By ERWIN CHLANDA
“We’re a normal business that happens to be owned by Aboriginal people.”
That’s a statement that packs a lot of punch. Lhere Artepe Supermarkets manages the three IGA neighbourhood supermarkets – Flynn Drive, Old Eastside and Northside. The Native Title Holders of Alice Springs are the ultimate shareholders of these businesses.
They employ 120 people, insert around $34m a year into the local economy. At any one time they employ between 10% to 20% Aboriginal people.
Sally McMartin is the Company Secretary and Group Manager External Affairs.
She says she gets “nervous” when it is suggested some kind of welfare function should be carried out by this chain of stores.
There may have been the faintest hesitation, but the seasoned manager would not permit herself to stumble: “We don’t have the support staff,” she answers.
She hastens to stress that IGA “do provide a lot of sponsorship and donations into the local community”.
Not surprisingly this hugely experienced Aboriginal owned company chose the Rotary Club Of Alice Springs to make a significant announcement about the IGAs.
Ms McMartin says: “Because of the ongoing support and loyalty of the Alice Springs people for which we are very grateful, we have money in the bank and are about to embark on a major upgrade program at each store.
“The upgrades will take over 18 months to complete and include new fridges and freezers in each store, now flooring, LED lighting, redesigned register areas and a full repaint inside that hopefully includes some local Aboriginal art work.”
She also highlighted that all this work will be undertaken by local suppliers and tradies. Ms McMartin says the involvement of local firms is key to the plans. She mentioned that several times during her talk.
Not surprisingly, the first question from the floor was: How come LAE doesn’t employ more Indigenous jobless people?
There may have been the faintest hesitation, but the seasoned manager would not permit herself to stumble: “We do seem to struggle to employ and retain Aboriginal staff – there are often a whole bunch of complex reasons for this but I am happy to announce that we will now be working in partnership with Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation to develop better employment and retentions strategies in the future.”
Ms McMartin does not hesitate to express herself in a charming yet assertive manner: Speaking to the Rotary club via Zoom on Wednesday she asked for a show of hands from people shopping at the IGAs.
Not wholly satisfied with the response she said: “I expect to see you there tomorrow.”
Some government decisions forced the firm’s hand.
One government agency mandated alcohol rehabilitation initiative required the liquor stores to have a lower turnover for alcohol than for any of the other merchandise.
This was a whammy against the smaller stores. The grocery giants have food turnover well in excess their alcohol takings. The upshot was alcohol money flooding out of town.
Ms McMartin called her team together: Shutting down these three stores because they perhaps would not be able to comply with the Governments new regulations was not an option.
However, the alternative chosen by the management team was to increase the non-alcohol turnover, thus lifting the non-liquor sales.
What’s more, these increased trade and income – money in the bank: Far from nail-biting periods with no reserves for urgent repairs. Now opportunities to upgrade the store for the loyal customers’ benefit.
And that’s not all: Specialist merchandise is now on offer at Flynn Drive: American foods kids see on USA TV “which fly off the shelves”.
African specialty foods are the attraction at Northside and the Old Eastside store has been turned into Little Delhi where Indian food and spices are attracting people from the world over, for the time being those enjoying The Alice.