By: Caroline Cunha
TWENTY-FOUR years after opening a mini market in Almancil, 64-year-old Avelino Apolónia has created the quality supermarket of choice for many of the Algarve’s international community, now employing 130 staff.
Last week Avelino received a silver medal for his services to tourism from the Algarve Tourism Board and The Resident caught up with him to find out more about the Apolónia success story.
Born in Loulé, Avelino began his working life in a clothing store. Later he emigrated to Canada, where he worked as a chef, however he never fully settled and chose to return to the Algarve with his wife in 1982.
“When we returned, my idea was to open a snack bar, but my wife persuaded me against it, saying she’d prefer to help me run a mini market.” The couple opened a 100sqm metre mini market on the same site as today’s Apolónia supermarket (now 1,200 sqm) and, gradually, every few years, the store was extended.
“I didn’t realise it would be so successful, there was no great plan. When we opened, tourists began asking me for certain products and that’s how it started.” Avelino began sourcing a range of English products: “More than just bread and butter, as we say” he smiled, although he quickly mentioned that today the store does a roaring trade in Kingsmill bread!
“I went to Lisbon every two weeks to choose English products from the distributor. I didn’t wait for sales reps to visit me,” he said.
Avelino was modest about his medal win. “It is nice to be recognised, I am happy, these things don’t happen every day,” he said. So what are his success secrets? “I suppose you could say it’s down to a lot of hard work and the fact that we always look for something new and listen to clients.” Avelino mentioned that yesterday an English client was looking for a certain brand of artificial sweetener. “They brought me a packet and I’ve have been on the phone so we can stock it here,” he said.
The Apolónia family are very hands on. “I have worked on the butcher’s section and the deli and my wife also worked in store. My two sons, Paulo and Eduardo, who today help me manage the business, spent their weekends and school holidays stocking shelves and working on the tills.” The same approach stands today. “We don’t believe in hiding away in ivory towers.”
At Apolónia, many customers are known by name. “We have 20 staff who have worked here over 15 years. They know the customers and the customers know them. There is a nice cozy atmosphere,” he said.
“Our core client base is English, but we have lots of Irish, as well as German and Dutch clients and more and more Portuguese customers. I once had an English client say to me, now I’ve found your supermarket, I feel I can buy a home here, which was flattering.
“We are not expensive, we sell quality products and some luxury ones like caviar. Prices are standard all year round, they don’t increase in summer.”
Apolónia is well known for its meat, fish and selection of fruit and vegetables, however it’s perhaps better known for stocking so many English favourites. “We sell pallets and pallets of PG Tips and Kettle chips,” he smiles. “And the Portuguese like your Andrex toilet paper,” he laughs. The future looks bright, the company enjoys a 20 million euro annual turnover and a second Apolónia store is planned in Galé, Albufeira (to open in 2008) and there are further expansion plans in the pipeline. A new website is being launched in May at www.apolonia.com and further investment is being made in the popular Apolónia magazine.
Finally, there’s also good news for chocolate fans, as there is already an array of English easter eggs adorning the shelves. My diet starts in May.
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