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Krissia Rodriguez Porras

(en Español)
by Carol Vlassoff

Krissia Rodriguez PorrasProbably the first thing to strike you when you meet Krissia Rodriguez, General Manager of the largest supermarket in Quepos, Super Mas, is that she looks so young. And she is young – only 31 years old – but she has been working in her father’s store since she was a child.

She laughs as she remembers how she and her sister organized their three month summer vacations: “We agreed to take one month of holiday and spend the other two working in the store. We thought we were working very hard, always begging the cashiers to let us help, but now I realize that we really weren’t.”

In fact, she says, one of the misconceptions people have about working in a family business is that you have to work “excessively”. But this was not the case with her. She says her commitment to the business grew gradually, out her own interest, not from family pressures. In fact, when she was in high school, Krissia wanted to pursue a different kind of career. Attracted to languages and photography, she continued to pursue these interests after graduation, working part time at the store on weekends. At that time was located in front of the Quepos park, near where Gollo store is today.

Krissia’s father, Alvaro Rodriguez, was always entrepreneurial, she says. He did not have a lot of money when he was young, but he always found a way to succeed in business. Besides the supermarket that he ran with his brother, he started a mechanic’s shop where Super Mas is now located. He began to see the potential of the location for a larger supermarket. “It was near the bus station and a market area was being planned across the road,” Krissia explains. “So in 1991 he moved the business here.”

It was a gradual process, Krissia says. “First he started a butchery, selling meat along with machinery, engine oil and car parts. Then my father began to think of selling eggs, so we got eggs. Later we bought bread from a local bakery, then sacks of rice and beans. That’s how the store started. People kept asking for more and more things and we went out and found them.”

Krissia Rodriguez PorrasThis openness to new products, to what the customer wants – is a trademark of Super Mas, Krissia says. “At first the managers of the Compañía Bananera would come and ask for special things they liked – can goods especially – so my father would get them.” Whereas other stores in town sell mainly the staples that people need on a daily basis, Super Mas has always tried different things. The store’s slogan, in fact, says it all: “We give you more than other stores” (“Super Mas le da mas que los demas”).

“It’s what I like best about the business,” Krissia remarks. “Experimenting with items the client may suggest, comparing recipes, things like that. Even if we buy only two or three articles of an item, we try to have it for the loyal customer.” Even Ticos, who she admits frequent the store less than extranjeros, recognize this. “They know if they want something that’s hard to find, they will find it here,” she says.

When Krissia was 19, still studying photography, her father asked her to come and manage the store full time. She accepted, but was concerned that people would think she obtained the position because of her family connections. For this reason and because she knew there were many things she did not know about management, she enrolled in a business degree. Working full time and studying weekends and nights, she completed her degree in 2006. “And that,” she smiles, “was the end of everything.” Business, she discovered, was what she wanted to do.

But it wasn’t easy at first, she recalls, trying to compete in a man’s world. “It was very uncommon for a woman to be a manager in those days,” she says. People would come to the store looking for “Don Christian”, not believing they would have to deal with a woman. She talks about one of her most trying experiences supervising a man in his 50’s who simply refused to listen to her. Though he good at his work, his habits were shabby and disorganized. One day, when she tried to talk with him, he told her, “I cannot take orders from a woman.”

Krissia says her father always listened to her ideas and often took them a step further. For example, four years ago Krissia suggested that they buy an oven to cook premade, frozen bread. Her father agreed, but after some time she noticed that the oven he was building was much bigger than necessary to accommodate her idea. When she protested, he told her that they were going to make their own bread “just like old times”. He brought in Don Aldo, a local baker, to show them the recipes and baking methods.

I ask Krissia what it was like growing up in Quepos. She acknowledges that it was quiet and that she enjoyed going to San José for entertainment, but says that she always liked living in a small place. She points out that, in Quepos, you can go to the beach or the river, take a hike, enjoy the outdoors. “I’d miss that in the city,” she says, adding that she appreciates having everything nearby. “I don’t like to have to drive everywhere.”

She was able to pursue her studies in Quepos with excellent professors from San José. She studied English under a special program with the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (Institute of Learning) that provides further education on a competitive basis to people in local communities who demonstrate merit and commitment. She also completed her business degree right here in Quepos from the San José based Universidad Autónoma de Centro América (UACA) and Universidad Magister, thanks to its extension program.

But though Krissia loves Quepos, she does like to travel. She has vacationed extensively – in Europe, North America and other Latin American countries. She still hasn’t seen all the countries of Central America, she says. Belize is next on her agenda. And what does Krissia like to do on her vacations? She giggles, “You guessed it. I love to visit supermarkets!” She describes some of the stores she has seen in Italy and France, and how she can pass two hours walking the aisles “trying everything.” “After all,” she says, “what is France if you don’t eat? Chocolates, cheese, wine!”

These trips, especially the grouping or “matching” of products by region or taste, have inspired the Super Mas shelves where, for example, you will find all the Oriental products in one place. Krissia says she would like to do more matching – Italian pastas with Italian wines, for instance – if she had the space. As it is, the store has little room for expansion.

I ask about the economic recession, and its impact on her business. Krissia says the store took a participatory approach to the crisis, meeting with employees and explaining that they could not expect extra hours, and that salaries, already a little higher than elsewhere, would not be increased. Her main aim was to keep the business stable rather than expecting profits over this period, she notes. “With 20 families depending on the store, my main concern was how to sustain them.”

The employees themselves came up with suggestions for cost saving, she says. Their suggestions included turning off lights when it was sunny and reusing plastic bags from large shipments. Although business has picked up recently, these cost saving measures are still followed, she points out.

Krissia says she has been inspired in her work by her father, and in her life values by her mother, Lígia Porras, who saw the need for “a spiritual structure” for the family, Krissia explains. She was never satisfied just to go through the rituals of Catholicism, but questioned and studied the Bible, eventually becoming a Jehovah Witness. Krissia is deeply committed to this faith which she says had shaped the lives of their whole family. She says that it has taught her not to expect things of others but to find joy in spontaneity, and that there is more happiness in giving than in receiving.

Krissia says that she is happy now that her staff and clients treat her with respect. “Now they come looking for me and not for my father. I feel I have accomplished my goal.”

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