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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 10:42 GMT
Retailers cope with euro cash
Customer in French supermarket getting euro change
Retailers were the main route to distribute euros to 300m people
by BBC News Online's Tim Weber

For Markus Lange, the cash launch of the euro started with a shock.

In charge of computer systems at Brunner Baecker, a chain of 78 bakery shops in north east Bavaria, he was also responsible for a smooth euro changeover.

Shoppers are taking to the euro with a gusto... they probably want to try out their new currency."

Stefan Brunner
But when shops opened for the first day of euro business on 2 January, 16 tills did not work.

"They were our oldest tills, and the euro upgrade did not agree with them," he recalls.

But Mr Lange did not have to wait long. By lunchtime IBM had sent a software patch, and in the few affected shops the struggle with calculators and note pads was over.

Euro launch lynchpin

It was a rare hiccup in what turned out to be a smooth euro launch for Germany's retailers.

The eurozone's shopkeepers were the lynchpin of the euro roll-out. They were the distributors of the new money, taking in the old legacy currencies and giving euros and cents in return.

shop assistant in butcher's shop
Shop assistants needed to be trained, tills converted and price tags updated
To get euro ready, they had to upgrade tills, train staff, adjust prices and price tags, overhaul accounting systems and take extra security precautions.

And to keep queues short and customers happy, shopkeepers had to make sure that they got the euro mix right - enough notes and coins at the right value to make sure they would not run out of euro cash.

Getting the price right

Retailers had to throw out any old assumptions about how much cash they needed.

Price label in Baeckerei Brunner
But is it an attractive price in euros?
It was bad enough in Germany, with a euro-Deutschmark exchange rate of 1 to 1.95583 - or about 1:2. This turns the "attractive" price of 2.95 Deutschmarks for a baguette into 1.51 euro.

Normally, a customer might pay with coins worth three Deutschmarks, and the bakery gives one coin change, worth five pfennigs. Now the bakery is likely to need the change for a two euro or a 1,60 euro payment - and that requires between three and nine coins to give the correct change.

Stefan Brunner, who runs his family's bakery business, had "worried whether we would have enough euro coins to give as change for Deutschmark payments".

Some 200 kilometres further south, at the Hofpfisterei - a bakery chain with 150 shops in and around Munich - the changeover went just as smooth.

Daniel Weijs, in charge of the firm's town centre outlets, had estimated that his branches would need about 50% more change than usual.

To get ready for the changeover, every large branch received 1,375 euros worth of coins to last the first few days.

The preparations paid off, no shop ran out of money.

There was just one scary moment early in the morning at the Viktualienmarkt branch, when three customers in quick succession paid with DM50 and DM 100 notes respectively. At this pace, Mr Weijs's shop assistants would have run out of euros quickly.

Euro cash surprise

But then came the biggest surprise of the euro launch.

Cashier in French supermarket with strong box and till
Retailers needed two tills - one for old currencies, one for euros
Within two to three days, nearly all cash transactions in German shops were in euro.

Stefan Brunner says he had "feared that we would have to cope with large amounts of Deutschmarks for at least 10 days."

But at the end of the first week, the Deutschmark flood had turned into a trickle. "Now we get just the odd Deutschmark payment, when people find some old marks and pfennigs in their jacket of wallet," reports Mr Brunner.

Helga Neumann, owner of the Teetruhe tea shop in the centre of Munich, saw the Deutschmark disappear even faster. By lunchtime on the euro's second day she had had only three customers still using the old currency.

"The changeover has gone incredibly smoothly," says Ms Neumann... says Mr Brunner... says Mr Weijs.

To get there took plenty of preparations, and long hours in front of the computer on New Year's eve, says Brunner Baeckerei's Mr Lange.

The euro rush

The real secret of the euro success, though, were the long queues in German banks on 2 January.

Germans rushed to the banks to ditch their marks and pfennigs and swap them for euros and cents.

Euro-ready till at German sport shop
A new till to cope with a new currency
And that, says Wolfgang Neubart, is just as it should have been.

Mr Neubart was in charge of the euro changeover at Hertie, one of Munich's largest department stores.

The faster people swapped their Deutschmarks for euros, the easier it was for his 1,000 staff - and indeed, the store had no problems with the changeover.

And so far another big euro worry has not materialised either - that customers would go on strike, scared to handle the new currency.

"Shoppers are taking to the euro with a gusto," says Stefan Brunner. "Nobody is holding back, there are actually more customers than usual - they probably want to try out their new currency".

Paying the euro price

There has been just one drawback: Getting euro-ready did cost a lot of money.

And nobody will reimburse retailers for that.

Mr Brunner guesses that the changeover cost his shop probably close to 100,000 euros. That leaves him with several new tills and a new online system linking up all his shops to headquarters.

But for a family-owned business with 400 staff this is still an expenditure they could have done without.

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