The story is ostensibly straightforward. It is about courage, energy, resilience and the strength of one Czech family. Although admittedly, more than a little of each was required. In 1991, when Jaroslava Valová decided to start a business, she was 44 years old, and many of her neighbours in Čimelice thought she was crazy. It did not look very realistic that she could succeed in the post-November jungle in 1989. Even more so, that on the recommendation of a friend, she decided to build her business in a completely unknown field. Although it soon became clear just how perspective that field was.
How the people of Prague travelled to Čimelice to order their bathrooms
Building Insulation (Stavební Izolace), Sanitary Ware (Keramika) and Tiles (Obklady) — it was the first letters of these Czech words that Mr and Mrs Vala used to form the name of their company. And although SIKO did not actually sell building insulation, the name caught on — just like the entire company. Although, of course, nothing was for free.
Firstly, the finances. The business start-up swallowed up all the family savings, including their children’s savings accounts containing savings from summer jobs and contributions from grandparents. Mr and Mrs Vala simply decided to jump head on into the business. Every crown ended up with middlemen, from whom they bought their first overpriced supplies of tiles. It was then that they realized that they needed to directly contact the manufacturers themselves otherwise their business could not move forward. Only in this way could they choose what people want and above all, offer significantly lower prices. However, at that time, it seemed to be an impossible dream for those who did not have links to the former communist party.
Still they tried. They visited the corporate stores of the manufacturers and transported the tiles back to Čimelice themselves. Jaroslava then took care of the sales and accounting, and if the day had more than 24 hours, she sure would have gladly used them. However, the results of this logically arrived when Customers began to spread the word about the small 40 m2 SIKO store, which looked after them well. Eventually, it became the norm for people from Prague travelling down South at the weekends to stop by, and eventually the shop became their primary target. This meant that the big manufacturers were kept busy, meaning that SIKO had now become one of their regular customers.
How Mr and Mrs Vala used to travel by Trabant to Lake Balaton
“Still, she must have inherited something,” was probably the thought of many people interested in her story. And they are right. She did inherit something: the incredible work ethic and toughness of her father. Her father was an enthusiastic supporter of Masaryk in the 1930’s who worked as the head gardener for Prince Schwarzenberg at his estate in Čimelice; he learned to speak German and played several musical instruments. He was also the leader of Sokol (youth sports movement and gymnastics organization) and directed the local amateur theatre. He went on to instil his philosophy “Do everything the best you can” into his three daughters. Obviously, it was not that difficult, as the ladies had this mentality in their blood.
His daughter Ludmila Polesná (1934) won the white water rafting championship an incredible six times in the 1960s. What a shame it was not an Olympic discipline at that time. Over sixty medals from the world and national championships are listed in the book Square Medals (“Hranaté medaile”). His daughter Jana (1933) also received an award; she is an honorary citizen of Dobříš. In addition, she skis, exercises in Sokol and organizes tours through her travel agency.
The story of the youngest daughter Jaroslava (1947) may therefore not surprise anybody. She also enjoyed sport but decided to collect her laurels elsewhere. This all began with an honours degree, awarded to her and her husband, Vítězslav Vala. Then, for a while they lived in the spirit of the time, remaining true to the stereotype. They went on to have three children while working and living a modest life and when they spent their holidays camping at Lake Balaton, they would drive there in their Trabant. After a few years, their enterprising nature would not let them sleep. While awaiting the fall of communism, the two agricultural economists began to earn a little extra income through forcing daffodils, selling alpines, breeding sheep and selling fruit.
How to start a successful company from your living roomOver the years, their children became accustomed to their mother being constantly busy with something, and so when she started up a business soon after the revolution, that within a year had turned their living room into a perspective business company, they took it all in their stride. The living room was used to negotiate with customers and suppliers, to deal with accounts and was where the warehousemen ate lunch. This is where four generations of the family used to meet on a regular basis and worked every day until late at night.
Her husband Vítězslav had no choice but to leave his job and his position of Mayor of Čimelice and work for the business full time. He drove a truck to collect the goods and worked in the warehouse as well as in the administration department. Their son Tomáš was not spared either, at first during his studies at gymnasium and later, while at university, he experienced a good school of life. He was involved in sales, invoicing, dealing with customers and like everyone else, in the warehouse. Their daughter Jana, then a pupil at primary school, would help out in the store and even with the accounting. After a year in business, the family was joined by more relatives from Kralice u Brna, where the second SIKO store was opened in 1992.
SIKO received a major boost with the return of the eldest son Víťa after two years in the US. When overseas, he dreamed of how he would launch a large franchise chain. And he has done exactly what he told his mother he would do over the first coffee after his arrival. He launched a branch expansion and began to hire more family members and friends. He opened another store in the town of Tábor together with his brother Tomáš’s future father-in-law while his school friend helped him build a branch in Vodňany, and so it went on and on… SIKO began to experience its first real boom.
And while Víťa was busy conquering future territory, his meticulous mother developed the principles for displaying the goods, so as to simplify the opening of future branches. During those early days, the family and its first employees had to work to the maximum. Their first two stores became a matter of the past, and in the space of two years, SIKO developed a chain of eleven stores. SIKO also launched partner stores in addition to their own, which enabled the family to improve the retail concept while utilizing both their own experience and that of their partners, i.e. SIKO wholesalers.
