‘Cautiously optimistic’

CEBU-BASED and listed retail player Metro Retail Stores Group Inc. (MRSGI) remains cautiously optimistic as the squeeze on disposable incomes has led many consumers to become more prudent in their spending.

Inflation remains elevated at 7.6 percent in March, although this is an improvement from 8.6 percent in February.

However, despite this, MRSGI has promised its customers that it will offer a wider selection of products to help meet their household budgets, while also continuing to open more store locations in underserved areas.

“We are still cautiously optimistic about the future (prospects). (But) we are going to continuously expand. That’s one of our focal points—to expand our presence to provide the Metro brand experience,” said MRSGI president and chief operating officer Manuel Alberto in an interview Saturday, May 20, 2023.

“But of course, we have to adjust our merchandising and marketing concepts to what is relevant to our customers. Inflation is important. Customers need solutions on how they can manage their household budget. So, we find solutions, and our offers will be attuned to that,” Alberto said. “We will offer it in a way that is relevant to the challenges of inflation.”

New things

MRSGI said it is filling its stores with new things it exclusively buys from different parts of the world, mindful that consumers will be returning to their old routines in this post-pandemic environment. Alberto cited, for instance, the great value basic apparel fashion options that will hit the shelves of the department stores in the coming months.

“These will be of good quality at a price that is reasonable for the whole family,” he said.

MRSGI, which already has 60 stores nationwide, aims to solidify its retail footprint starting this year.

Without disclosing the number of stores to open this year, Alberto said the company intends to bring the Metro brand to rural and underserved areas, identifying them as priority areas for expansion.

“From the beginning of the year and in the years to come, we will be more aggressive with our expansion,” he said.

The company ended the first quarter with a net income of P60 million, an 80.2 percent increase from P33.3 million in the same period in 2022. It attributed the improvement to robust operating margins and solid revenues.

Caravan in Mandaue

Alberto was in Cebu to formally launch the Go Lokal! Bayanihang Metro Caravan at Mandaue City’s Pacific Mall in celebration of the Mantawi Festival on May 20.

The Gaisano-led company is banking on the country’s rich festivities to help micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) introduce and showcase their products and make them accessible to a wider consumer base, including tourists.

In collaboration with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), 10 MSMEs participated in the month-long Go Lokal! Bayanihang Metro Caravan in Pacific Mall. They are Yssa’s Handricraft, Rachel’s Homemade, Wodd PH, Tuburan Coffee, Gasa, LemonCito, Lamac MPC, Bakerlane Bakery, Hinam-is Sweet Sitsirya and Tropical. The caravan will be available until June 17.

Alberto said the ongoing partnership with DTI has helped shift consumers’ focus toward sustainable means of shopping and has raised awareness of the importance of supporting local products and entrepreneurs.

“We want to give opportunities to MSMEs to test and showcase their products,” he said.

After the caravan period, the Metro Retail stores will invite the MSMEs whose products were well patronized by the public for retailing inside the Metro Supermarket and/or Department Store.

The Bayanihang Metro Caravan initiative is an offshoot of last year’s Bayanihang Metro – Go Lokal program in partnership with the DTI.

According to DTI Assistant Secretary Glenn Peñaranda, who was represented by DTI 7 Director Ma. Elena Arbon, Go Lokal’s first partnership with MRSGI in 2022, which featured six homegrown brands in their island flavors area at Metro Market! Market! in Taguig City and Metro Ayala Center Cebu, generated gross sales of P273,139.

In April this year, at the Bayanihang Metro Caravan in the Super Metro Lapu-Lapu store, which was participated in by four MSMEs, gross sales reached P212,933.

MSMEs, which form part of the backbone of the economy, generate more than half of the country’s employment. The sector plays a critical role in the country’s economic regeneration, job generation and poverty reduction.

In a separate interview, Arbon said the DTI is pushing for more programs for the development of this sector this year, recognizing that MSMEs badly need assistance to recover from the losses caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, rising inflation, and the high interest rate environment.

“We will help micro and small enterprises graduate to become medium businesses. But we will focus on those micro and small business owners who are willing to scale up,” said Arbon.

She also mentioned that one way of supporting the sector is to connect entrepreneurs with SBCorp., the financial arm of the DTI, which is willing to provide them with capital.