Local Champion: Lex Hollmann, SPAR South Africa

February 26, 2018 IN THE CATEGORY: Feature articles

For our global magazine Contact International, we interviewed experienced and successful SPAR South African retailer, Lex Hollmann. We spoke to Lex about his journey with SPAR over the last two decades, the success of his business to date and what he has in store for the future.

Lex’s background

Lex’s full name is Alexander John Hollmann. He was born in Barberton, in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province and stems from a family of retailers. Lex’s parents moved to South Africa from The Netherlands after the war and his father opened his first store in 1946. He went on to own a chain of stores called “A&A Hollmann Stores”, later renamed to “Barberton Wholesalers”. Lex spent many holidays and weekends working in the local Barberton store with his father – marking the start of his journey into the retail industry.

Lex still lives in Mpumalanga, in the farming town of Malelane, where he runs his SPAR store, Malelane SUPERSPAR*, together with his wife (Anne), sister (Liz) and brother-in-law (Ed). A true family business!


Lex became a SPAR retailer in 1997, when he and his team bought a SPAR store. Before joining SPAR, he ran five liquor stores but realised that a more sustainable future lay in the supermarket sector.

The team quickly outgrew the original store location and in 2004, decided it was time to expand. “We took a calculated risk and built the Inkwazi Shopping Centre, which became the home of Malelane SUPERSPAR.”

The total size of Malelane SUPERSPAR is now 6,000m2 with 3,100m2 of retail selling space. To help run the large supermarket, Lex has 250 permanent employees and approximately 20 part-time members of staff.

A visionary leader

Lex and his team constantly strive to improve the shopping experience for their customers, keeping up with the latest retail trends and technologies and always being ready for change. “There’s nothing as constant as change. You have to prepare and plan for it. Our vision is to always look forward and to plan our future well ahead of time.”

This thinking ahead became absolutely vital when a competitor, Shoprite, moved into the area. “We knew they were coming so we decided to build a new centre right next door to us and persuaded them to become the anchor tenant. As the saying goes, keep you friends close and your enemies closer.”

With Shoprite moving in next-door, Lex and his team started planning and implementing measures to take their store offering to the next level, to ensure that their customers would have very little reason to leave them.

Strategic store improvements

“We did a traffic impact study to manage the traffic flow in and out of our shopping centres and subsequently built a slip-way off the national road which directed traffic straight to our store. We convinced the pharmacy at our front door to convert to a Pharmacy at SPAR, which has been a great compliment to our offering. We also did a big refresh of our branding and erected a massive SUPERSPAR sign on the roof of the Inkwazi Shopping Centre, alerting our customers of our presence.”

After other exterior improvements, Lex and his team then addressed the customer experience instore: “We added more digital screens instore for greater retail engagement and installed new electronic shelf labels. The promotional items are now indicated with bright green lights, drawing the shoppers’ attention and making it easier for them to shop for value.

“Our SPAR Retail services have been improved to include: SPAR Rewards, SPAR Text Me and SPAR Money Transfers. These are three very important services and at the moment, we lead the market in this space.

“Our instore diner has been revamped, providing a place for our customers to stop and enjoy a good meal. Our store is a hit with tourists as we are now known as a hub where they can stop and exchange money, shop for groceries, visit the pharmacy and enjoy an excellent cup of coffee.”

All of these proactive measures have helped Malelane SUPERSPAR enormously in countering the impact of a major opposition brand opening on its doorstep.

Community involvement

Lex and his team strive to genuinely connect with the community they serve and have started two annual initiatives that have had a huge impact.

“Our staff are passionate about our community and started an initiative of collecting new school shoes for children in need. We accepted the challenge to match the number of shoes bought by them and along with the help of the Lowveld Distribution Centre (DC), which helps to supply our products, we ended up collecting a total of 240 pairs. We then went to the schools and personally handed them out on the first school day of the year. This has now become an annual tradition.

“We also saw how desperate the need for water was in our community so we branded JoJo water tanks and donated 48 tanks to local schools. The JoJos are used to irrigate school vegetable gardens and the produce that is grown is used to supplement the diet of the local school kids as part of a larger food scheme. The crops are flourishing and providing vital nutrients for many children. On our Facebook page, we keep everyone up-to-date with what’s happening with this project.”

A passionate team

In 2016, staff of Malelane SUPERSPAR surprised customers with a flash mob performance on one of the busiest shopping days of the month, giving them some entertainment as they did their shopping and waited at the checkout counters. “Our staff play a massive role in our success. Their help on the ground is invaluable and we rely on their passion and their connection to our customers and our community to help build our store. Their presence frees us up to fulfil our vision, which is to always look forward and plan our future, well ahead of time.”

What does the future hold?

“We will continue to strive to be better at what we do and to innovate so as to stay ahead of the competition.”

*The SUPERSPAR format is similar to EUROSPAR in offer, focusing on weekly family shopping

This story was first published in issue 2 2017 of our quarterly magazine, Contact International.

To read more stories from this edition, follow this link.