The supermarket business “multi” in Leer was founded in 1970. The founder, Mr Hero Brahms, had taken over his parents’ grocery store, where customers still bought merchandise from the counter, and assistants handed out the items to them. When a wholesaler left its premises, Mr Brahms acquired these 1,500 m2 and made it the first multi supermarket. Looking for a suitable name, all family, friends, and employees available had a brainstorming session on it and decided on “multi”, a Latin word meaning “much” or “many”, already hinting at the vast number of articles they would have to offer.
At that time, multi had 34 employees and offered about 8,000 to 10,000 articles. It was an overnight sensation. On the first day at 8:30 am half an hour after the shop opened it was full of people. The reason for that was probably the fact that Multi was the first consumer market in the region. For the customers it was a totally new experience to walk through the aisles of a supermarket and take the products themselves from the shelves, obviously enjoying this very much.
Two years later, a second market, multi Süd (south), was opened in the south of Leer because of the big success of the first, and much later, in 2008, the third multi market opened in Emden, a town 34 km north-west of Leer. This was not planned and only happened because of a good offer by EDEKA, the largest supermarket corporation in Germany.
Today there are still two multi supermarkets in Leer. While multi Nord (north), located opposite the site of multi’s foundation, is relatively small and compact and for this reason more attractive to many customers, multi Süd (in the meantime taken over by Hero Brahms’ son, Matthias) is growing bigger and bigger and is frequently renovated and modernised. The last reconstruction cost a few million euros. Now it is more like a shopping mall with the whole area of multi Süd featuring 47 other retailers and restaurants. The area of all three multi markets together is approximately 14,600 m2. multi Süd’s car park offers 1,000 spaces. However, multi is the last large-scale family-owned consumer market in Germany.
multi gets its merchandise through three different pathways: many products are supplied by EDEKA, by producers like Bahlsen (the most famous German cookie producer), and by direct suppliers. Altogether, multi Süd is supplied by 350 different companies.
The main supermarket has a range of more than 50,000 different products, which are selected based on the consumers’ demands. This e.g. means customers can choose from 70 different frozen pizzas. Every week about 5 tonnes of meat and cheese are sold and they have approximately 2,000 glasses of nutella in store. Yet the products most sold are East Frisian tea and “Kluntje” (rock candies traditionally put in tea).
Traditional East Frisian tea
Bruno Gelato ice cream products have been on offer since 1998 as an example of close cooperation between local companies. Each day about 55,000 items are sold in multi Süd, with 150 people employed currently; this number is still increasing.
When employing people, their personality counts more than their certificates. This is because Mr Brahms’ philosophy is based on the assumption that the atmosphere in a business and the mood among the employees warrants the success of the company. Consequently, Mr Brahms’ relationship with his staff is based on trust and friendliness. He knows all his employees personally and supports them in their professional activities. It is no surprise that multi staff have a reputation for being cheerful and helpful.
Apparently, this results in greater honesty among multi customers. Annual stocktaking shows that only 0.5% of the merchandise is stolen, which is very low compared to other retailers’ figures.
Yet Mr Brahms jun. also believes that there must be progress, otherwise a standstill will soon result in a setback. So he regularly comes up with new ideas for his market, for example he recently introduced pick-up-points, and he also plans to establish an online-market. Plans to modernize the toy section have been in the pipeline for long, but have not been realised so far because other activities have seemed more important,
He also wants to improve the feelgood factor for his customers so that the atmosphere at multi is turning more and more into an event character. With all these new ideas, multi never stops developing, and as a result, Mr Brahms always has something to do. Yet he sees this as a bliss and a curse: on the one hand, it is very exhausting. But on the other hand, you also stay fit and do not age that quickly. Mr Brahms rarely travels businesswise and works approximately 50 to 60 hours per week, with even longer hours e.g. when the shopping areas are renovated.
Although the markets are very successful, another multi branch is not being planned. Its economic success would be questionable, and the market would no longer be a regional one. The aspect of regional products is crucial for the multi philosophy in that they can react more readily to the customers’ wishes for regional specialities.
Beyond this, the Brahms family do not want their current life to change because of business expansion. Right now, it seems as if they have found the right balance between economic success and time for themselves. The involvement of the whole family is seen essential for the smooth running of the company, and the current size and popularity in turn influences the daily routine and family life greatly. So members of the Brahms family work in all multi markets and are involved in all organisation steps, such as advertisement, public relation, and development of the markets.
Admittedly, it is not always pleasant to be identified with the business, but apart from that everything else seems to be quite positive for Mr Brahms. They also support local charities and social institutions, e.g. they support the Kinderschutzbund Leer (child protection organisation) and the Leeraner Tafel, an organisation that sells food to people in need cheaper by giving them food close to the best-before date.
For future business people, both Mr Brahms sen. and jun. recommend to be reliable and predictable and to be ready to wait for the right moment in life. Success cannot be planned, but opportunities will occur, for which young entrepreneurs must be open. The development of the multi markets shows that businesses grow gradually and have to adapt to the market situation. Mr Brahms jun. gave the example of two businesses in the multi Süd mall opened side by side, with the advantage of different hours of customer activities. So, one sale assistant is now able to serve both shops simultaneously and thus providing a synergy effect.
Although most steps in multi’s development have been successful, setbacks have taken place. One example is the failure of moving into another shopping mall in the north of Leer, which was offered by competitors who owned the mall. It did not catch on and suffered severe losses, from which the Brahms family learnt a lot on the way to the current state. This means that openness, patience, and visions for the future are crucial for business people.
This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.