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Fashion goes digital in Montenegro

By Nigina Mirbabaeva

Stroll down the Dzordza Vasingtona Boulevard in Podgorica, Montenegro, and you find yourself tempted by internationally renowned fashion brands like Hugo Boss, Max Mara and Ermenegildo Zegna with their colourful clothes and promises of a fulfilling shopping experience. But few local fashionistas would know that one family business has played a pivotal role in bringing these international brands to the Montenegrin market.

SAMMS is an exclusive distributor of global clothing brands in Montenegro. To bring its operations up to par with the global brands it represents, it recently implemented a digital enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with the support of the EBRD and Sweden. The new system has significantly improved the company’s analytical capabilities, leading to quicker and better decision-making, and record revenues and profit margins in 2021.

A global market on the rise

While high-end fashion is nowadays accessible in every local high street in Europe, for Montenegrins, it was a true luxury as recently as the early 2000s, when most premium brands still had no presence in the country.

“Global brands were reluctant to enter the market due to perceived barriers to trade and growth,” says Anja Radonjić, CEO of SAMMS. Her parents, Snezana and Sreten Radonjić, started the company in 1994, and after a decade in the fashion industry, the family saw the potential the Montenegrin market had to offer and took it upon themselves to prove the brands wrong.

“It took a lot of time to convince them, but it’s paid off – with the huge development of tourism in Montenegro, we became not only a travel but also a shopping destination for all visitors that prefer both luxury and more commercial brands,” she says. Now, 28 years since opening the first store in Podgorica, SAMMS is the exclusive distributor of 14 global luxury fashion brands.

“We wanted to bring the world to Montenegro – our stores allow our customers to experience the biggest fashion capitals around the globe,” says Anja proudly.

Bringing the best to their customers is what continues to drive Anja and SAMMS, which is why they decided to invest in the latest digital technologies and implement new software to improve their business processes.

“We have 14 stores in Podgorica and 11 in seaside towns, so it’s important to have accurate, relevant and precise data on our operations. Our existing system was not able to provide this, which carried the risk of adopting the wrong business decision,” Anja notes.

Through the EBRD’s Women in Business programme, supported in Montenegro by Sweden, SAMMS implemented new software which provides all the data Anja and her team need to analyse their business operations and make more astute business decisions with greater agility.

“Our new system gives us maximum insight into both the sales market and the purchasing market, enabling us to detect and react quickly to any changes – be it in consumer preference and demand, or internal changes with our suppliers,” Anja explains.

As a result, the company is able to make more informed business decisions, which led to record level revenues and an increase of more than 10 per cent in the company’s profit margins in 2021.

A digital company for a digital world

The new system was just part of SAMMS’ digital journey.

“Implementing digital tools has allowed our company to engage with new customers, become more efficient, and be modern and favourable in our customers’ eyes,” Anja says. Following completion of the project, SAMMS invested in an e-commerce solution, which allowed the company to overcome geographical barriers and serve customers that it otherwise could not. Now consumers can shop at SAMMS boutiques anywhere and at any time through their devices.

Meanwhile, the company’s social media channels enable it to engage with consumers, facilitate the understanding of their evolving needs, and respond to them in real-time.

“We’ve opened the door to new clients and positioned our brand as appealing to new generations of shoppers,” Anja says.

Just as with bringing luxury brands to the Montenegrin market, all of these steps were met with hesitation and unease. But Anja knew they would pay off.

“If there is one lesson I’ve learned throughout my career, it’s that it’s important to take risks. Whether with implementing a new technology, changing your operating model, introducing a new product, or targeting a new customer segment... without risks, it’s not possible to grow and achieve the level of success you are aiming for,” Anja concludes.

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