[UPDATED] Border shops operator Travel Free s.r.o. is now a 100% subsidiary of Gebr. Heinemann after the Hamburg-headquartered travel retailer acquired all the shares from Unimex Group.
Travel Free, founded as a joint venture between Gebr. Heinemann and Unimex in 2004, runs 20 shops along the Czech Republic’s border with Austria and Germany.
Twenty nine other Travel Free border shops active in Romania, Bulgaria and Poland are unaffected by the transaction and will continue to be operated by Gebr. Heinemann, some of them as 100% subsidiaries or in conjunction with local partners.
Travel Free’s website also refers to the company’s position in Croatia, though TRBusiness is told this portion of the business is unaffected by the acquisition.
“In Croatia we don’t run any shops; we are acting as distributor,” a Gebr. Heinemann spokesperson confirmed to TRBusiness.
Heinemann sees border shops potential
In a statement, Gebr. Heinemann states the acquisition of the Czech Republic border store operator will not result in changes to the current management and employees of Travel Free, with Managing Director Pavel Monhart continuing to be responsible for the Czech border shops.
He will report directly to Christoph Stump, Director Sales Central & Southeast Europe at Gebr. Heinemann.
“We thank Unimex for the many years of very trusting and productive cooperation,” commented Stump. “The Czech market now counts for more than half the Travel Free shops in Eastern Europe, making it a substantial core market for us.”
Travel Free’s border shops sell branded products such as tobacco, coffee, spirits, perfume, cosmetics, sweets and regional specialties.
Raoul Spanger, Co-CEO of Gebr. Heinemann, added: “Border shops are an important channel for Gebr. Heinemann. The acquisition is a strategic investment and is embedded in our diversification strategy.
“We are convinced that there is a lot of potential – since border shops are experiencing strong growth and attract new brands and customers.”
Sales from border shops accounted for a 9% share of Gebr. Heinemann’s retail turnover in 2022 and has been credited by Chief Financial Officer Dr Kai Deneke as helping to buoy the business during periods of depressed air traffic.
Several shops were opened or remodelled in 2022, with some locations more than doubling their retail space.