Non-stop Action

Small talk
The name Action seems to reflects how the Dutch retail chain operates. In 2017, it opened its first Polish store in Leszno and just two years later had opened 30. Now it has a network of more than 170. The opening of a logistics centre in Bieruń – the first outside the Netherlands to be wholly managed by Action – is also a sign of the speed of your expansion. Do you intend to maintain this tempo?

The opening of a logistics centre in Bieruń – the first outside the Netherlands to be wholly managed by Action – is also a sign of the speed of your expansion. Do you intend to maintain this tempo?

Sławomir Nitek, managing director, Action Polska: Of course, you could say that taking action is in our DNA. In mid-February, we entered our tenth country, Spain, so we are now expanding in many parts of Europe. When it comes to Poland, our plans haven’t changed. It continues to be a very promising market and we plan to keep acting quickly here.

The Covid restrictions must have had an impact on your operations. How has all the uncertainty related to this affected your operations? Has the management of your company also had to change much?

The pandemic has undoubtedly had a huge effect on how each business operates – and retail especially has been impacted by the many different kinds of restrictions. These include limits on the number of customers and temporary closures for certain centres. During this period we have faced huge difficulties; but on the other hand, we have seen many changes in consumer behaviour, as people return to smaller formats out of safety concerns, among other reasons. Since they no longer want to spend a lot of time in shopping centres, they have started to show a preference for shopping in smaller places. This, of course, resulted in a rise in the value of the average shopping basket, but also less frequent shopping trips during the most severe restrictions.

Would you say that despite all of this the sector has been able to find its feet under the new circumstances and emerge more-or-less unscathed? Can you now see the light at the end of the tunnel?

I’d say that the sector has adapted quickly to the changing circumstances. We’ve seen, particularly over the last two years, a huge boom in e-commerce and online retail. It’s true that occasionally it has slowed down a little, but the sector is still undergoing rapid growth. On the other hand, you mustn’t forget that brick-and-mortar stores are not about to disappear. Consumers – and particularly those in Poland – like to be able to see and touch the goods before they decide to buy them. After months of severe restrictions – and particularly now when they have been removed – I expect that people feel an additional impetus to return to the same habits they had before the pandemic.

Why do you think your chain has been so successful in Poland? Does Action aim to attract a particular type of client?

I could cite a number of reasons for our success. The most important to me seems to be our chain’s unique concept. There’s no one else like us on the market that sells 14 categories of goods under one roof. Another factor is definitely related to how a non-grocery chain can maintain a constant level of interest among its customers. Each year Action replaces two-thirds of its range and every week it offers 150 new goods. The third factor behind our success is certainly our value for money.

I cannot help but mention the war in Ukraine. What is Action doing to help? What kind of support are you offering your Ukrainian employees?

Of course, we are all deeply troubled by the current situation. We are working on many different levels to help. We’ve learnt that Bieruń, where we opened our logistics centre, is twinned with Ostroh in Ukraine, and so the town is collecting donated goods for the people there. It turns out that the donations aren’t the problem, it's more the logistics. The town needs somewhere to store the goods, so we have provided some of our warehousing space. What is being collected is clearly defined, because it is based on a list that comes from Ostroh. As well as the space we have provided, we have also donated an amount of goods ourselves. The transportation is being organised literally right now and we are also raising money. When it comes to our Ukrainian employees, we employ over a hundred in our two logistics centres. We’ve given them all the care and psychological support that we can. We can see how emotionally difficult this situation is for them and have given them a lot of flexibility for taking time off or contacting their families. We are also helping our employees’ relatives – we are working with a local employment agency to find them places to live if they manage to get to Poland.

And during this psychologically very stressful time, are you yourself finding a way to relax and regenerate your strength so that you can return to action full of energy?

I’m simply trying to do what I can. In the current circumstances I’m focused on helping in different ways. There will be time to rest later.

Interview: Julia Cudowska