Our President Alex and Vice-President Elena, recently spoke to Proto Thema – Business Stories, about the story of STIRIXIS and their vision for the future! Read the translated interview below!
It was in the mid 90s that the expert of consumer psychology– or ‘Guru of Retail’ as many call him – Paco Underhill, wrote his most widespread book “Why We Buy: The science of Shopping”, eliciting detrimental changes in the in which retail networks were set up until then. Using the basic idea of environmental psychology (that the environment in which we live influences our behaviour) as well as results from longitudinal studies which have shown that anything that touches our senses can become a business success, he became the prophet of an entire generation of executives and business professionals who, since then, have defined the way in which business is being done.
For Alex and Elena Athanassoula, a young couple at the time that had just begun their business journey by setting up a Construction Office, this book became their inspiration, helping them to understand the deeper meaning of businesses and to turn towards a more holistic approach. The later acquaintance and collaboration with Mr. Underhill was the starting point of a new path – a path with many bifurcations and brave decisions – that shaped the now globally awarded network of companies under the name ‘STIRIXIS’, with projects in more than 27 different countries and clients in international businesses of varying sectors, from Coca-Cola HBC and Samsung, to Merck and Switz Group.
“We are an internationally awarded company that provides consulting services and design and focuses on ensuring the long-term success of its clients and the maximisation of the Return on Investment, says Mr. Athanassoulas to “Business Stories”, in a discussion that takes place shortly after the active participation of Stirixis in the Greek business mission that Enterprise Greece organised in Saudi Arabia, as well as their participation in the corresponding mission that was organised by Saudi Arabia in Greece, with involved a plethora of B2B meetings. It is thanks to these missions that we were given the opportunity to meet Mrs. Athanassoula and to learn about the successful case of exporting know-how through an office that you can definitely not characterise “architectural”, due to the broad spectrum of services offered.
“We are already collaborating with a company that undertakes University projects, in Saudi Arabia. Right now, we are designing shared spaces for Cassim University, as well as conference halls, auditoriums, etc. We are hoping to increase our presence in Saudi Arabia and, why not, to soon create a hub that will be responsible for our activities in the Middle East, as we already have a strong presence both in the UAE and in Oman”, explains Mrs Athanassoula to “B.S”
In the past two years, Stirixis has also taken on the rebranding and repositioning of large chain stores in the region, building at the same time their own strong brand. Of course, this was not achieved easily, but was made possible through a series of brave ‘bets’ that the company took, including the decision to let go of the certainty of contracting and construction work, as well as to search for an international outlet during a period when… the cows in our country were still fat. These brave bet, as we can see from today’s conditions, are bets that have been won.
Our conversation took place at STIRIXIS’ offices in Kifissia. “We started in 1996 as a Construction Office. However, we quickly understood that we had to dig deeper. The constructions needed further support, so we created a team of architects. Following this, we continued to sense that our clients was not only in need of a concept, but desired a specific outcome. Thus, a project that needed to respect and serve the broader context of a business strategy”, says Mr. Athanassoulas. “Paco Underhill’s book ‘Why We Buy’ helped us to shift our perspective. We decided then to try to contact him. And indeed, we succeeded. We explained that we wanted to develop a holistic concept building company, and he responded with an invitation to Milan, as he had just started designing Armani stores there with his company. Ultimately, not only did we end up meeting with him, but we collaborated with him on two or three important projects that he had taken on in Greece, such as “Notos”. It is in this way that we created, around 2000 in Greece, the first true concept building company, where a client would contact us and we would discuss the business strategy, his market positioning, the point of differentiation that he either had or was looking to develop, the values that he wanted to pass on to the customers; all things that we made an effort to transform into a physical space that would serve the business case”, he recounts. “However, by operating in this manner, we understood that there existed a strategy deficit, even in well-known and large enterprises. In 2004, then, we decided to offer business consulting services. This is how our services evolved into a 360 circle”
A critical year.
2008 was a critical year for STIRIXIS. “It’s a period when constructions have reached a critical point. The checks that are being given are to be cashed in in the next 6 months or more, and we started to sense the dangers around the construction industry, even though no one was discussing that which was about to happen to our economy. We made a very important decision then, which ended up helping us with what followed in our country. We decided to escape from the narrow limits of Greece and to expand abroad. This was a heavy decision, however, as it required for us to stop providing construction services, which at the time made up 80% of our income”, highlights Alex. Elena clarified that, until then, STIRIXIS was not only in charge of strategy and design, but the constructions as well.
“We had to let go of this service. Construction had several local peculiarities, from permissions, to insurance, maintenance, etc., and we were not interested in operating only in one country, but to expand to many. So this is how our construction services came to an end, says Alex. “We had to face the hardship of the Greek economic crisis, from 2009 to approximately 2017 which, thanks to the new direction that we took and a lot of effort, we managed to overcome, to spread our wings and to complete projects in 27 different countries. And we’re not talking about neighbouring countries, but from Russia to Nigeria and from Scandinavia to India.
