International College of Economics and Finance

HSE Students Met with HOFF Hypermarket Chain Founder

Alexander Zayonts

Alexander Zayonts
@ HSE University/ Mikhail Dmitriev

Alexander Zayonts, Founder, President and CEO at Hoff hypermarket chain, delivered his talk, entitled “Promoting Business Under Restrictions”, as part of a series of sessions with leading Russian practicing economists and entrepreneurs. Alexander has a place on ICEF Endowment Fund Board of Trustees. Acting as the moderator was HSE University President Alexander Shokhin.

The session was opened by ICEF Director Sergey Yakovlev, who stressed in his welcome address that meetings like this illustrate diversity of the career fields available to our students. What is more, meetings with businessmen and banking experts contribute to preparing students for the current economic reality. 

Alexander Zayonts founded Hoff in 2008. A viable alternative to Ikea, his company has contributed to making the domestic furniture production a more consolidated market segment. Hoff is Russia’s largest chain of furniture and home goods hypermarkets. Cooperating with some 400 suppliers, 85% of which are Russian, its business model has in no way been affected by suspension of supplies from abroad. Using his company as an example, Alexander spoke about the recent changes experienced by the Russian business community and how these helped to adjust to new conditions, mentioning this was his first experience of giving talks to students.  

The speaker has presented to the audience his takeaways from life and career as entrepreneur, which he thinks can prove useful. In particular, he described entrepreneurship as a career to be avoided by those who aren’t prepared to take responsibility for their hires. “The difference between entrepreneurs and managers lies in the level of preparedness to risk and err. As an entrepreneur, you are just bound to make mistakes, especially at the start of your journey. You need to take a sober look at your potential. As one wise quote goes, find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life. That’s important,” said Alexander.

Alexander went on to present his vision of success, its formula and factors that must come together for an idea to turn into reality. His experience can serve an illustration of business success coming down largely to the idea itself, sufficient funding, competent management and ultimately luck, for it’s essentially a matter of being in the right place at the right time for a company to get noticed by the market and to build strong reputation. Alexander supported his conclusions by giving interesting examples of the companies that rose and fell because they failed to take into account all the factors.

One more thing Alexander focused on was the ability to “change and adjust to new developments, and best of all – create and innovate. When one door closes another two open. It means that in the current situation it’s all about the ability to find your niche – and there are actually many emerging on the market now that Western companies have left.” Alexander is confident that the current economic situation is driven largely by consumer needs. Even though it forced entrepreneurs to modify their business processes, there are new opportunities opening up under the current restrictions for many Russian customer service brands. Hoff, for example, had re-oriented its supply chain towards East and Southeast back at the start of the pandemic, switching to Chinese yuan and other local currencies. “Logistics is the cornerstone of business success,” said Alexander Zayonts.

Alexander cited as challenges he faced when Hoff was about to be launched the domestic home goods industry having been totally unprepared to meet standards. There were also challenges related to customer service mindset. Hoff managed to find its own way to reach out to customers: it put its stakes on “coziness in the house” and brought its manufacturer relations to a cardinally new level. 

In support of this approach, Alexander presented his company’s performance figures. HSE President Alexander Shokhin, who acted as a moderator, asked the speaker several important questions. The talk, which the moderator insisted was a workshop, was followed by Q&A session. Alexander thanked the students for engaging comments and presented them with valuable books on business strategies pursued by global companies.