8, 825sqm, 63 cash points, 53 changing rooms, 780 new employees and 20 weeks of construction work and 10 days of filling the shelves. During the crowded opening event of Primark’s fifth German store in Hanover, which is the third biggest store of 226 operated by the Irish retailer, Sportswear International talked to Wolfgang Krogmann, General Manager Northern Europe at Primark. Here, amongst other things, he talks about Primark’s expansion plans and the difference between customers in UK and Germany. Interview by Maria Hunstig

Primark has opened its fifth shop in Germany today; two more openings are to follow within this year (Essen and Saarbrücken). Many other retail chains from abroad have had struggles in entering the German market successfully - how did Primark manage to do so?
We still haven’t passed the learning phase but it has proved very beneficial that Primark does not try to implement its concept one-to-one in different countries. We always carefully adjust our operations to the special demands of the single markets. Therefore each of our store managers composes their own store assortment from the general range available. This way, even the assortment offered in Gelsenkirchen can be quite different to the one in Bremen. Taste and buying habits differ between different locations.

What are customers in Germany particularly looking for?

Snoods for example! We sell these circular knitted scarves like crazy over here. In Ireland, they are requested far less. It’s the same with denims. The denim sector is of huge importance in Germany and we had to adapt to that. You see less people wearing jeans in Ireland. Generally, German women also tend to wear more sober colors than, for instance, women in the UK or Southern Europe.
Primark in Hanover
Primark in Hanover

There are rumors that Primark is going to open on the Zeil in Frankfurter/Main next year and on Schadowstraße in Düsseldorf in the beginning of 2013, which are both top high street locations. Can you confirm these plans?
I would be happy if Primark was going to move to these locations one day but I cannot give any official confirmation at this point. We are always looking for potential new spots which are highly frequented and also offer sufficient space. It is not of top priority if a new location is placed directly within the city or a highly-frequented mall in the outskirts. But of course we are not interested in opening a shop out in the middle of nowhere. As many of our customers are teenagers or students, it is important that our stores are easily accessible, also by public transport.

Regarding your job title – do you plan to expand to any other Northern European countries?
I am responsible for Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, and we are going to open shops in Austria next year, but there are currently no plans to enter further Northern European markets.

Primark seems to put a lot of effort on promoting and monitoring their ethical trading standards. Procurement and resource costs have risen in the past years. How do you manage to still keep your prices low?
We calculate with small margins and high bulks. We do not make much profit from selling a single product, it’s the masses that matter. All work processes at Primark are very efficient, our logistics system is very elaborated. We react to our customers’ buying behavior very quickly. If we don’t sell a style or a product well, we put it on sale in order to not assemble dead stock. If it sells well, we re-order it quickly. It’s important to act agile and flexible. Our shops get new merchandise every day. Primark almost completely does without big advertisements and only carries out promotions in line with a new opening. We save money wherever we can – except in terms of personnel, furnishings and quality.

Primark employs about 36,000 workers worldwide. How do you recruit your personnel?
We do ‘e-recruitment’, that means every candidate has to apply online. A pre-selection is then invited to personal interviews. New employees get training regarding the specialties of Primark as some of our work procedures, as our cash point system and the enormous amounts of merchandise handled differ a lot from other retailers.

How does the design process work at Primark? How do you react to trends?

Our design team in Ireland gets inspiration from the common fields: trade shows, customer demands and sales numbers play an important role. Primark’s target group is very broad and reaches from people who are just looking for affordable fashion to the fashionably interested. Therefore, we can’t allow our assortment to be too edgy but have to cover the “taste of the masses” from basic to trendy.
In order to stick to the low prices, we are bound to producing in low-cost countries which of course means longer lead times. But the fact that we are constantly analyzing our sales and the market gives us the ability to react quickly.

Which are your main competitors and how does Primark set itself apart?
As Primark serves such a broad spectrum of customers, also our competitors come from different sections of the market, like for example discounters on one side and more fashionable retailers on the other. We appreciate having strong competitors, because it pushes us to become even better. Primark’s unique selling point is the mixture of price, quality and the trend level of fashion. We regard our employees as our most important resource and we work extremely product- and customer-oriented.

Editor's note: See pictures of the Primark opening in Hanover on Facebook...