Lisbeth Dalgaard is the owner and manager of Dalgaard Supermarked, which she inherited from her father. In a country with a population of less than 6 million, there are supermarkets accounting for 18 million people’s food needs, and so the industry is highly saturated. By continuously training her employees, Lisbeth ensures that a trip to Dalgaard is more than just a trip to buy food. I spoke with Lisbeth about the critical factors to create a thriving business, how she motivates her employees, her best advice to other young female entrepreneurs and lastly, touched upon Lisbeth’s recent appointment for the prestigious position as chairman of the board of the Danish Confederation of Employers (DA).

As owner and manager of Dalgaard Supermarket, what would you say have been the three most critical success factor for growing the business?

First and foremost, to be a leader more than a manager. When I started at Dalgaard I came directly from IBM, where I had worked for some years, also as a leader. It quickly became apparent to me that there were very noticeable cultural differences between IBM and Dalgaard. Therefore, in order to succeed as a leader, I had to learn how to cope with a new culture, including how to motivate the people working in Dalgaard Supermarket. An example of misjudgement in how to motivate the culture within Dalgaard, was when I early on tried to award the employees by giving them a trip where they could be educated about food and food preparation and the response I was met with, was basically “what will I gain from going there?” and more importantly, “how much will I be paid to go?”. This way of awarding the employees worked very well in IBM, but not with the employees in Dalgaard Supermarket. Thus, a clear example of how you need to adapt your way of leading and motivating your employees in a given culture.

Secondly, when you work in a supermarket, you simply need to have a passion for food. You also need to value having a meal together, both with family and friends. I think the lack of enjoying a meal or a dinner, is why many young people are stressed today. This is also one of the core reasons for why I accepted the position on the board of “Madkulturen”, an independent knowledge and change institution within the Ministry of Environment and Food. The vision of Madkulturen is to provide “better food for everybody” and also to encourage people to enjoy having a meal together.

Lastly, I think it is very important that we always focus on building relationships with our customers, which we do through our highly skilled employees. In order to run a successful supermarket, a good customer experience is absolutely vital.

Online shopping has become a new distribution channel within retail – how do you view the growing presence of online shopping for groceries?

I don’t think online shopping is necessarily cheaper. You will find the same fair prices whether you shop online or go to a physical store. What drives people to online shops, rather than physical stores is, in my view, rather convenience than pricing. This is also a reason for why online grocery shopping only tends to be a success in certain areas, i.e. in bigger cities. Online shopping only covers around 2% of the total market for groceries, so it is only a very niche segment of the market. It is known that in Denmark, you will find a physical supermarket store within a five-minute walk anywhere, where you will be able to get the products that you need, making it very convenient. I actually had the pleasure of meeting the founder of the leading online grocery platform, Nemlig.com, last year around Easter in our supermarket, as it was more convenient for him to get the last things, he needed for his Easter lunch here, than online. I also think a lot of people like to examine the actual produce before buying, which is easier in a physical store than online. The social encounter is also an important factor and something which the physical stores need to exploit to their advantage. Another important reason for why it can be hard to lead a successful online shop in Denmark, is that we have very strict rules on food regulation. The distribution is also very difficult, and the average salaries are very high in Denmark, making it hard to make it profitable.

Looking back over the past ten years, the most significant challenge for us has been the fact that there are too many physical supermarkets. In Denmark, we have supermarkets to cover 18 million people’s need for food and with a population of less than 6 million people, this creates many challenges for supermarkets.

What specific approaches do you take to create a high degree of competitiveness at Dalgaard?

First of all, we need to have fair prices. We cannot be overpriced, otherwise people will go elsewhere. Besides this, we need to make the trip to the store worthwhile for the customer, meaning that we have to show that the trip to the store is more than just coming for the goods. Going back to having skilled employees, this is really where they make a difference and make Dalgaard Supermarket stand out from other supermarkets. We also differentiate ourselves by having a huge number of different items, we have 42.000 SKUs, which I think is the biggest amount in any Danish supermarket. Finally, building relationships, both in the store and through sponsorship in the local area is important for us.

You recently got elected for the very prestigious position as chairman of the board of Danish Confederation of Employers (DA). What does it mean for you as woman, to be elected for this position?

First of all, I was – of course – very proud and happy to be elected. I have tried similar appointments before, where I have found myself navigating among a lot of men and hardly any women. I think there are many highly skilled women within the organization, so I don’t feel like I am alone or finding it difficult working with men. Without overdoing it, I do see myself as a role model for other women, and hope I will be able to inspire young, ambitious women with the work that I do.

What advice would you give young women just starting their career?

The most important thing is to choose your partner with care. You need to choose a partner that will give you space for your interests and your career. I also think it is important to take the opportunities as they present themselves. You have to be bold and you have to come to terms with the fact that you can’t be number 1 or perfect in every aspect of your career. Therefore, you have to choose among the opportunities that you have and pursue the ones that are most important to you. Of course, you also have to be prepared to invest a lot of time and a lot of hard work with what you do. Finally, accept that a successful career does not happen in a straight line, you can focus on your family in periods of time and then return full force to your career – there are no issues with that.