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Matras: Encouraging Community Literacy

Matras was founded in the 1980s during Poland’s martial law period as an underground distribution network for pamphlets, newspapers and banned books of the pro-democracy group Solidarity. After the dissolution of the communist Polish government in 1989, Matras became a federation of independent regional book wholesalers, transforming it into a fully formal corporation.

In 1996, Matras approached SEAF for capital after a fire destroyed one of their warehouses and banks refused to lend due to the poor state of the company’s financials. In 2000, Matras needed additional financing to acquire new retail outlets, improve existing locations, upgrade information technology system, and purchase books for the increased volume of retail sales.

SEAF made its first investment through the CARESBAC Polska Fund in 1996 and SEAF made further investments in the company through the North Fund in 2000. In 2010, a joint financing package from the SEAF SME Debt Facility and the SEAF Global SME Facility was utilized by Matras to boost working capital for the Fall 2010 book season, strengthen publisher relations, streamline the shareholding structure of the company, support new store expansion, and accelerate the entrance into the internet retail and wholesale market.

Since SEAF’s initial investment, Matras has grown rapidly and is now Poland’s leading book wholesaler and second leading book retailer. As of 2014, the company operates more than 170 stores in approximately 75 cities and townships across Poland. Fifteen of the stores were opened in 2013 alone, and more than 20 of the stores opened in the past three years are located in high-traffic shopping malls. In addition to its branded outlets, Matras sells and delivers books to approximately 1,500 independent bookstores, libraries and schools. The growing company distributes over 72,000 book titles annually from over 1,500 publishers. Matras also installed new ERP software at the end of 2011 and business intelligence software in 2012 in order to improve accounting and business. The company’s gross profit margins have increased at a rate that exceeds industry standards and are competitive even when compared to the performance of other segment leaders like the US-based Barnes and Nobles, Amazon and Borders.

Throughout its growth, Matras has continued to maintain its connection with the communities in which it operates, carrying on its reputation garnered during pre-democracy times in Poland. Matras conducts a number of innovative social development and youth education programs, including literacy workshops, community outreach initiatives, book donations, and the operation of a foundation that supports local libraries. Further, Matras’ growth includes a large number of stores in Poland’s smaller cities, thus facilitating access to books, encouraging literacy and generating employment in many poorer areas of the country.
In 2013, Matras was given the Dobra Marka (or “Best Of”) Award in the “Bookstore Chain” category. This title is granted to the most trusted and known Polish Brands, signifying the importance of Matras to the Polish consumer. While Matras has faced price competition in recent times, Operational Director Mariusz Rutowicz made customer service a focus of the company. The bookstore chain regularly hosts “meet and greet” salons throughout Poland, giving Matras’ customers the opportunity to interact with their favorite authors. Rutowicz stated about Matras’s customer service efforts, “My rule is very simple: to the customer you must say hello! The retail is the detail. And such a detail can bring success at the end.”

In August 2014, SEAF exited Matras after providing both equity and term credit to help the chain open new stores and renovate existing ones, expand its internet sales channel and wholesale market, increase its efficiency, and optimize its cost structure.