Before the start of hostilities, we planned to open eight new stores that are currently in the freezing phase and renovate 10 existing ones. This shows that we had ambitious development plans for the near future. Of course, they are now suspended – says Natalia Azjukowska, executive director of the Ukrainian network of Varus stores.
What place does the Varus chain occupy on the commercial map of Ukraine?
In terms of turnover, we are the fifth largest retailer in Ukraine. We are developing in many formats, there are about 11 of them. Varus has both supermarkets, local outlets and To Go (convenience) stores. In total, we currently have 116 stores in our network. They are located, among others, in the Kyiv, Zaporozhye and Kirovograd regions, both in large and small towns and villages.
How many stores did you have to close due to military operations?
All shops are now open, except for one in the occupied territory of Energoda in the Zaporozhye region, where the nuclear power plant is located. Unfortunately, we cannot deliver the goods there because they do not open humanitarian corridors. With the exception of two facilities in the Donetsk region, where military operations are very close, the remaining facilities are regularly supplied and open to customers. This applies to stores in cities such as Kyiv, Brovary, Dnepr, Krivoy Rog and Zaporozhye.
What is the issue of availability of goods?
We have enough stocks in our warehouse. The whole company makes sure that their basic necessities are not exhausted. We also receive great support from the Ukrainian government. In the early days of the Russian occupation, a food committee was set up, which included all the networks that included retailers, including pharmacies. It is overseen and led by one of President Vladimir Zelensky’s advisers. Ministries, military and civilian agencies cooperate with the committee. Practically all current issues are resolved within a day. Of course, there are very difficult issues, including transport and fuel problems. The state also helps us in this work. Officials are cooperating with the Ukrainian post office and railways in the delivery of goods. They also regulate the issue of raising prices.
How does this cooperation work in practice?
We have committee meetings twice a day – in the morning and in the evening. Together we solve all existing problems, report and perform individual tasks together. We have never lived in a state of war, and such state support is invaluable for us. We all came together – former rivals became partners. If there are warehouses in areas where others do not come, everyone gives the goods to each other. The cooperation of all retailers is at a very high level.
It is not easy to manage a large chain of stores in wartime …
This is true, but they can be arranged. We took into account the experience of our colleagues from Kharkov and realized that during heavy military operations, people could not work because they were in unrelated shelters. They are also unable to perform their duties due to emotional reasons. Therefore, we decided to divide the office staff. Some of them remain at headquarters in the Dnieper, where there are no active combat operations. Some have been relocated. Therefore, if the troops enter our city, we will be able to manage the chain of stores without any worries, providing supplies to every region of Ukraine.
We did not force office workers to work on the spot. We allow everyone to work remotely. A large number of employees, especially women caring for children, have chosen such a solution. We learned to work remotely during a pandemic, we know how to work perfectly. We can say that the coronavirus helps us in this sense. We have several key managers who have decided for themselves that they will work inpatient. These are men who have decided to perform their duties in this way.
Warning! Full interview with Natalia Azhukovska, CEO of Varus stores in Ukraine – already in the next issue of “Wiadomości Handlowe” magazine. Click here to subscribe.