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Slovakia: Tesco Chain Opens First Store

By Mike Leidig

Bratislava, 19 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - The British supermarket chain Tesco has officially opened its first store in the Slovak capital as part of its push into Central and Eastern Europe.

The store in Bratislava, formerly owned by the American K-mart chain, was bought last March along with six other K-mart stores in the city for $117.5 million.

Commenting on the official launch, the British Ambassador in Slovakia, Peter Harborne, said: "Tesco's arrival on the Slovak scene symbolizes growing UK interest in the region."

The purchase of the store chain means Tesco now has outlets in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary as well as Slovakia.

An RFE/Rl correspondent in Bratislava reports that the redesigning of the other six outlets in the city is expected to be completed by April. A simultaneous effort by Tesco to upgrade its six stores in the Czech Republic is also underway and Tesco says that once that work is complete, it plans to open more stores in Slovakia.

Sir Ian Maclaurin, Tesco President, told our correspondent that his company "would like to use the stores here in Slovakia as a base from which to expand over the next couple of years."

The process is already underway to analyze potential new sites. Tesco officials said plans include the construction of an even larger hyper-market in Bratislava.

Gradual changes will include the expansion of the fresh produce section, the introduction of some foreign foods and an emphasis on customer service.

Officials said no present staff would be sacked.

The chief executive officer for Tesco operations in the Czech and Slovak Republics, Keith Brandon, said: "We have no plans for some sort of major upheaval because this was a successfully run business before. K-mart was growing well in sale terms and was making a small profit."

The American chain gave up their local stores, which registered $200 million in sales last year, to focus on the U.S. market.

Tesco, which has also purchased 45 "Global" stores in Hungary and 36 in the "Slavia" chain in Poland in the last two years, was looking to break into the Czech and Slovak Republics when K-mart put its operations up for sale.

"We were lucky that the stores came onto the market," said Brandon. Tesco officials added they were glad to have the store opened in time for the Christmas shopping rush when numerous tourists, largely from Austria, visit Bratislava to take advantage of cheaper products.