“Of course, in the process, we changed and we evolved how we approach our work and how we think, shaping slowly the systemic approach that we offer to our clients through a diverse set of services, which not only help businesses be productive and to survive, but become the springboard for the innovation of the whole business, offering flexibility and long-term prosperity”, Elena adds.
In our sector, many approach the project as the end-goal, but for us they are not. The investment and the financial part matter the most. It is what sheds light on the bigger picture, the strategic targeting”, she notes.
What is it then, that the companies demand from Stirixis? “They come to us from different starting points”, comments Mr. Athanassoulas. “Some companies are looking for their next step. Perhaps they are already highly performing, profitable businesses which feel, however, the need to reflect on the next step. For example, we are currently working on a case like that in India. It concerns a food retail chain with 400 pastry shops, for which we are in charge of the repositioning of its concept and the overall redesign. A similar case in Greece was Kafkas, where we designed the retail network in a low-performing era for them, where the owner wanted to prepare for the day after”, says Mr. Athanassoulas. “Other companies come for our architectural services, when they want to renovate their business, without having however as a base or end-goal the strategy that they want to carve, so we help them”.
Therefore, strategic services, market positioning and evolution. “We have four stages in our work model”, clarifies Mr. Athanassoulas. “One is strategy, the other is design, the third is execution and the fourth is evolution. The final stage is the most important one; it is why everything we do is based on a network of internal indicators and monitoring of the market, competition and trend analysis and more, which enable the constant improvement and evolution of the concepts, so that they do not follow the accepted cycle of life. Because, if this cycle closes, over-investments are required which may need to be made in a difficult era. It’s the most important stage not only for our clients, but for us too as, this approach is what has led us to not only win numerous awards in international competitions, but to form long-term relationships with our clients; clients in large enterprises such as Coca-Cola HBC, Daikin, Elpedison, Enel and almost every toy retail business including Playmobil, Hasbro, Mattel, Samsung, Leto Stores and more”
“Many multinational companies such as Merck have contacted us for our workplace design services”, adds Elena. “Because besides the retail sector and concept design, we also design workplace, where currently enormous re-adjustments are occurring due to remote working which creates the need to design or modify office spaces to support the broader strategy and brand identity.
For this to happen, Mr. Athanassoulas explains that multi-layered studies are being carried out and analysed in order to align new models of work with the desired business culture. “In relation to strategic analysis, we have two business divisions that are responsible for monitoring the trends in the sectors that we are interested in. Based on these, we modify our designs. This led to the later creation of our thinktank, metallaxis.org, which studies mega trends. The two divisions combined, help us to create successful projects, not only with the know-how of short term or medium-term trends, but also long-term ones.
Today, remote working has created the need for changes in the interior organisation of modern homes. Stirixis can serve this sector too, as Elena mentioned, through Stirixis Exclusive which is yet another sub-brand of the Stirixis family. “It is a brand that was born through our clients. Having collaborated with them for the creation of their business concepts, some wanted to make changes in their homes too. This is how we expanding into home design too, and lately we see an increase in our Exclusive projects, either for renovations or to build new homes”, she adds. Today, 30 people shape the team. Most of them are architects and engineers. However, they are supported by a broad range of experts including interior designers, 3D visualisers, mechanical engineers, strategists, marketing experts, branding and construction managers. “We are a team that is multi-disciplinary and broad, which is essential for the support of our holistic approach”, emphasises Mrs Athanassoula.
The current projects are both in Greece and abroad. “It’s approximately shared 50-50, and that’s because we had to shift our focus back to the Greek market these past two years, due to the difficulties that Covid-19 created abroad. We were not able to travel, so we could not be close to our clients or to new markets”, explains Alex. “The market in Greece is developing and it is once again in fashion”, says Elena.
Stirixis, besides having a team based in Athens, also has an office in Romania, which is fully staffed. “It acts a base and a hub for many businesses in Eastern Europe and the Middle East”, says Elena. Among these projects is Mister Baker, the pastry chain in UAE, or Modern Oman Bakery in Oman, which is part of Taizoon Khorakiwala’s Switz Group, a man who is known for his investments in Greece.
“Greece is our home, we believe in it, we love it and we believe in its capabilities, which is why we make an effort to play a bigger role in the investment plans and the projects that occur. At the same time however, we want to further strengthen our presence abroad. Saudi Arabia is of great interest to us, as it can become the key for the creation of a new hub there”, emphasizes Mrs Athanassoula.
In the meantime, the challenges remain. “The truth is that we were expecting this year to be better. Not that we will not reach the goals that we set for this year, but we will do so with a lot more effort. We are constantly thinking of new scenarios, as the financial aspect of our constructions is something that can not be predicted. The offers we get are only valid for 10 days!”, she mentions.
For Elena and Alex, these new challenges are yet another bet. After all, they themselves managed to go through iron and steel in the turbulent economic years of Greece, managing not only to change their business, spread their wings abroad and succeed, but at the same time to raise their three girls.