Sisters Janine Pfander and Tamara Riesen

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The two sisters who manage a Migros store together

Tamara Riesen and Janine Pfander share the store manager job in Burgernziel (canton of Bern). How this came about and where the challenges lie.

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Andrea Bauer
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The two sisters had been toying with the idea of managing a store together – and thus striking a balance between their work and home life – for some time. “When we got together for coffee and cake on a Sunday, we often talked about how we would do it and how it would actually work best if we were both pregnant at the same time,” says Janine.

The fact that this then happened just a short time after and the two gave birth to their children just six weeks apart borders on a miracle. The sisters knew straight away that the thing they had talked about for so long might now be possible. When Janine explained this idea to her sales manager, Andreas Fritschi, his enthusiasm for store-sharing was immediate.

A new start with many challenges

It’s a novelty at Migros Aare. “We were convinced that it would be of major benefit to introduce this new model at a brand new store,” explains Tamara. “We now think it would’ve been easier to do this at an established store, where the in-house processes would’ve already been clear and the team would already have its assigned tasks.” Janine nods. “We really did underestimate it.”

Although the pair have worked at Migros Aare for over 20 years and had already managed stores, the new start was more challenging than they thought. That’s because lots of things still weren’t working smoothly at the start – they had to battle with construction defects and, on the technical side in particular, it took a lot of effort and patience to get everything working and the systems running perfectly.

“At the same time, our new team and all the new processes had to become attuned to each other – a pretty Herculean task,” summarises 38-year-old Tamara.

A zest for sales in their DNA

Their “corner shop”, as they affectionately call Migros Burgernziel, seems to be proving extremely popular, however, which particularly delights them both. In any case, the sales figures are “ahead of budget, and that’s great in itself!” says Tamara cheerfully.

Maybe this also has a little to do with their charming, bubbly personalities? “We really do love our work – selling food is in our blood. And as children, the only game we ever really played was shopkeepers!” smiles Janine.

Even their grandmother ran a small corner shop, which the two sisters absolutely loved minding whenever she was away. “Tamara was always the one who reorganised everything and issued instructions,” explains Janine, who is five years younger. “But you were the one who always had everything under control, including when it came to the orders,” replies Tamara.

These character traits have obviously not changed much to this day – “Tamara is still the control freak but also the one who tends to think about things for longer.” “That’s true,” confirms Tamara. “You’re simply the doer who prefers everything to be done right now!”

As the two sisters laugh, their close relationship and mutual respect are clear to see. Janine puts it in a nutshell: “We actually have the same beliefs. It’s just that we don’t always have the same opinion!”

Working together as sisters has its pros and cons

These complementary traits are actually what make the sisters such a great team. “Although the sparks fly now and then, of course,” qualifies Tamara.

“And sometimes you quickly get ratty, and it’s harder to take criticism from a sister than it is from others. That’s when the closeness can sometimes be awkward. But the fact that we know each other inside out means that we quickly find a way to move on.” So there are pros and cons when sisters work so closely together.

“We’re still working to find the best approach to this management model.” Since there is not yet a template for this, they need to gain all the experience themselves, in collaboration with their team. “In this respect, it’s important to immediately change the things that don’t work so well and try another way. That’s how we get a little better every day.”

A good example for other mums

They currently work alternating days – Tamara on Monday and Wednesday, Janine on Tuesday and Thursday – and take turns on Friday/Saturday. As far as this goes, it’s essential to keep communicating with each other – each of them needs to know everything, otherwise it wouldn’t work. This is where closeness on a personal level is once again a big advantage.

They’re aware that they’re playing a pioneering role for other store manager duos. “We’d really like to be good examples for other mums and are therefore doing all we can to make this model work.”

Both are convinced that two people who like each other a lot, understand each other and have the same beliefs could also make a success of this model. But Tamara and Janine agree that one thing you definitely need is the ability to talk to each other often, openly and honestly, of course.

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