The Greek-Belgian praline maker Leonidas may lose 20 percent turnover this year. ‘But in tourist shops, sales fell by 90 percent. As a result, 5 to 10 percent of our 400 stores are on a red list, ‘says CEO Philippe de Selliers.
The Grand Place in Brussels is usually teeming with people. Tourists from all over the world come to see the 32 facades of the most beautiful square in the world. But because of corona they stay away, also from other tourist locations such as Bruges and Zaventem airport. In addition to many memories, the tourists also take home many Belgian chocolates. But not now. Many praline shops in the tourist areas have been keeping their doors closed for months.
- Turnover (2019-20): 83.2 million euros.
- Operating profit: 894,000 euros.
- Net profit: 625,000 euros.
- 1,300 shops, mostly run by the self-employed.
- 400 direct employees and 10,000 indirect in the stores of the franchisees.
- Owner: the Greek families descended from founder Leonidas Kestekides.
Leonidas keeps almost all its shops open, but the Belgian praline chain has been declining for months. The end is not in sight. “The Americans and the Asians will not return any time soon,” sighs Philippe de Selliers, the top executive of the praline maker. ‘In some stores we still sell 80 percent less than usual. Every store in Bruges has financial problems. We have temporarily closed some of them. Travel retail (shops at airports, ed.) is dead. There sales are 90 percent lower than normal. ‘
It is precisely for those stores that Leonidas has to pay the highest rents. “They cost us a lot of money,” says De Selliers. ‘If tourism remains at a low level in the coming months, we will have no choice but to close shops. 5 to 10 percent of our stores are on a red list. ‘ Leonidas has 1,300 stores in 40 countries, 400 of which are in Belgium. Most of it is not owned by Leonidas itself, but by independent franchise entrepreneurs.
The shops in non-tourist cities and municipalities are also experiencing hard times, but the damage is not too bad. They guarantee that Leonidas group turnover does not go down completely. “We will close the financial year ending in June with about 20 percent less turnover than normal,” says De Selliers. ‘We are counting on 80 million euros in turnover this year and we will be profitable just like last financial year. Although we missed out on about 8 million euros in gross operating profit (EBITDA) last year. ‘
300 tons of Easter chocolate
A year ago, De Selliers feared the worst. ‘Immediately after the first lockdown was announced, we lost 80 to 90 percent of our turnover. The first lockdown broke out just before Easter, at the end of the year after the most important chocolate moment of the year. There were 300 tons of chocolate in our warehouses and shops. We have donated 5 million Easter eggs to the hospitals. We were able to melt and reuse some of our chocolate, but we also had to throw away a lot. ‘
After the spring, the situation improved. ‘In the summer sales were 5 to 10 percent lower than normal. In the second lockdown, which started in the autumn, the revenue decline was 35 percent. ‘
Travel retail is dead. Sales in airport stores are 90 percent lower than normal.
De Selliers explains that the damage is now smaller because the lockdown is less strict. In addition, his company is ‘better prepared’. Leonidas improved his online store. For several months it has been possible to pick up orders in the Leonidas stores, although not all stores already have a collection point. Despite the innovations, e-commerce remains limited. ‘We book 1 to 2 percent of the turnover online,’ says De Selliers. ‘That should be 5 percent in five years. We may never get to 30 percent. Most people want to see and smell chocolates. ‘
Corona changed the way of working in the factory in Anderlecht. ‘It would be disastrous if it were to close due to corona infections. So our employees always work in tandem with the same team. If someone gets sick, we should only send their closest colleagues home. That has already happened several times. ‘