Shaping the Future of Retail: Metro President and COO Manuel Alberto Shares Insights on Challenges and Emerging Trends

With customer satisfaction taking precedence, Metro President and COO Manuel Alberto reveals plans and ongoing projects for retail chain—set to take place in this post-pandemic economy.

Only 1% of all aspiring actors have a chance of getting employed. This news from a Hollywood acting coach made Manuel Alberto stop in his tracks and reassess his career choices. “I was young, living in LA, and had entertainment ambitions. People are surprised to know that I was once an actor, singer, and host,“ Manuel says candidly. “Yes, I wisened up immediately after I heard that frightening statistic in an audition.”

Thus, in 1990, armed with a degree in Communications from the Santa Clara University of California, he applied and was hired as an assistant store manager by a special discounter of home linen and furnishing: Strouds Linen. That was his first foray into the retail business.

After a year, he had a two-year stint in Hong Kong working as the General Manager (GM) for a landscaping company. Then Manuel went back to the Philippines and became the GM of the Telemarketing Services Department of RJ Jacinto’s Rajah Broadcasting Network. There, he dabbled in show business somewhat.

For the most part of the 90s, he produced shows focused on direct response marketing and selling As Seen On TV products. In the last 25 years, he fortified his resume and held key corporate positions in Pilipinas Makro, Inc., Jollibee Foods Corporation, and Rustan’s Supercenter, Inc, until 2018 when he joined Metro.

To date, Manuel Alberto is the President and COO of Metro Retail Stores Group, Inc., where he has spearheaded many projects for the brand since. This is his story.

The Man for the Job—Manuel Alberto boasts impressive credentials, strong leadership, and a sharp business acumen that make him a perfect fit for the role as President and COO of Metro Metro Retail Stores Group, Inc.

All in a Day’s Work

Manuel starts his day at 6 AM and goes for either a jog or a bike ride before heading to the office. He attends a minimum of five meetings a day, monitors store performances, and checks on the progress of strategic initiatives. He also travels at least 3 times a month—shuttling between Metro Stores’ main office in Mandaue, Cebu, and the company’s executive suite in BGC, Taguig.

“Metro is a multi-format retail conglomerate with a 60-store spread in Luzon and Visayas. We operate supermarkets, department stores, hypermarkets, pharmacies, and bakeshop brands. As a growing brand, I make it a point to personally interact with the different teams and see how we are moving along,” explains Manuel.

In the dynamic and intensely competitive retail market, players need to constantly evolve to meet consumer demands. Another challenge is the impact of technology on business operations and how to keep up with systems. Manuel explains, “Margins are small and operational costs are always cutting into our gross profit ratio. The big challenge for any retail leader is how to keep the brand relevant to the changing customer preferences.”

“And the management objective is to always be ahead of the competition in being exactly that—relevant,” he adds.

It Takes a Whole Team—For Metro Retail Stores Group, Inc.’s President and COO Manuel Alberto, retail is a people business. “My role is to provide a clear brand strategy and rally the organization to deliver and achieve our goals. It is only when everybody succeeds that I succeed.”

Open for Safe Business

The pandemic brought about unprecedented challenges and fear worldwide. What’s more, the health scare drastically affected consumer behavior. Fortunately for Metro, its supermarkets were classified—as businesses offering essential services and its task was to provide basic necessities to the communities they serve.

However, the Metro Group was forced to shut down its non-essential formats. Like all others, they had to deal with supply chain disruption, problems in transporting goods and manpower, as well as finding ways to provide a safe shopping and working environment.

“Pre-pandemic, mallgoers went leisure shopping. That quickly changed to essential shopping when COVID hit,” Manuel explains. “What that meant for us was a drop in transactional count and a marked increase in basket sales. People bought in bulk so we pivoted in the way we marketed and merchandised to address this shift.”

“Meanwhile, we also exercised care and compassion towards the Filipinos as we prioritized and put into action our corporate social responsibility program. We donated much-needed supplies to the frontliners and hospitals while trying to keep the company afloat,” the president adds. “Various restricted lifestyle campaigns were also launched with themes like ‘Working and Studying at Home,’ ‘Keeping the Home Clean and Organized,’ and ‘Keeping The Family Fit and Healthy.'”

Making Life Easy

Now that the economy is opening up and the business scape has transitioned again, what initiatives has the Metro group taken? 

For one thing, the company’s brand positioning is to be a dependable shopping partner that empowers moms to achieve a better lifestyle for their families. They have done so by providing affordable, aspirational, and surprisingly unique finds.

And to this end, locations are made easily accessible, while pricing is budget-friendly and customer service is outstanding.

Empathetic Leader—A CEO must be agile (able to anticipate and adapt to change and challenges), consumer-centric (serves the needs of customers better than the competition), and most importantly, a visionary (has a clear company vision and is able to lead the organization in achieving it).

Manuel is also very excited to report that the Manila-based department stores will undergo a massive floor-to-ceiling renovation. “We owe it to our customers to level up—not only in terms of our products and services but also in the total Metro shopping experience. Very soon, we hope to unveil the Metro Stores’ livelier and brighter spaces which will surely attract more people to our outlets,” Manuel enthuses. 

“Presently, our supermarkets offer a variety of goods that are exclusive to us. Our wines and spirits collection, for one, offers 40 brands from about a dozen different countries and sells at a low of PHP 225 (Maria Clara wine) to a high of PHP 13k (Johnny Walker Ultimate 18) for our most premium spirits,” he adds.

What’s more, the retail chain aims to cater to a wide audience by diversifying its offerings. “We have curated meats in our international section and we have a full stock of healthy and organic produce. We aim to give the customers a wider, better selection of everything. The customers should expect this from us.”

Emerging Opportunities

Amidst the disruption and cautious reopening of retail stores, changes brought about by shifts in consumer behavior will continue. The preference for online shopping must be acknowledged and properly addressed—to take advantage of it (through e-commerce channels) and to entice in-store visits (via sales and promotions, or loyalty programs).

In fact, the evolution of seamless digital and physical shopping will be the main expectation of many customers moving forward.

And finally, Manuel sees a persistent increase in sustainable and ethical consumerism such as interest in locally produced eco-friendly items. This is why retailers must also look into the demand for products that promote individual health and well-being.

Manuel Alberto on Success and CEO Goals

According to Manuel, success in the retail context means creating and consistently delivering relevant value to the target customer—better than the direct competitors—and in a way that generates healthy profits for the company. There must be a balance between short-term financial growth and long-term value creation like building customer loyalty, community development, and even good governance.

Personal success, on the other hand, means taking time to recharge by taking short, meaningful vacations with the family, spending time with friends, alloting time for his daily exercise, and ending each day with a glass (or two) of his favorite wine. “There’s no strict work-life balance—only good time management and a very supportive family,” Manuel opines.

Finally, Manuel Alberto has this advice for young executives with CEO aspirations. “Always focus on improving customer satisfaction because if you succeed in being the best in satisfying customers, everything good will follow.”

“To accomplish this, you must be updated with industry trends, innovate regularly, embrace technology, and effectively communicate your objectives based on a strong company culture,” he ends.