Updated Monday,13November2023 - 00:54

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He was on the edge of the precipice and looked dangerously into the abyss. Battered by severe financial problems and a major corporate crisis, it hit rock bottom. But it rose from the ashes. The accounting sheets attest to the rebirth of the Dia supermarket chain and reap the fruits of a complex and ambitious restructuring strategy that seeks to make money again after years of millions of dollars in losses. The restructuring plan, which began in 2019 with the sale of larger stores to focus on a neighbourhood store model, will culminate this year with the renewal of the entire store network and the private label.

Behind this process, led by the renewed leadership of the company founded in Madrid in 1979, there is a whole coordination effort that would not have been possible without a key figure. She is Lucía Maricalva, Director of Real Estate and Procurement at Dia Spain, where she landed in 1993. Three decades later, she can boast of having been responsible for coordinating all store opening operations as national director of Real Estate Expansion for more than 20 years and for piloting a team that has played a crucial role in the milestones that are marking the current moment of rebirth of the business.

He is in the final phase of the network's transformation process, with 85% of the stores already operating under the new concept. The change can be perceived from the façade and as soon as you enter the premises, where a simplified design prevails, with larger and brighter spaces. "Among the great novelties of this concept, the greater presence and visibility of fresh products stands out, with fruit and vegetables as the main protagonists. On the other hand, the renovated bakery area welcomes customers in a more visible space, with greater availability and with freshly baked products thanks to technology that allows time control and ensures that everything is on point and at the right time for purchase," says Maricalva, for whom technology has been "key in this transformation. helping to implement a new operating model that allows for the standardization of tasks, as well as a new faster and more efficient ordering system."

"The balance has been very positive, not only because of the pace of transformation but also because the stores operating under the new model have improved their sales," he says. According to the company's internal data, new stores are selling around 10% more. "We have been renovating up to 30 stores a week, which is unprecedented in the sector," he says. In total, the group has invested nearly 250 million euros over these three years of transformation which, for the manager behind each new store, have been "exciting" and "quite a challenge". She defines the experience as "challenging" and is "proud" of the achievements achieved thanks to the efforts of "a great team, involved and full of talent".

A Day Less Than 15 Minutes Away

"Three years ago we embarked on a comprehensive transformation process and promoted a new value proposition based on a new store concept and a renewal of our own brand with high-quality products within everyone's reach," says Maricalva. With nearly 2,400 establishments throughout Spain, he is in a position to state that "about two-thirds of Spaniards have a Dia store less than a 15-minute walk from their home".

The new store "has marked a before and after in the shopping experience of our customers," he stresses. At a time when the main focus is on consolidating growth and completing the renovation of the entire network of premises, the openings do not stop. So far this year, Dia has opened 25 stores in regions such as Zaragoza, Seville, Madrid and Huelva and expects to close the year with nearly 40 openings. "The strategy in the coming years will be closely linked to the demands of our customers, in line with our commitment to maintain a proximity and quality experience," he adds. The proximity that Dia seeks is not only physical but also digital: the online service already covers more than 84% of the Spanish population, including 93% of municipalities with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.

In line with this purpose of getting closer and closer to the customer, in parallel to the updating of the stores, the distributor carried out a transformation process with the challenge of turning its own brand into a competitive alternative in the market. "Under the New Dia Quality banner, we reformulate a wide range of products with the intention of satisfying the tastes and needs of our customers and offering an assortment of the highest quality at affordable prices," he explains about his private label.

The facelift of the private label pivots on two axes: on the one hand, the reformulation of recipes and, on the other, the incorporation into the assortment of new products that respond to current consumer trends. One of the big bets in this process was that of fresh food. In fact, one of the keys has been to bet on local suppliers: today, there are more than 1,200 Spanish suppliers that account for 97% of purchases.

The evolution can also be seen in the packaging with a new, more creative image. "Today we already have more than 90% of our own brand renewed and our products are conquering customers, in fact they already account for 54% of the shopping basket, a figure that has grown almost 7 points since 2021, a sign of the tremendous success of our products," he says about this growth that is in line with changes in consumer habits.

An ally of savings

"The New Dia Quality has become a great ally for household savings," he stresses. The company estimates that the consumption of its products can lead to savings of up to 25% in a household's annual expenditure, where a purchase of 1,000 euros could be reduced to 750-800 euros.

In addition to offering a quality own brand at affordable prices, to cushion the impact of inflation on the pockets of its customers, Dia has made a significant investment in promotions ranging from weekly offers on more than a hundred products to discounts of up to 30%. In 2023 alone, 150 million euros have been allocated, 15% more than in 2022. On the other hand, the loyalty club has exclusive offers for its more than 5 million members.


QUESTION: Your role has been key in the transformation of the business. How have you met that challenge?

ANSWER: I was extremely lucky to join this company almost three decades ago and it has been a challenge for me to be able to participate in the expansion of the business and growth during all these years, first from the Real Estate area, and since 2019 at the head of Real Estate, Technical and Procurement. An exciting challenge that has allowed me to contribute to making Dia's purpose of proximity a reality, promoting the capillarity of stores throughout Spain and being part of the transformation to a new concept in recent years. None of this would have been possible without the excellent team that has accompanied me at all stages. Their commitment, professionalism and human quality have allowed us to improve ourselves every day and adapt to the needs of the business at all times.

Q: It's been 30 years in the company, which is said soon... He has coordinated all the operations of new openings and real estate expansion. What is your assessment of your career?

A: Developing almost my entire professional career in the same company has not only brought me obvious benefits such as stability or experience, but has also allowed me to evolve with it and, more importantly, to be part of its transformation and acquire learnings from each stage, which I have applied both in the work environment, as well as in the staff. That's my biggest accomplishment. On the other hand, in my opinion, the feeling of belonging to an organization is one of the most important elements of the company culture and during all this time I have always felt part of this great project. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to evolve in this company, the trust I have received and the opportunity to be living its transformation up close, being part of the Management Committee together with excellent professionals.

Q: From your extensive experience: What role does female leadership play in a sector such as retail, which is so masculinized in senior management and so feminized in less qualified positions?

A: While it is true that the retail world is one of the sectors with the largest female presence, the number decreases when we talk about senior management. However, efforts are being made in the area of gender equality and intensifying the presence of women in management positions with the aim of reversing the trend. From my point of view, change must start from the grassroots, promoting values of respect and equality, implementing work-life balance and equality plans, promoting women's access to management positions and making their leadership visible, creating role models that serve as inspiration to the new generations.

In the case of Dia Spain, for example, we have a female workforce of more than 15,000 people (73% of the workforce), where more than 50% of the total number of managers are women and 44% of our franchises are currently managed and led by women. In addition, we have just reaffirmed our commitment to gender equality with our II Equality Plan, which includes new measures linked to ensuring equity and work-life balance. An example of how important it is for the company to bet on female talent and that it is a basis on which to continue working.