Metro: tremor


Metro : tremor

The sale of the real markets upsets employees and shareholders. Only Metro boss Koch is optimistic.

By Michael Kläsgen and Benedikt Müller, Düsseldorf / Munich

With whistles and yellow safety vests, Real employees moved to the Düsseldorf city hall, where the shareholders from Metro to the Annual General Meeting. “We are here, we are loud because you steal the future from us,” chant hundreds of trade unionists and employees of the department store chain. They should soon have no future within the retail group. “We want to see Olaf”, some sing alluding to Metro boss Olaf Koch.

Only Hours earlier, the supervisory board decided to leave Real. “We are convinced that the sale of Real is the right and important step for the future of Metro,” said the head of the committee, Jürgen Steinemann, before the shareholders. A German-Russian consortium of SCP Group and X Bricks is to take over the 276 real markets. These not only carry significantly more items than supermarkets and discounters, right up to clothing and car accessories. On average, they are also 8000 square meters in size, slightly larger than a soccer field. Retail areas of this size have never been sold in one go in Germany.

The boards of the two met until late on Friday Pages. According to information from corporate circles, Metro and SCP have signed a purchase contract. The SCP Supervisory Board now has to agree to this. The antitrust authorities also have to check the sale.

For the approximately 34 000 Real employees promise nothing good. The future owners, the financial investor SCP and the real estate developer X Bricks, who specialize in supermarkets, only want to continue operating some 50 branches themselves – and that too only for at least two years. The majority, on the other hand, should go to competitors such as Kaufland, Edeka or Globus in packages. Up to 30 markets are expected to close in a first step. Real is likely to lose about 80 percent of its current sales of just under seven billion euros.

With the purchasing volume, the chain will also lose negotiating power towards the suppliers. This weakens the remaining markets in competition with other dealers. The General Works Council of Real is also afraid that 10 000 Employees will be fired in the medium term.

The separation from the department stores is “one of the really big decisions”, Koch freely speaks to the shareholders, “also one that hurts me personally”. Many old brands have merged in real; that made it difficult to develop a business model for the chain. On top of that, wages at Real 30 are higher than at other supermarkets that are run by independent merchants. “Whether you like to hear it or not, it's a fact.” However, Koch argued that the Verdi union could not agree on a reform of the area contract or on a house tariff for Real that would be acceptable to Metro. Last year alone, Real 250 spent millions of euros more than revenue.

Shareholder representatives speak of a “tragedy”

A key role The former Managing Director of Kaufland, Patrick Kaudewitz, is now responsible for the implementation of the sale. The manager had left the Schwarz Group, to which Lidl also belongs, last year and recently hired as a consultant at SCP. He is to become the supervisory board chief of the operating company, which closes, sells or continues to operate.

For Olaf Koch, the sale is the last act of his corporate restructuring into a pure wholesaler. “We are closing the chapter of the conglomerate.” Under Koch, Metro sold the Kaufhof department store chain and split off the electronics chains Mediamarkt and Saturn. In addition to Real, the group is now also selling the majority of its branches in China. The CEO wants to invest the 1.5 billion euros that Metro expects from both sales together in online platforms, depots for the supply of restaurants and acquisitions. “We want to go full throttle this year,” announces Koch.

Shareholder representatives are more skeptical. How the share price has developed over the past few months is “unfortunately a tragedy,” criticizes Jella Benner-Heinacher from the German Association for the Protection of Securities (DSW). The outlook is sobering. “And he doesn't look like full throttle either.” She expresses understanding for the protests by the real workers outside the hall. “For us, the tremor may be over in the summer,” says Benner-Heinacher, “it will only start for the employees.”