Beginning as a collaborative project between local competitors to import Carefour products into Malta, Retail Marketing Ltd has since grown via the successes of each of its partners. Appointed CEO in June 2022, following the merger of four local supermarkets to become Welbee’s, today, Jonathan Shaw leads the distinctively Maltese supermarket chain towards a new future carefully shaped around the collective experience and core values of its past.
With a career spanning various sectors from events management to television production and iGaming to retail, Jonathan Shaw’s role as CEO at Retail Marketing Ltd is his most dynamic one yet – and it requires every facet of his diverse skillset. “A CEO must have a grasp of different sectors,” he points out. “A variety of experiences over the years helps develop a 360-degree approach – especially important in a highly dynamic role such as this. However, you still need to maintain a mindset which recognises that you never know enough and that to grow you must keep learning.”
In fact, learning has been a core part of Jonathan’s career. As well as a commerce degree and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Malta, he also boasts certificates in cognitive behaviour and stress management, as well as business, performance and psychological coaching, from the Centre for Coaching and International Academy for Professional Development in London. While also inspiring him to pen a book titled Forty – Be the Change, these qualifications later led to him founding Coaching Minds to focus on niche performance coaching for teams and executives.
“I count that time after turning 40, in which I trained in cognitive behavioural coaching, as one of my landmark career moments. It was a huge revelation and something I wish I had learnt before,” he recalls. Likewise, his early hands-on experience helped set the stage for future success. “While studying, I set up an events promotion company and I remain a strong believer in the importance of starting young and learning on the job.”
Joining Retail Marketing Ltd in July 2020 as Executive Chairman, Jonathan’s background also made him the ideal candidate to take on his most ambitious role yet: that of CEO. “My role involves three main pillars. Firstly, I manage and oversee day-to-day operations with a long-term vision in mind. Next, I lead, coach, support and inspire top-tier management in managing resources. Finally, I serve as the main point of communication between operations and the board of directors.”
When navigating such a range of responsibilities as CEO, his cognitive behaviour knowledge is useful not just in managing his own approach, but also that of the vast Welbee’s team. “My training means that I can manage and maintain that inner voice, staying solution-focused and without obsessiveness or stress. Through all the role’s moving parts and challenges – competition, suppliers, clients, products, transactions and so on – I try to be fair and professional in my style,” he explains. “A big part of our culture is investing in our people, encouraging and enabling them to reach their potential. I love challenging the status quo and driving my team, so that, together, we deliver and achieve more. An organisation can achieve greatness if everyone steps up. And don’t we need challenges to grow?”
Jonathan’s work-life balance meanwhile masters the art of prioritising and rolling with the challenges as they arise. “I keep a solid daily training regime of swimming or running that reminds me to remain composed instead of giving in to stress. It also keeps me in touch with the power of consistency and the steady commitment to showing up. Success is not about going fast; it’s about not slowing down.”
Long-term consistency and commitment are key factors in the success of the recently rebranded Welbee’s chain of supermarkets, which Retail Marketing Ltd owns and operates. Uniting supermarket stalwarts Park Towers, Valyou, Tower and Trolees under one brand, Welbee’s offers an exceptional customer experience and excellent value across its growing network of local supermarkets and user-friendly online shopping portals.
Yet, while the name above the door has changed, the core values honed over decades have remained. “Today, Welbee’s offers the same uncompromised selection of quality brands at the same great value, working as much as possible with local suppliers to source the freshest produce in Malta, offered alongside imported products,” he goes on. “We also have the same friendly, knowledgeable and dedicated people in every Welbee’s store. They provide top-notch service and customer experience. Every shop that joined Welbee’s started with a family, and that family culture remains at the heart of the group.”
Nevertheless, merging four different supermarket chains into one has not been without its challenges, Jonathan shares. “Heading into the merger, there were supermarkets with four different names to consolidate into one, with multiple owners and different opinions and preferences. It was not an easy process because the logistics of merging and streamlining operations are complex. Yet, bringing together all the expertise of these individually successful business owners has enriched Welbee’s and I continue to learn from them every day. Ultimately, as CEO, success comes from surrounding yourself with those who know more than you.”
And just over a year later, the results speak for themselves. “Welbee’s literally transformed overnight across all stores and it has become a household brand with a fresh and strong image,” Jonathan beams. “The vision has evolved from that of small single players into one of Malta’s largest supermarket groups.”
Within that first year of operation, the company also had to withstand extraordinary global events that impacted the retail sector – not least, the COVID-19 pandemic. “Although we carried out the merger and rebrand during the pandemic, the grocery retail sector wasn’t as negatively impacted as others were. A decline in tourist sales was counteracted by an increase in local customers shopping online, which created a new opportunity for us to boost our presence on mobile app platforms by offering takeaway food and grocery delivery. In fact, we are the largest supermarket chain currently available on Wolt.”
The popular Welbee’s Loyalty App likewise helps loyal customers mitigate inflation and the rising cost of living resulting from the war in Ukraine. “2022 brought constant changes for the sector, especially for businesses like ours that source products rather than manufacture them. We have over 50,000 SKU products in our portfolio, with almost continuous price changes through inflation. Clients sometimes believe that we are raising prices, but we are actually curtailing these cost increases by issuing more price drops and offers,” he says, pointing to the company’s long-running scheme of giving €7 cashback on every €100 spent, as well as its Loyalty App and recently introduced digital coupons.
By continuing to meet these challenges head-on in 2023, Jonathan plans to capitalise on the opportunities and lessons learnt throughout the company’s first year of trading. “We aim to add more fresh and ready-to-go food options, launch a new state-of-the-art shopping website, further personalise our digital coupons and strengthen our own-label range with even better value,” the CEO explains. “We hope to boost our local sports sponsorship and focus more on customer engagement while creating better platforms for our suppliers. And, at the heart of our agenda is growth: growth in our market share, growth in brand perception and position, growth in technology and automation, growth in other local areas, and – as always – growth in our people.”
This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2023 – the sister brand to MaltaCEOs.mt and an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders
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