With inflation hitting a whopping 3,000%, and new currencies being introduced and then quickly ditched, it was not easy to be a retailer in the Brazil of the early 1990s.
That was the tough economic backdrop faced by Luiza Trajano, then 40, when she took up the top job at her family’s chain of shops selling home electronics and household appliances in 1991.
The business, called Magazine Luiza, had a small chain in the southern state of Sao Paulo. But Luiza had ambitious plans to expand nationwide. And she had a cunning plan.
With inflation that high, and the Brazilian government introducing and then abandoning no fewer than four different currencies between 1989 and 1994, it would have been risky to start opening more large stores stocking the entire range of products.
Looking back, Luiza, who is now 68, says: “It was a big revolution, we introduced a new way of virtual sales. It prepared us for the internet before anyone else.”
She says that she also made sure that the company put a lot of effort into explaining the expansion plans to staff, to ensure that they were happy and motivated, and therefore offering good customer service.
“We did intense work with our team, explaining our targets and how we need everyone. We were very transparent with how they played an important role in this new movement.
Within three years Magazine Luiza had a few hundred of its shops across Brazil, with some large cities having as many as 58 outlets. Today the company has more than 1,000 stores across Brazil and 30,000 employees. Meanwhile, its website accounts for 48% of sales and it has total annual revenues of 19.7bn real ($4.9bn; £3.7bn).
The success of the business has made Luiza one of the richest people in Brazil. Her net worth is $3.5bn (£2.7bn), according to Forbes magazine.
The first Magazine Luiza shop was opened in 1957 by Luiza’s aunt and uncle, in her home city of Franca, 400km (250 miles) north of the city of Sao Paulo, The word “magazine” was chosen as a variation of the French word for shop, “magasin”, while “Luiza” was also her aunt’s first name.
Luiza started helping her aunt and uncle at the shop from the age of 12, working in the afternoon and early evening after she had finished school. “I was a saleswoman, and it was still a very small shop [at the time],” she says. “I loved the experience, and it was a success.”
When Luiza went to university to study law, she still made time to work at the shop. And after graduating she joined the family business full-time.
Over the next two decades she filled a number of increasingly senior roles, before coming chief executive in 1991, as her uncle and aunt stepped back from the day-to-day running of the business.
Another innovation Luiza introduced was opening the stores very early in the morning during sales periods. This might have long been common practice in the UK and North America, but in 1990s Brazil it was a novel development.
“We opened the shops at 5am, something that we had never seen before in Brazil.” she says. “Other retail shops started to do the same.