The door of the Galeria branch on Düsseldorf's Königsallee is not standing still. Many people leave the building with large shopping bags, others enter. The department store is well stocked. Christmas music sounds from the speakers.
On the other side of the street is the Carsch house behind a construction fence. It is to be converted into a luxury department store for the KaDeWe Group. But according to observers, nothing has happened here for weeks. What will happen next has been uncertain since Signa Holding went bankrupt.
The lively department store and the dreary construction site: two places that couldn't be more different. These days, however, they symbolize the entire spectrum of the Signa universe. What's next? This is the question that the approximately 13,800 employees of Galeria Kaufhof Karstadt have been asking themselves these days since it became known at the end of November that Germany's last large department store chain could soon be up for sale.
How do the employees think about the situation and their future? For many people, the need to express themselves is minimal. Employees are afraid of incurring the anger of their management by making public statements. They are worried that colleagues could then accuse them of damaging the continued existence of their branch. Many are convinced that if we duck, we have the best chance.
“Who knows how long this will last?”
"After the last bankruptcy, many had hope again, but that has now been destroyed. This is particularly bitter for the employees because they can't do anything about it," says Ulrich Wiegard, works council chairman of the Galeria branch on Berlin's Hermannplatz. He fears that employees will leave the company prematurely given the uncertain situation. Many people left during the last bankruptcy.
Wiegard reports on customer comments during the ongoing Christmas business. "Some people ask if they can get an item at a discount." Others wanted to know when the branch would close. According to Wiegard, the department store on Hermannplatz is being supplied with goods as normal, but some suppliers have recently started insisting on payment in advance. "You go through this Christmas season with an uneasy feeling. Who knows how long this will last." It would be good if an investor could be found, says Wiegard.
Galeria says it communicates openly with its employees. The employees are constantly informed by the branch management - about good sales as well as about the situation at Signa, says a spokesman. "It was also explained that we are concentrating our resources on our core business before Christmas, for example we will continue to hire temporary staff. Because now, as in October and November, we are well above last year's sales."
“The employees feel a positive change”
Thomas Vieweg, head of the works council at the Nuremberg branch, confirms this. Galeria has developed very well nationwide in the past few months. "The realignment is starting to bear fruit. The employees feel a positive change, a new spirit and a different approach in the company management." Many things, such as the supply of goods, have improved significantly.
The department store has been said dead so many times, says Vieweg. But Galeria is “still the only place where you can buy almost everything under one roof.” Despite everything, Vieweg is optimistic about the future. It is important that the sales are correct, as this ensures liquidity. "What we can influence is the business and that is going well. The Christmas business got off to an extremely good start."
The retail expert Johannes Berentzen does not believe that Galeria will be rescued; he believes that a bankruptcy filing in the spring is unavoidable. The head of the BBE trading consultancy still assesses the employees' job prospects after a possible break-up as positive. “In our projects with retailers, regardless of the industry, we experience a pronounced shortage of skilled workers. Good advice is one of the most important differentiating features for stationary retail,” says Berentzen. If you are flexible, you will also find the opportunity for a new start in other areas such as gastronomy or the hotel industry.
"What will become of us?"
Joffrey Kallweit hopes that employees will not have to reorient themselves. The head of the works council at Galeria in Dortmund talks about many colleagues in his branch. The “old warhorses” have been with the company for more than 20 years, and some have experienced three bankruptcies. The branch was on a closure list twice and was canceled twice - most recently in May, when an agreement was reached with the landlord at short notice.
“The mood is not good, people are unsettled, but are not letting themselves down,” says Kallweit. Many people come to him and want to know what's going on. "They ask: What will become of us?" Nevertheless, he notices a certain calmness among many employees because they have already experienced it all a few times. Kallweit also sees a clear upward trend at Galeria. "We were all in a really good mood recently, so this is a real setback." Kallweit is still fighting. “We have overcome so many crises and we are still tackling them.”