Iso Omena’s Citymarket retail entrepreneur knows food trends

Tenant stories -

When Toni Pokela accepted the challenge of setting up a new shopping centre hypermarket in Matinkylä, Espoo, the place was just a construction site surrounded by a field. The opening day eventually came, and it was exciting both the merchant and his new staff. Now, Iso Omena celebrates its 20-year anniversary and Citymarket has built its own regular customer base, which also closely follows food trends.

When Toni Pokela walks the aisles of his store, familiar customers come to chat with him. People either just say hello or stop and want to catch up. Some customers have been doing their shopping in the same store since the opening and the Toni is well known.

- For me work is a way of life. I go to Iso Omena almost every day of the year. The share of online shopping is growing, but if you are remote, you cannot monitor customer experience and service the same way, Pokela points out.

Pokela has taken the traditional route – he started first running a smaller shop and gradually moved on to a bigger one. The orientation towards career began already when he was working part-time in a grocery shop in his schoolyears.  He has always enjoyed customer service. Later, working in his uncle’s K-Store and attending K Group’s courses reinforced the vision for him. In 2001, thanks to Iso Omena, he ended up to the news headlines as Finland's youngest Citymarket storekeeper.

- K Group gives guidance in certain issues, but a lot is also implemented according to the entrepreneur’s own view. Of course, a whole new place of business was a big challenge at that point. When I made my first plans, they were based on rough estimates of the customer flow in the shopping centre.

Southern Espoo's own shopping centre

Iso Omena opened on 24 September 2001 and immediately took its own place.

- I remember the opening day very well. I was literally stressed ­– were there going to be customers and how many. And the new staff was working for the first day. Then I could only hope that the cash machines would work and there would be enough foodstuffs to buy. I ran around the store, and actually the whole first year turned out to be just as busy.

- When we started, we had about 7,000 different food products on the shelves and now there are already 30,000. For example, the range of milk products and their various substitutes and, respectively, the number of refrigerators has multiplied during this period. During the same time, the number of staff has doubled.

Have customers changed?

- Their standards and requirements have increased. For example, we need to be awake and able to foresee food trends. During the pandemic, cooking has become even more popular than before, and new recipes are eagerly tested in home kitchens. All ingredients must be found in the store.

Toni Pokela is also active in the Entrepreneurs' Association at Iso Omena Shopping Centre.

- The most important thing is that Iso Omena has had a good reputation from the very beginning. After all, the shopping centre has expanded notably since it opened. In addition, we have become a transport hub between Espoo and Helsinki. This is a clean, safe and comfortable shopping centre with versatile services. Renovations and modernisations ensure that the quality level remains and meets customer expectations.

Does a busy hypermarket storekeeper have time to cook trendy food himself?

- In summertime I grill quite a lot and then my favourite dish is grilled lamb chops. In the winter, I like to have traditional food on the menu such as boiled potatoes and sausage sauce, Toni Pokela reveals.