Konstantinos Gerardos - Co-CEO, Plaisio SA,Technology retailer, Greece
But this is now a hugely competitive sector, and Greece is still recovering from a major financial crisis. Yet Plaisio SA is going from strength to strength. What’s their secret - how have they managed to buck the trend? Konstantinos Gerardos, the son of the founder and now co-CEO, talks us through the success factors that have driven their growth, and the impact these have had at each decisive milestone in the company’s history.
Success factor 1: Market knowledge
“When my father was studying to become a civil engineer, he spotted an opportunity to sell office supplies to the university students at a very competitive price. That’s how he came to open our first store. And because he knew exactly what his customers needed, he could pick exactly the right products.”
Success factor 2: The courage to innovate
“Our next big milestone was in 1986, when the personal computer hit Greece. As soon as my father saw what computers could do he knew – this was the future of the office. Very few people had that degree of clarity back then, or the courage to go with their instinct, but he did. He started to move into computers in a big way, importing PCs from overseas and then making up bespoke machines based on customer’s specific requirements. Customisation turned into a big thing for the computer industry, but we were already doing it in the late ‘80s. And we were one of the first outlets to start offering internet technology to consumers in Greece, back in 1989. By the late ‘80s the street where our store was located had become a cluster for technology stores. My father says it was like a gigantic IT bazaar: customers would get competing prices for machines, or parts, or repairs, and basically get the outlets to compete for the business. We learned a lot about customer relationship management from that.
The next big change was developing a B2B offering, alongside our end-user business, in 1995. Back then, companies would send a representative to a store to buy what they needed, but it wasn’t an efficient way to do it, especially for big orders. My father looked at how the US market worked and started using the catalogue-based approach, which was quite an innovation back then. He backed it up with a call centre and a sales team, and in 2016 our business customer base has grown to over 160,000.
Success factor 3: Digital technology
“We launched our first e-commerce site in 1999, which was really early, especially for Greece. And it was a full-service site – you could research and buy online, and get your products delivered the next day. And this was nearly 20 years ago - some companies still can’t manage that, even now. We listed the company around the same time so we also got access to the capital we needed to open new stores as well. So now we operate what PwC call a ‘Total Retail’ operation – our sales, stocking, returns, operations and marketing operate seamlessly across on-line, B2B, and the physical stores.
There are major disruptive forces in the digital technology market at the moment, some of which have emerged because of the economic crisis. For example, many successful start-ups appeared in the market and most of them offer unique digital products. And we all know that in tech, more than in any other category, start-ups cause immense disruption, which is horrifying, but in a good sense. You also have to be able to shift into new products as they emerge, and not hook your business onto a rigid product range. Our approach is to monitor what’s available out there and then try to make it ourselves!”
Plaisio SA team
Success factor 4: A flexible business model
“We have a flexible business model, which has helped us to grow but also to survive through the current economic crisis. Our philosophy is not to focus solely on one thing but to diversify: we started in the retail sector then moved into catalogues, then B2B, and then the internet, and we’ve managed to be top performers across all those categories and channels. And throughout all that a large part was and still is in production. What holds it all together is the brand. In fact, we own a range of brands. What the economic crisis taught us is that, in technology, you have to know where you're heading but you also have to be very flexible and prepared for the unexpected. Being a family business has given us the flexibility we needed to do that.”
Success factor 5: Professionalisation
“Systems are key for us – not just the ones we sell, but the ones we use. We have state-of-the-art CRM tools, and our business information systems can produce detailed reports almost in real time. We operate the most complex ERP system in Greece, and we’ve spent millions of euros on it since 1999. So we have the infrastructure of a multinational with the flexible organisational structure of a start-up. That’s a huge advantage. We also understand how strategy works in this sector. You need to have a medium-term plan, but you have to be incredibly flexible about how you implement it.”
Success factor 6: Resilience
“In a way, this is what all the other factors add up to: the strengths we have as a business put us in a much better position when the crisis came. No-one really saw it coming, and we certainly couldn’t have predicted that we’d have to change our plans and business strategy so radically, just to survive. We did it, but only because we had the agility to adapt, and the ability to find opportunities in what everyone else was seeing as a crisis. And now we’re posting record profits – €22m in 2014. That’s what I really love about being in this business – it changes so fast, it’s so challenging, and you have to be at the top of your game all the time or someone else will overtake you.”
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