How the children saved their mother and the company
Just when it seemed that company growth was unstoppable, the worst day in its history arrived. And there is no shame in admitting that the whole of 1995 was a real ordeal. Expansion continued at the great cost of running up debt by building a wholesale base in Čimelice with a total area of 3,000 m2. The burden on the whole family was enormous, which resulted in the first major casualty, the departure of her husband Vítězslav. Jaroslava had to deal with a difficult family situation and a major concern as to how she could keep running the business with teenage children while repaying a high-risk loan of 22 million CZK. No woman can be prepared for such a moment, despite having experienced a tough entrepreneurial struggle in the past. But Jaroslava did not have much choice — the business was up and running, and nobody could repay the loan for her. Fortunately, the love that she gave to her children all those years was returned to her in these difficult times. Her teenage offspring and the rest of her family supported her, even at the cost of personal sacrifices. Tomáš interrupted his studies at university and never returned, and instead became fully engaged in the family business. It was he, who at that time carried on his shoulders a substantial burden of the business. Her daughter Jana, and her sister Jana, gave her moral support, as good women do while the sons soon realized that the only way to help their mother was to help her keep the company going.
It took some time, and was not easy but Jaroslava managed to find the strength once again to throw herself into the future development of the company. They hired more people, increased the size of the stores and successfully continued to repay the loan. And so the decision to expand into the first regional city was made, although that was not the final stop. With the support and enthusiasm of her son Víťa, Jaroslava took an even bigger loan and bought the former Technomax complex in Brno. The opening of further partner stores in other regional cities – Ostrava and České Budějovice – was only a matter of time.
How the bathroom “Megastore” dazzled Prague
The Megastore became the SIKO flagship as soon as it opened. At its opening, some journalists dubbed it the “Mega-store” of bathrooms, and the name immediately stuck. It was a big day for the family and also for Jaroslava. One year into the new millennium, they could finally boast that they had conquered Prague and with one of the largest showrooms the people of Prague had ever seen. The showroom at Černý Most was such a success that its interior and functional style inspired many others, including the partner stores.
This came in handy over the following months and years. There were other regional cities and further investment, and for the first time, in the shopping centres of Prague – Průhonice, Zlín and Avion in Brno. Jaroslava wanted to have everything under control once again and as the stores had to meet her vision of an ideal place for customers, she travelled across the country to make sure everything was exactly as she had envisaged.
Perhaps that was one of the reasons why some of the stores suddenly ceased to flourish, and several partner stores had to close down. Therefore, the family decided that they must take on more responsibilities. It was clear that it was no longer possible for Jaroslava to keep on top of everything.
The sons took over the business policy so their mother could concentrate on keeping finances healthy and do the marketing, in addition to creating the concept for the retail stores. And then came another crucial day. Some would probably feel that the first edition of a catalogue is not worthy of a mention, but SIKO has never looked back. Creating the most comprehensive catalogue in the segment provided the opportunity to reach out to many thousands of customers and show them what is new on the market while pointing out substantial discounts all nicely and neatly in one place. This did not take long, and SIKO was also able to use the catalogue to advertise its own products. Víťa became inspired at foreign trade fairs and assembled a team of product managers that immediately set about developing the company’s own product range.
The race to become number one in SlovakiaThere are currently eleven SIKO showrooms covering all of Slovakia. The company management had a bold plan to establish its business in the country of our eastern neighbours. This all began in 2010 with the construction of the new SIKO showroom in the capital city of Bratislava and it worked well. Just like Czech customers, Slovak customers appreciate all the benefits that the company from Čimelice can offer.
How SIKO collaborates with a well-known architect
Eva Jiřičná — a name with an inimitable sound in the world of renowned architects and a lady well known for her interior designs of London and New York stores and boutiques. In her early days, as a young novice architect living in England, the general public associated her name with her partner, Jan Kaplický. This lady is closely associated with the most widely anticipated project in the history of SIKO. The SIKO flagship store stands in Zličín in Prague, and so far is the largest showroom in which the company has ever operated.
And what about the future? SIKO, its owner Jaroslava and the entire family, have a clear desire to continue with their successful business and to honour their core principles. Expansion in the Czech Republic and Slovakia is a matter of fact and the opportunities to operate in other countries are currently under consideration. The expansion also affects the extension of the product range outside the bathroom segment. The project for selling kitchens has been successfully running since 2012. SIKO offers its customers a unique opportunity to choose a bathroom and kitchen “under one roof”. However, this is not the end of the expansion of the range as the company is gradually adding custom-made bathroom furniture, mirrors and sinks, interior doors and much more.
How SIKO has stayed true to its philosophy
This company has maintained the philosophy that Jaroslava envisaged from the very beginning to be the most crucial. The motto “Spare a thought for the second in line” has manifested itself from the first days of sales in the form of a caring approach to customers and the flawless execution of their requirements. Although today, this is no longer enough. Therefore, the company established its training centre at the branch in Opatovice nad Labem. All sales staff must undergo training in order to acquire the necessary expertise that is required in addition to sales skills. But that’s not everything. Showrooms are fitted with children’s play areas and provide free Internet access to all customers. In September 2014, the new www.siko.cz website was launched, containing a maximum dose of inspiration and an extensive e-shop for online purchases. The website has already won many prestigious awards.
This is why Jaroslava has no problem to share some of the basic figures that help to make up SIKO with her loyal customers. The sales network has been constantly expanding and now totals 50 Czech and Slovak showrooms. Consolidated turnover of the company exceeds three billion CZK, and the number of employees exceeds 600 - all without any government support to create new jobs. The company is expanding its cooperation with developers and in addition to the sale of goods, provides other related services such as the development of “turnkey” bathrooms - as demanded by customers - and programmes for designing entire bathrooms. The Product Catalogue has gradually expanded and now has 452 pages, which is unrivalled in the bathroom segment.