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Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Zionist Entrepreneur Saves Jerusalem Neighborhood
Levy also gives a lot of credit to Mayor Nir Barkat for his management of the city, saying that “he will be judged by history as one of Jerusalem's best mayors.”
Levy's idealism-flavored capitalism had in the past led him to undertake yet another move that was considered quite controversial; the opening of supermarkets bearing his name in Judea and Samaria. “Before I opened my first Yesha supermarket, in Shaar Binyamin, colleagues told me that I was simply not normal; that no one invests in those places, and that I was crazy for doing so. I responded that on the contrary, I was quite sane, and that I felt we had no choice but to try and reach customers in Yesha as well.”
It turned out to be a savvy move on Levy's part, as not only Jews from towns in Yesha, but Arabs living in PA towns shop at Levy's stores, giving him so much business that the PA has several times tried to force its subjects to boycott the chain – to no avail. “We sell to everyone, regardless of race, creed or color. This is a business, and I will continue to serve all those who wish to buy from me. I will also provide work for anyone who wishes to help serve those customers, as long as they are prepared to work and provide services in the spirit of mutual respect,” he says. Besides Shaar Binyamin, Levy's Yesha stores include branches in Gush Etzion, Mishor Adumim, and Beitar Ilit.
Levy's “Jewish capitalism” extends to his business practices as well, including discounting, not only as a means of pulling customers into the store, but as a means of helping lower-income families stretch their food-shopping shekels. “I work hard to make sure that the total bill a family can expect to pay for their food costs is between 20% and 25% lower here than in other stores,” he says. As a result, the chain runs specials, especially around the holidays; last Rosh HaShanah, Rami Levy stores charged customers only one shekel per kilo for chicken, apples and honey!
Of course, he says, he wants to make a profit – and he does. But it's important not to forget the human aspect of business relations, Levy says. “I try to help out the customer, enabling him to buy products he wants that he may not have been able to afford. Profit is important – I have to pay the bills – but helping out others and giving the customer a good feeling is also important.”
Levy's “neshama” capitalism was also evident when he tendered a bid to buy the Tuv-Ta'am chain several years ago. Had he succeeded, Levy says, his first order of business would have been to “reform” the chain – closing it on Shabbat, and ridding it of the pork products it is now known for. One of the reasons the deal fell through, he says, is because he wasn't sure he would be able to implement those changes. “On principle, I will not do business with someone who works on Shabbat; I own a lot of property, and I do not rent out space to businesses that operate on Shabbat.”
Levy has been in the grocery business since 1996, and today the chain has 21 branches, mostly in Jerusalem – but with branches in Haifa, Afula, Be'ersheva, and points in between, Rami Levy is quickly becoming a national phenomenon. Besides groceries and real estate, Levy has also dipped his toe into textiles, with his Yafiz clothing store chain – and the Rami Levy supermarkets are now big enough to support their own house brand, called, appropriately enough, “Hamotag” (“The Brand”).
Clearly he knows what he's doing, but despite his success, Levy says that “I remain the same person I was when I started, and I always will, regardless of how much money I make and how many businesses I have. My success really belongs to everyone who works here – if I didn't have a good staff that was willing to cooperate with my goals, I wouldn't have come this far.” So what's the secret of his success? “Success, regardless of who you are or what you do, means treating other people properly,” he says. “A business cannot succeed unless it has values and respect for others.”