Michelle Hespe speaks to Patricia Lockhart, owner and director of Uruguay’s award-winning retail store, Bazar La Iberica and its focus on generations of inspiration.
Achieving 100 years in business is something worth talking about. But Bazar La Iberica, a family-run retailer operating in a country with only 3 million inhabitants (half of which live on very low income) has long since passed that milestone. The retailer will soon celebrate its 125th birthday—an incredible feat that has involved resilience, passion, honesty, integrity and ultimately, the application of great business skills and innovation.
It has been 11 years since La Iberica won the gia Uruguay award and participated in the IHA Global Innovation Awards celebrations in Chicago. Since then, it has continued to go from strength to strength, adapting to the modern retail world where technology reigns, while also fiercely protecting its rich heritage.
La Iberica is housed in the original building in which it was established by Patricia’s grandfather in 1892 — a three-story, 19th century building with five-meter-high ceilings, hardwood floors (the original wooden planks from when it was built) and majestic iron columns. It is firmly entrenched in the historic quarter of Uruguay’s capital city, Montevideo, and although it has been completely renovated over the past 124 years, its antique charm has been carefully, thoughtfully preserved for all to enjoy.
“It has always been a family company, and I’m very proud of being its Director while maintaining its position as the leading company of our sector in the country,” says Patricia. “Uruguay has always been a conservative country, attached to old tastes and to aesthetics and ideas inspired by the surrounding environment, but this has radically changed over the past decade or so.”
She explains that the Internet and social media have had an enormous impact on Uruguay’s retail industry, and on La Iberica itself. “They have opened peoples’ minds and eyes to an alternative world of design and beauty, allowing them to appreciate forms of beauty from other parts of the world that in the past only very few people, who travelled a lot, have had the chance to appreciate.”
This has enabled La Iberica to shift from being a company that could only sell classic pieces of furniture to one offering an enormous variety of decor styles and modern design. “Previously, whenever we had any avant-garde design products, they just wouldn’t sell!” Patricia exclaims.
“Today, our customers have embraced design as a way of life, as a form of channeling the expression of their personality. We have really profited from this—we love bringing objects of all kinds to our customers so they can create interiors that they can relate to. This has positioned us not only as a company that sells quality products for the home, but also one that brings the latest design objects from across the world to Uruguay. That sets us apart,” says Patricia.
As Patricia’s daughters are the fourth generation working in the store, there are strong ties to the past. But La Iberica has definitely evolved, and today it has three strong pillars upon which the philosophy and branding of the company is based:
1. Variety of choice: La Iberica has always offered a huge, diverse range of products for the home (decor, kitchen gadgets, light fittings, etc.) and everything to furnish a home in a variety of styles, whether that be classic, contemporary, 50s-style, modern, Scandinavian, vintage or reclaimed wood furniture.
2. Strong, good work ethics toward customers, employees and suppliers: “We are recognized in the country for our honesty with all the company stakeholders,” says Patricia.
3. A dedication to not only keeping up with changes in people’s lifestyle—and their needs, wants, expectations—but a focus on anticipating them. “We identify customers’ needs before they even know they have them,” she explains.
In addition to the three pillars, La Iberica has been firmly focused on incorporating the latest technology to enhance the shopping experience. This is a big step for retailers of any size, as it takes dedication, money and a thorough understanding of not only what is available in an ever-changing market but what is best suited to a particular business’ growth, and ultimately, its strategy.
“Our first big incorporation of technology was the creation of our online shop several years ago,” Patricia says. “Our online store is one step ahead of all other online shopping websites in the country, and we continue to enhance it every day. In this sense, the younger generation has given it a huge drive.”
La Iberica’s online store has also enabled it to boost sales across the entire country, whereas in the past its market was quite restricted to the capital city and the nearby east coast of Uruguay. And even though Patricia believes that the shopping experience in its physical store is incomparable—“People just love being here and walking around admiring the space and everything in it,” she says—their online shopping option is a solution for those who live a bit too far or have no time to come over.
“That’s why we’re working nonstop to enhance the purchase experience online and also provide as much information as possible about our products on our website,” she says. “We want the experience of navigating our website to be a visual pleasure too, and it’s important for us to maintain a consistency between the aesthetics of our store and our website.”
Patricia and her team certainly do roll with the times, keeping up with the furious pace of change. In fact, she believes that change is the only constant thing in doing business. “After 124 years of doing business, we embrace change with enthusiasm. We think intuition and experience are key to telling fads and real changes in business practices apart.”
This willingness to wholeheartedly embrace change and a modern way of retailing, while also holding on tight to its rich heritage and showcasing its cultural roots, is something that the judges and expert jury in the IHA Global Innovation Awards (gia) applauded. However, as a fourth generation retailer in a country that she is incredibly proud of, Patricia viewed the award as not only an accolade for La Iberica, but also something positive for her people.
“Gaining recognition from abroad is always an added value in Uruguay, because our people feel any triumph such as this, as their own,” she explains. “So winning a gia made us proud of ourselves and also of our customers and our country. We love representing Uruguay positively outside our borders, and showing others that we can create amazing, inspiring things.”
For more information on Bazar La Iberica, visit https://www.laiberica.com.uy