Retail SEE Group spoke with Julian Mane, the Vice President of Retail at Balfin Group, to find out more about their retail activities and expansion plans for southeast Europe.
Balfin Group, the largest privately-owned Albanian business group and one of the largest investment groups in the region, is known for the development of highly successful commercial projects such as QTU and TEG shopping centers in Albania.
TRANSFORMING THE WAY ALBANIANS SHOP
Limited product selection and high delivery costs are the biggest factors affecting the development of e-commerce in Albania. Balfin Group aims to solve these challenges with Aladini – the biggest multi-category online store in the country.
“In Albania, e-commerce is still in its early stages. With online shopping becoming the norm in global retail, we believe that the Albanian market will follow suit. The Aladini platform offers products from all major distributors in one place. Additionally, the platform offers fast shipping services, competitive prices and a transparent return policy. As a result, it provides value for both retailers and consumers,” Julian Mane, the Vice President of Retail, Balfin Group.
At the moment, Aladini is working toward becoming a referral traffic source for products in Albania. Besides expanding the platform with new brands, Balfin Group also strives to become a major online player in the region.
“The vision is to create the biggest e-commerce platform in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia within the next five years,” Mane added.
JUMBO EXPANSION PLANS
Balfin Group is the franchise partner of the Greek toy retailer JUMBO for Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Bosnia, and Herzegovina. The Group currently operates a network of 16 JUMBO stores and is planning to expand the chain in the existing markets as well as in new countries.
“After opening our first JUMBO store in Montenegro, we plan to add another location in this market. In Albania, we aim to implement a new smaller store format of around 800 sqm. Our long-term objective is to expand JUMBO in other countries outside the European Union, such as Moldova and Ukraine,” explained Mane.
EXPANSION OF SPAR IN ALBANIA
Balfin Group signed an exclusive franchise agreement with SPAR International in May 2016, introducing the global SPAR chain to Albania.
In October 2016, SPAR Albania launched a network of 18 new stores. The chain will mark the milestone of reaching 60 stores this year.
SPAR Albania expands through three store formats: hypermarkets, supermarkets, and express stores. Besides the capital, Tirana, they have stores in other cities such as Durres, Vlora, Shkodra, Elbasan, Korca, Saranda, and Gjirokastra.
Speaking about upcoming expansion, Mane said: “The goal is to accelerate the expansion of SPAR by opening our own stores, as well as through partner agreements and acquisitions. We have recently completed the takeover of a local supermarket chain with seven stores in Tirana, and we plan to reach a total of 100 stores by 2020.”
SHOPPING CENTER SUCCESS IN ALBANIA
In 2018, the malls recorded strong results, with 3% and 12.9 % increases in footfall, respectively. In terms of visitor numbers, TEG reported 9.6 million visits, while QTU had 7.1 million visitors. All retail segments in the centers, including fashion, electronics, food and accessories, recorded growth in 2018.
Both QTU and TEG shopping centers update their offers to meet customer preferences on a regular basis. This year, the malls will introduce several newcomer brands in Albania: NIKE, New Yorker, Alcott, Burger King, Mango Man, Taf, and BUZZ.
Balfin Group is also constructing a mixed-used development Skopje East Gate. The project is an investment of 350 million EUR that will include 10 residential blocks, five business blocks, and a shopping center with over 250 stores.
A STRONG FOCUS ON ENTERTAINMENT AND SERVICES
In addition to bringing new brands, Acrem focuses on incorporating the latest retail trends into the Group’s shopping centers.
“The next step in the development of shopping centers is offering new and unique experiences. In other words, introducing more entertainment, events and more services to complement the tenant mix of the mall. We are seeking to offer services that go beyond traditional concepts available in most shopping malls. In the near future we intend to include services like hands-free shopping and tickets for concerts and other events.”
BALFIN GROUP SHOPPING CENTERS
Following a 15 million EUR restoration program, the shopping center introduced a new interior design, brands and services for its customers. These include new public spaces and entertainment options such as the new Cineplexx cinema and the largest kid’s corner in the region.
TEG shopping center was opened in 2011 and is the leading social and entertainment hub in Tirana. The Center offers various entertainment options for all age groups – a children’s park and recreation facilities, Cineplexx cinema with seven move halls, virtual games, and more.
The mall also has a varied gastronomy offer, which includes both traditional and fast food restaurants such as Burger King, KFC and Kung Fu Express. A new arrival in the gastronomy will be introduced soon.