the greatest success? What would you recommend to young people today? The greatest success is when you are satisfied with your achievements, however big or small they may be, noticeable or not, meaningful for the environment, significant for the system, the people who are a part of it and therefore meaningful for yourself. Thus, we are successful to the extent to which we make people happy for being part of our success, as well as ourselves. Every period in time has its challenges and it’s highs and lows, but taking a path always means working on yourself and your environment. It may sound like a cliché, but work always brings about results.