Mercator, d.d.

A mile from Ljubljana's downtown and fronting one of the city's main thoroughfares is where I find the offices for Mercator, Slovenia's largest retailer. Revenues in 2004 totaled 1.5 billion Euros with over 16,000 employees. With about 40% share of the domestic market, think of Mercator as Slovenia's equivalent to Wal-Mart in the United States.

In the picture accompanying this story you'll see Mercator's red and white corporate logo atop one of the two head office towers. From looking at the photo one would think the buildings are massive. Nope, the buildings have no depth. There's a courtyard area between the two structures and I check out the small Mercator store (open to the public) located on the ground floor. Mercator operates hypermarkets, full-size grocery stores as well as convenience stores similar to this one. Being adjacent to the head office I thought it would be a flagship or very modern, experimental store. No, inside there's nothing fancy or new about it.

The lobby reeks of cigarettes as I check in with the two security guards manning the reception desk in the shorter of the two buildings. There's no waiting area in the lobby so I'm assuming the guards are allowed to smoke at the reception desk. I explain sending a letter of introduction a month earlier to Ziga Debeljak, president of the Management Board, but I'm told by the guards to come back later as everyone is in meetings. Returning isn't a problem since I'm heading right down the street to visit oil company Petrol, Slovenia's largest company in terms of revenues with 1.7 billion Euros-with Mercator a close second.

Returning later in the day I encounter the same two security guard/receptionists, who despite speaking very little English are quite friendly and helpful. I'm put on a lobby phone with a woman who says she's in charge of corporate communications and explain sending a letter of introduction a month earlier to CEO Debeljak. The woman goes on to say they never received the letter because if they had it would have ended up with her. I ask, "Would someone have a few minutes to meet with me sometime today?" She then dismissively replies "No, we're too busy". I tell her I'll leave a copy of the letter sent to Debeljak along with some news clippings at the reception desk and I'll check back tomorrow to see if someone has time. After hanging up the phone I ask the guard to write the woman's name down on paper for me (Tjasa Ficko).

I don't make it back the next day but have a feeling it would have ended in a similar fashion as the previous visit.

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