From January 1, 2022, Hajji will be the CEO of Action. She is one of the Action employees who has worked there the longest. When she started as a stock filler in 1997, it was in Action’s 13th store. She had employee number 120. Apart from the owners at the time, no one was working at the head office at the time.
There are now more than 1900 stores and more than 63,000 employees. When an organization grows so rapidly, employees from the very beginning can grow along nicely and that is what Hajji has done.
Hajji rose quickly within Action. She soon became a business manager and two years after she started, at 19, she became a regional manager. Three years later she became head of sales. In 2003, Hajji only had to buy stuff for 100 stores. In 2011, when Action was sold to investment company 3i, there were already 269.
In that year, Hajji became director of store operations, the part that ensures that Action can grow in number of stores. That worked out fine, because when Hajji took another step up within the organization in 2018 and became commercial director, there were already more than 1000 stores. Now there are almost twice as many.
Action not only has branches in the Netherlands where it once started, but also in Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy.
Action’s success is easy to explain. Poor people need low prices and rich people like low prices, Kitty Koelemeijer, professor of Marketing & Retailing at Nyenrode Business University, quotes an old retail wisdom.
Action is running well and that is a good time to let a new CEO start under calm circumstances. The leadership change is not a crisis management decision, thinks Stefan van Rompuy, editor-in-chief of RetailDetail, a website specialized in retail news.
However, there are of course some challenges that the new CEO faces. “Hajji has to think about what she wants with online,” says Koelemeijer. Action does have a webshop, but compared to what you will find in the store, it is modest. Like Action, there are more chains that emphasize low prices and that rely on physical stores and do relatively little with online, says Koelemeijer. “But you can also go to cheap Chinese online stores on the internet.”
In addition, in the short term there is still the challenge that it is more difficult to get things from China to Europe on time, she continues. And the prices you pay for a container have also risen sharply. Furthermore, as for other sectors, it is a job to find enough staff, says Koelemeijer.
But the most important thing Hajji stands for is sustainability, she thinks. “Action cannot escape taking many more steps in what it is doing now. The time when you could say it’s a hype is really over.”
“It is inevitable that we as consumers have to take a different approach to life, whereby you pay more the real price, ie including the hidden environmental costs”, retail expert Paul Moers agrees. “And that’s one hell of a challenge.” You may wonder whether discount and little interest in the environment can be sustained, he says.
It is inevitable that we will pay higher prices, Moers thinks. “We have to buy some more expensive products, which are still good, but which are mindful of the environment.”
The sustainability element is somewhat secondary at Action, retail expert Cor Molenaar puts it more cautiously. “That’s definitely going to affect growth.” However, he also sees opportunities. “If customers buy more expensive products that also last a little longer, you get more valuable growth.”
But for many consumers, sustainability is not the most important thing, thinks Van Rompuy. “We see the prices of energy and transport rising everywhere. In those circumstances, consumers often don’t have a choice. If you can find nice things at Action for not much money, then they don’t ask many questions about sustainability. The conditions are now beneficial for discounters.”