With three shops in the region, Apolónia is a prime example of a successful family business in the Algarve
It is one of the few Algarve brands recognised throughout the entire country, and even abroad. With over 400 employees, it has become synonymous with unmatched quality and variety. Currently with three shops in the region – Almancil, Galé (Albufeira) and Lagoa – Apolónia supermarkets are an example of a successful family business, which celebrated its 35th anniversary in March of 2018.
It was a success that Avelino Apolónia, founder of the supermarket chain, could not have anticipated when he opened the small 100sqm commercial establishment (today over 1,000sqm), in Vale d’Éguas, Almancil, with his wife Célia. After emigrating to Canada at 21, where he worked in the hotel business and as a cook, the Loulé-born entrepreneur spent the next 18 years between both sides of the Atlantic. He imported the knowledge he gained – namely about sauces and condiments that had not yet come to the Algarve – and, most of all, a concept of customer service that did not exist in Portugal in the 1980s.
“I went to Lisbon before opening and brought an assortment of things I knew and we started getting foreigners straight away. Our first customer was a foreigner,” he recalls. With his great, blinking, blue eyes, Avelino describes how he used to go to the capital every fortnight to stock up, bringing large quantities of animal food, which could not be found in Algarve supermarkets. “The back of the van came back full of Pedigree Pal,” he says, smiling. “I brought a certain amount of outside produce, the fruit was always perfect, a good size. Today things are better here, but at the time they would show us boxes with beautiful fruit on top, yet at the bottom everything was tiny. I brought a professionalism that did not exist at the time, I always went after what the customer wanted and that is how we grew.”
With its variety, quality and personal service, Apolónia has gained a faithful clientele, which today is as much Portuguese as foreign, and is somewhere you can either do your monthly shopping or go back to regularly to find a specific product.
This is a legacy that Paulo and Eduardo Apolónia, Avelino and Célia’s sons, have helped maintain and expand. Even though the supermarket was always part of their lives – they recall summer holidays spent helping their parents – they never thought that it would actually become their life. They both studied computer engineering in Lisbon, but followed different paths until they joined the family business: Paulo, the elder son, graduated and worked at Telecel, joining Apolónia in 1996, when no one thought he still would. “At the time, he [his father] wasn’t counting on me anymore, because I had a house in Lisbon and was living there, but he was expanding the shop in Almancil and I felt that he needed help,” he says, sitting between his father and brother in an office in the Lagoa branch.
For Eduardo, the roles were reversed: although his work in the supermarket was a holiday job while studying computer engineering, and later sound, at a certain point it became the primary focus. Today he is in charge of the commercial and financial side of things, as well as human resources, while his brother handles the administration, expansion, IT, and client relations. “We share a very executive administration because we are a family,” explains Paulo. And does his father still run the business? Paulo’s expression triggers laughter in the room. “He does not have the mindset of someone in control of the operation anymore,” he says.
“I really enjoy the relationship with the client ‒ that is my area now,” states Avelino. “I go to the store every day to see the clients.” And how many family lunches are spent discussing business? “I try to avoid that,” says Paulo, with a half-smile that tells us that it is inevitable.
It was thanks to the brothers’ help that the small shop in Almancil grew and established a logistics centre in Estoi, in addition to two new shops, in Galé and Lagoa, in 2008 and 2015 respectively. The latter is the biggest of the group (1,750sqm, three plots in total) and it is one of the crown jewels of Apolónia, proving that the family is able to quickly replicate their concept in a larger space and with new employees. In its first year of activity, the Lagoa shop has already gone through three full compliments’ books.
Stating that Apolónia’s future will feature more “quality, variety, service and shops,” as well as online shopping, Paulo says there are plans for expansion: Lisbon and Porto are under the Algarve group’s watch, as well as a fourth shop in the region. “It may be in Lagos, Tavira or Vila Real de Santo António; what dictates the opening is a matter of real estate ‒ that we find a space with what we need,” he says.
What is certain is that the group will maintain its philosophy – the same one that allowed them to mobilise staff from the three shops on a Saturday night in the summer of 2016, to answer to a “mammoth” order, in Paulo’s words, from a sheikh who had docked his mega yacht in Portimão harbour.
“There are no deliveries at weekends, so we went to pick up the products from the suppliers and gathered employees from the three shops… The captain complimented us on the quality of everything, saying he had never seen anything like it. We will go the extra mile for the client ‒ I think that shows the spirit of Apolónia well,” says Paulo.
“There is nothing complicated here, simply a lot of effort from everyone who works in our company,” Eduardo sums up.
A small “simply” that only the greats like Apolónia can reach.