The interview was transcribed by students of Epoka University
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world. This interview was done in collaboration with Epoka University.
In this interview, we meet Edlina Rroji, the owner of Market Rroji, a grocery store in Shkoder, Albania. She shared that the fast pace of the pandemic caught her unprepared. The social impact was so big that made her lose focus and caused distress and disorganization in her business. The consumers were very stressed and that reflected on how they entered the store in a hurried way which led to confusion and long lines that were especially undesired during this time. To fix it, they made available two entry doors for their business. There had not been a big impact on cash flow, since the business had been running all through the pandemic. Although there had been some fluctuations in demand. Consumers, in the beginning, ordered as many products as possible due to the fear of being locked down. But later large orders decreased.
Tell us about your business.
Eldina: My business is a small business, a family business. We live in Shkoder and we own a grocery store. We work together with my family and also we have two other employees, which means in total we are 6 employees. Most of our products are related to food but also we offer different detergents
During this pandemic which are the first measures, you have taken?
Eldina: The first measure that we took was people distancing. In distance 1,5 meters away from each other. And we also have put the signs that show the distance between each other. We have put a protective glass in the payment section. Being equipped with gloves, face masks, hand sanitiser. Also, we have put some rules in order for customers to be careful from Covid-19 Those are the first measures we have taken.
Listening the news, in other words always being updated in this subject. Have you been unprepared for this situation, even though we have heard the news from Italia, Greece, and from neighbour countries?
Eldina: Yes, of course. This has been an unexpected situation even for us. Because we had not thought that this situation would soon be the same for Albania. So it was an unexpected situation even for us and we were unprepared.
As a business do you have any kind of emergency plan for this kind of situations, or is this the first time that you face this kind of situations? And before you never thought that something like this could happen?
Eldina: Yes, in fact it found us unprepared and we didn’t have any emergency plan because this kind of situation never had happened before so we were unprepared and did not have an emergency plan.
In your personal evaluation, this unpreparedness, did it have a big social impact in your business?
Eldina: Of course, because always it has been an unknown situation. It was a stressful situation, for us and for our clients. So this kind of situation had a negative impact because clients rushed into our store to buy things and quickly get out because they were scared of the virus and it created stress for us and clients.
Now we will jump into another subject, social media. And I would like to ask you, have you utilized the technology during this situation and in what kind of way did you use it?
Eldina: Yes we have used the technology. We have used WhatsApp, Instagram, but we have mostly used WhatsApp because our clients are of different ages and WhatsApp is the most used app. We also make a lot of posts, and we make deliveries and WhatsApp helped us because besides the clients that came into the market we also help the ones that stay in their houses
Has the use of the developed technology impacted you to invest in a website for your business?
Eldina: Yes, of course. It is a good way of advertising our business so we will certainly use it.
Has your demand increased? If yes, it was in a continuous basis or it had its own fluctuations?
Eldina: Indeed, In the beginning, we had an increase in demand. Owning a market influenced our demand because clients concentered mostly on daily consume, groceries, because they were scared of how long was going to take, so they bought more foods that they needed. Another factor was the time frame, the time was reduced and the market was not open all the time, so this caused invasion of clients, so in the beginning, it had more demand. Afterwards, the pandemic did not come to an end for a long time causing a decrease in demand. This was a result of clients overbuying to many things so they did not want more or the economy level decreased as many businesses were closed the budget was smaller So it had a fluctuation, from the highest point of demand to its decrease
In your store, or in stores of Shkoder in general which were the most popular products?
Eldina: It was the daily food such as flour, water, oil, and detergents. So this was, people mostly bought important daily things that they use, it wasn’t about buying things that surpassed their needs.
Have you ever thought about increasing the price of products or even your competitors did they increased the price? Or did you have more stable prices so this made you had more demand?
Eldina: No, we did not increase our prices. First of all, it is not a human thing to do. Secondly, we have a lot of competition so clients choose to go where the prices are lower. So there is not any reason to increase prices, as we need to work on a daily basis not just during the pandemic.
In which phase it was the highest point of demand for online delivery or WhatsApp use?
Eldina: This was only the first three months, later it decreased. But the time frame allowed to go out, being scared was what mostly impacted the demand for online delivery. At this moment we don’t have demands for online delivery
Our government decided to shorten the working hours. Firstly, it was till 6 o’clock, then 8 and 10. Did the decrease in working hours impact the business?
Eldina: Yes, indeed. When working hours were till 4, this caused a huge invasion of clients, more mess. Later on, when working hours changed, things started to stabilize. The beginning was the hardest.
Did these changes give extra costs for your business?
Eldina: Yes, the costs increased, gloves use, the signs that we put, this was on our business, so of course it had extra costs, they had to be bought continuously, also the delivery did not have extra price this all are parts of the business costs.
At a certain point, the borders were closed with neighbouring countries, did this impacted the cancellation of supplies from foreign countries?
Eldina: Telling the truth, no we did not have any cancellation because the borders were open for food products, and we did not have any problem
So it was only for people.
Eldina: Yes only for peoples, not for products.
Which was the biggest difficulty that you faced, the use of new things online, high demand, bookkeeping of inventory, the supply, which was the one that dared you the most?
Eldina: Mostly affected the social stress that was created, because our clients came to buy but also they discussed problems of the pandemic, like how much it will last, will we be okay, so the social impact is the biggest problem that was created
Did you need to need to reduce your staff?
Eldina: No, we didn’t have to. Being a family business, we had our own employees which were members of the family, the store worked regularly, we didn’t break the time frame of the government, so we didn’t have to reduce the staff.
How was the client’s feedback during the pandemic?
Eldina: I think it was good you can see it even afterwards because we have tried our best to serve their needs in the best way possible
For how long do you think you can handle this situation?
Eldina: I don’t know how long, I just hope as soon as possible
Now let’s jump to the numbers. How much it was approximately the change in profit % for you?
Eldina: It hadn’t any big difference from the pandemic during now, because in the beginning, it had a high demand then the demand reduced, so they were balanced
How do you think your business will be in the next months?
Eldina: Let’s hope we will do better, because if we will have a normal movement in all fields, clients will have more possibility to buy, like I said in the beginning clients only bought daily products, now they can surpass their needs, buying better things I hope our profits will increase.
Did the new rules or policies affect your business? If yes, have they helped you?
Eldina: Yes, I know our state does have some policies for small businesses, mostly for businesses that were closed 1 to 2 months, but our business was never closed, we worked regularly.
What is your advice for businesses that are having tough, difficult days?
Eldina: My advice for business in difficulties is to never give up, to not say they are going to bankrupt because this is the last word to be said, they should give themselves courage, even if it is too difficult. Let’s hope better days are coming. Always keep your good mood, even though there are difficulties.
About the Guest
The business we are analyzing is a grocery store in the centre of Shkoder. It is one of the first markets that has been opened in this city that offers mainly food products and home goods. The supermarket has been operating for 15 years, it is a family business of 4 family members and 2 employees.