Markus Laenzlinger believes flexibility is the key to Migrolino’s success, with its streamlined approach to complex logistics proving attractive to bigger and better partners. No wonder then that after 22 years, he loves the industry as much as ever.
Markus Laenzlinger has been the hugely successful CEO of Swiss company Migrolino since the start of the century, and at 61 is losing none of his enthusiasm for his role or the industry. “The convenience market is one of the most exciting because you are where the people are, and you immediately understand their needs,” he says.
“You have a complete variety of people in society – rich, poor, male, female, a huge diversity. It’s exceptionally fast-paced, and all of this keeps you fresh.”
Never was it more fast-paced than in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We had 20 stores close because the border was completely closed to Germany, Italy and France. Everything was closed,” he recalls. “It was impossible to enter another country. Then railway stations closed and traffic stopped due to the home office situation.”
It was an uncertain time and like most companies, Migrolino suffered financial losses, Markus admits, but it was able to weather the storm. “We wondered what to do, but after a while, we saw that those stores which were open recovered – due to the closeness to the neighbourhood, a fuel station became a neighbourhood store,” he recalls.
“After the first wave of COVID-19, we had recovered the entire loss, which we had during March and April. By the end of June, we were again profitable. We were very lucky.”
“Switzerland has eight million inhabitants and we have 125 million customer contacts a year. So every customer, on average, visits Migrolino 16 times.”
While some of this recovery could be seen as serendipitous, there is no doubt that Migrolino’s pre-pandemic strategies also helped. The digital projects it had been implementing were accelerated, with technology and innovation forming a large part of its future strategy.
“We have a completely automated warehouse, so that was already done. But the main project was the personalised app,” Markus explains.
“Switzerland has eight million inhabitants and we have 125 million customer contacts a year. So every customer, on average, visits Migrolino 16 times.
“We are very close to our customers. And as they come very often, they like to be rewarded with special treatment. So in order to get very personalised data we give them goodies directly on the app: ‘You were already in the store three times this week, please take a coffee and a croissant for free,’ for example.”
A payment process similar to Amazon Go has been implemented well ahead of its planned 2023 launch, and another ecommerce venture has been started, called heymigrolino.
Almost at saturation point with more than 300 stores, collaboration with fuel giants such as Shell and SOCAR is part of the focus for the next few years, and at the same time turning those fuel venues into less of a horsepower-driven testosterone environment, and adding a healthier and more sustainable feminine feel.
Now entering his 22nd year in the role, Markus has learned many lessons – the first is that you can’t be too dictatorial, but that being persuasive needs time. “The entire business is a convincing system,” he says. “We need very strong people here, who can think two-and-a-half years ahead, and then time is extremely important for this convincing system. When I was a bit younger, I said, ‘Listen, we need to do it now.’ But I learned that I needed time to convince people.”
Markus has also found that the variety of people he works with has been good for him and for the business, saying he welcomes fresh ideas from new, younger staff. But alongside that are six company values that Migrolino lives and breathes to help people integrate quickly: customer first, a focus on freshness, being nimble, that everything the company does should be of value, it should be quality driven, and the heart should be Migrolino.
Markus believes these values, along with his management style, contribute to Migrolino being a great place to work. “I leave people to work. We don’t have somebody looking over your shoulder at your screen,” he shares. “I also try to give people top salaries and we have at least four events every year with everyone together.”
In an often maligned industry, Markus also points out that the convenience store staff are treated well. He really believes the key to Migrolino’s current success is its flexibility, reflected in the streamlined way it handles complex logistics – something that is very attractive to its partners.
“We like to be a provider for Shell,” he explains. “Shell’s core competence is energy, not selling goods in their shop. Before it was fuel, only fuel and diesel, but today it’s energy. The energy part will change across the entire world in time – they can’t spend time as Shell trying to run a store.
“Every day is another day, and you have the chance to do it better.”
“They need a partner, and I like to be a partner where they can say, ‘OK, we have fresh food, food for home consumption, daily needs, alcohol, wine & beer offers and newspapers.’”
Conversely, Markus also relies heavily on quality suppliers. Although Migros is the company’s major shareholder and provides 50 per cent of its in-store products, tobacco companies are particularly important in providing traffic to stores.
It’s clear the phrase “exceptionally fast-paced industry” is not an exaggeration, and that Markus indeed still loves his job.
“Every day is another day, and you have the chance to do it better,” he enthuses. “And if you do it better after a certain time, the customer will see it, will feel it and will reward you as a company that you are doing it better.
“What is it that Oscar Wilde said? ‘Everything is going to be fine in the end. If it’s not fine it’s not the end.'”