Welbee’s today commands a handsome portion of the grocery market in Malta. With 460 employees on its books, running nine supermarkets spread across the country, the brand brings together seven previously competing players, some of which have been in the business for several decades.

“This naturally presented its own series of challenges; however, the shareholders had a vision for the greater benefit. In fact, the entrepreneurs behind some of Malta’s best loved supermarkets had already been collaborating on several levels, among which to create economies of scale at importation points. Having identical goals, the merger was seen as the natural next step,” Jonathan Shaw, the CEO at Retail Marketing Ltd – the company behind the supermarket chain – explains.

The rebrand naturally brought about significant discussion on the direction to be taken, but ultimately the new name was chosen to emphasise the values of well-being and a distinct familiarity the group could build on. “We are happy to note that the public has already built an emotional connection with our brand, which we have invested in generously,” the CEO affirms.

In bringing together nine established supermarkets spread across Malta, Welbee’s created a cohesive brand that managed to communicate directly with shoppers in Malta, keeping the message simple and effective.

“Contrary to what might have been expected, we took a very understated approach towards the rebrand. We did, of course, change all the signage, uniforms, and merchandise overnight which was a gargantuan task in itself. However, we didn’t claim for a second that anything intrinsically central to our operation had changed. On the contrary, we emphasised the fact that though the name and colours had changed, the experience and, most importantly, the people would remain the same,” Jonathan reveals.

Photo by Bernard Polidano

This proved to be an astute move that kept the regulars coming and developed new brand loyalty. “It would have been ill-advised for us to suggest that we were going to become instantly better because we would have changed the letters on the sign. Instead, we opted to stress how it was still the same staff behind each counter that would be helping the shoppers, the same people at the till – the only difference was that greater coordination would result in greater benefits for customers.”

And it worked, as customers appreciated the honesty, and Welbee’s has set itself on a trajectory for growth. In fact, since the merger, the group has already opened a new supermarket at Campus Hub next door to the University of Malta, and will be opening a new outlet at Shoreline in Smart City in the near future.

The secret behind this success, according to Jonathan, is an unwavering commitment towards the communities Welbee’s services, underscoring their motto ‘We are family’, with every step they take.

“Our values haven’t changed since our shareholders opened their shops decades ago, building hundreds of relationships with generations of shoppers and suppliers. We make it a point to remain sensitive to the needs of our customers. One way we do this is by making sure our shelves are well stocked with the products they love. In fact, at our supermarkets, we stock over 25,000 articles, providing a vast choice in each supermarket. For us, it would be easier to take a discount-store approach with fewer items on offer, but that goes completely counter to our vision,” Jonathan continues.

Welbee’s is also adamant that it works closely with local suppliers, sustaining a heathy relationship on the supply side as well. “We are proud to say that we do not engage in parallel trading. We feel we have a contribution to make within the context of the Maltese economy and it is not in our interest to disrupt the balance we have helped create over the years. Loyalty goes both ways, and is key, also in this regard, and we are grateful to continue collaborating closely with hundreds of professionals in this field.”

Finally, the central piece of the puzzle is the staff, who welcome customers to the Welbee’s shops every day, some of whom have been helping clients at the same shops for decades. “We are lucky to enjoy a very high level of employee retention, with most employees having been with us for the long-term. Though we have an international complement of staff representing some 36 nationalities, more than half of them are Maltese, maintaining a strong link to our roots. With the opening of new premises in the near future, we are looking at growing even further, taking our headcount to 500 by year’s end,” Jonathan adds.

The positive relationship Welbee’s has with its customers goes beyond securing the best prices on the market. It is also a matter of showing appreciation for their custom. “On top of providing an extensive selection of brands at competitive prices, we also make sure to show our customers how much we value them. In fact, our cash-back scheme refunds seven per cent of their bill with every €100 spent the following month, effectively further reducing shopping costs significantly.”

Looking ahead, Jonathan reveals that Welbee’s has exciting plans as it continues to strengthen its position, increasing range and market share.

“In the near future, we want to grow stronger on the tech side of the shopping experience, providing superior solutions for online shopping, both via app, as well as through our website. We want to be at the forefront in this field, as we strive to continue building strong relationships with more generations of customers well into the future,” Jonathan concludes.

This interview was first carried in the 2023 edition of Business Now Magazine, the sister brand to BusinessNow.mt and produced by Content House Group

Featured Image: Jonathan Shaw / Photo by Bernard Polidano

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