According to the CEO of Golden Palace, the 170 stores acquired from bpost will continue to represent “true bookstores”. He will keep them all and recruit them.
At the beginning of the week, the group of gaming halls, totalizators and casinos Golden Palace completed the acquisition of Uniway Retail points of sale from bpost. The deal caused some backlash in political circles, who feared that the buyer intended to turn these bookstores into “temples of the game” associated, in their opinion, with the risk of addiction. Massimo Menegalli, CEO of Golden Palace, dispels these fears: he primarily seeks to diversify his group and create real bookstores.
What are you going to do with this network of 170 points of sale?
It’s very simple, we will continue to develop the same activities there. You should be aware that the chain had already gone through a major overhaul before bpost put it up for sale. They have already completed the savings plan and cleared the portfolio of outlets. Within our group, Ubiway Retail will form a fairly autonomous division that will continue to be managed by the current management. I remind you that two of its managers took part in the investment. Because without leadership, we didn’t want to make a deal. We don’t want to change anything in society other than bringing our dynamism, our flexibility and investment. We will definitely see if there is a way to organize synergies and economies of scale, but not upheavals. The system will remain the same, we just hope to become more responsive and efficient.
“We don’t want to change anything in society other than bringing our dynamism, our flexibility and investment.”
Are you going to keep the four Ubiway brands?
There are two main brands: Relay, which is present in the places of passenger transport, and the Belgian brand Press Shop – Relay is a brand belonging to the Lagardère group, for which we have exclusivity in Belgium. The Press Shop is over a hundred years old and famous all over Belgium: we will keep these two leading brands. The other two brands, Hubiz and Ubi, have fewer stores, but we will keep them as well. Our goal is to achieve what a large company like bpost could not do due to their complex rules and long hierarchical structure: make Ubiway more flexible.
Are you also going to keep 170 outlets?
In the meantime, we have already grown to 175 points of sale! It changes, some close and others open all the time. But the goal is to keep them and maybe even increase their number.
Are they operated by franchisees?
No, independent contractors who are our partners.
Are you going to get them to offer their own sports betting offers?
Historically, we have contacted Ubiway Retail to offer them to sell in their stores the protective masks that Golden Palace has been producing since the beginning of the pandemic crisis. We noticed that given the complexity of their organization, it took them six months between making a decision and having the product on their shelves! Although it was doable in a month, in our opinion. At the same time, we saw their potential. We wanted to achieve diversification: this was recommended to us by all our partners, including our banks. Therefore, we wanted to take over this channel both for the purpose of diversification and for the local social fabric that its network represents, and for the Belgian brand Press Shop with its well-established reputation. And yes, we also thought about sports betting: at the moment the network has a supplier, we will study the situation. Of course, we want to achieve synergy, whether it be medical masks, sports betting terminals or other things. The first thing to consider is the current situation of the store supplier and what can be done. As a reminder, Press Shop has two main suppliers: the sports betting operator and the National Lottery, with whom we work hand in hand.
“And yes, we also thought about sports betting.”
Specifically, can you replace Betfirst, their current betting provider, in the press shop?
We analyze the situation. In any case, there is an urgent need to take over the company, talk to its staff, contractors, suppliers and continue the same activities, acting more reactively and flexibly.
The Royal Decree defining the bookstores where you can bid has finally been released: does that clear things up for you?
We invested in a chain of bookstores. Real bookstores. In terms of betting income, we know very well that these are not the best places; the best places to bet are fake bookstores, which don’t fit our idea of responsible gambling anyway. We have always advocated clarifying what a real library is. And the Royal Decree should indeed allow counterfeit bookstores to be curtailed. The text is not perfect, it has flaws, it could be improved, but it goes in that direction. We knew that this decree was on the agenda, perhaps we unwittingly accelerated the matter, but all this was provided for in our business plan. The legislator made it clear that bookmakers consider betting to be their “core business”, while for bookstores it is a secondary, ancillary activity. We were well aware of this and fully for it. Otherwise, I would have bought a chain of night shops or used bookshops …
“If we didn’t support this bookstore clarification, I would buy a chain of convenience stores or fake bookstores…”
How many of the 170 outlets are giving out bids today?
Just under a hundred so far. License renewal is blocked. I want to remind you that Press Shop is not a leader in the distribution of rates, but is a leader as a chain of bookstores. In the regulation, one of the conditions for being a bookstore is to offer at least 200 press titles: our smallest bookstore distributes 350. The rates do not even amount to 2% of the press turnover.
Were you surprised when Public Enterprise Minister Petra De Sutter expressed her fears that Ubiway stores would turn into gambling temples?
Yes, I was somewhat surprised by the ignorance not so much of Petra de Sutter, whom some parliamentarians questioned very strongly, but of the latter. There were many effects of the announcement and she had to react. She also did a deep analysis to see if everything was done according to the rules of the art. It struck me that the politicians believed that we were going to turn these stores into “play temples.” We only accept the present situation; in the best case for us, we will change the bookmaker. We cannot change anything. The Royal Decree confirms this. But it was no doubt a political game; I understand it, but it was a little easy.
Did the minister’s intervention affect the terms of the bpost sale contract?
No, we had to make a commitment to support what the Ubiway network is made of, keep that in mind and not turn it all into gambling halls or betting shops. We took what was already in our business plan, it was not difficult for us.
Another thing, Ubiway accounts are not brilliant…
No, indeed, stores make a lot of numbers with a small result, the pandemic did not help. That is what we want to act on. We’ve already agreed on some savings. I want to reassure the staff: we are not going to fire them, on the contrary, we are going to hire them. Many services at Ubiway were run by the bpost group and must now be run in-house; so we are looking for employees.
Without entrepreneurs, how many jobs does this represent?
One hundred full-time equivalents, including headquarters staff (purchasing, management), internally hired employees at airport stores, and flight crews. As for entrepreneurs, there are fewer than 175, about 130, because some of them have several stores.
Can you profit from Ubiway this year?
We hope to reach a positive EBITDA from 2022, as we already did in 2019 and early 2020, before the start of the pandemic.
- “We wanted to take over this network both out of concern for us, diversify, for the local social fabric that his network represents, and for the Belgian brand Press Shop.”
- “In royal decree, one of the conditions for being a bookstore is to offer at least 200 press titles.”
- “I was a little surprised by the lack of knowledgenot so much about Petra de Sutter, whom some parliamentarians interrogated quite strongly, but about the latter.
- “I want to reassure the employees of Ubiway Retail: we are not going to eliminate them, on the contrary, we are going to deal with.”