HERO'S LEGEND GROWS IN JAKARTA

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- One of the fastest growing supermarket chains in this city of more than 8 million is HERO.Indeed, the gold lettering of the name HERO (pronounced "hairo") on stores is fast making it synonymous with "supermarket." Since the first HERO opened in 1971, a modest 2,500-square-foot shop in southern Jakarta, the chain has expanded steadily and now numbers 49 outlets.But HERO is hardly

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- One of the fastest growing supermarket chains in this city of more than 8 million is HERO.

Indeed, the gold lettering of the name HERO (pronounced "hairo") on stores is fast making it synonymous with "supermarket." Since the first HERO opened in 1971, a modest 2,500-square-foot shop in southern Jakarta, the chain has expanded steadily and now numbers 49 outlets.

But HERO is hardly alone. As oil-rich Indonesia moved into the first flushes of modernization and enterprising Indonesians moved to accommodate new consumer tastes and buying habits, supermarkets have become a permanent fixture.

In all of the country, there are some 225 supermarkets, nearly 70% of which are in Jakarta. More than 60 companies operate the stores, but only a handful are considered chain operations.

As for HERO, the stores it operates are no puny mom-and-pop stores, but rather full-scale, spacious, well-stocked supermarkets. "We study supermarkets in every country, especially Japan, which we consider to be among the most modern, and adopt what we like," said Anton Lukmanto, director.

The outlets are attractive, well-lit and sparkly clean. All merchandise is bar-coded, with clearly indicated prices, and product choice is impressive.

"We stock 30,000 different items, of which about 90% are acquired domestically. Our clients know the local brands and find them satisfactory," said Lukmanto.

In addition to inviting produce stands, frozen goods and fresh meat counters, shops also boast little extras like Japanese snacks prepared on the spot and signboards posted in both English and Indonesian, a testament to the country's growing internationalization. Cash registers are state-of-the-art and checkout tickets are packed with computerized details giving prices, unit sizes and other useful information.

HERO's central office headquarters is a beehive of activity. "For every store, we've got 400 to 500 suppliers. Every Monday and Thursday, they're lined up from dawn to dusk for payment," Lukmanto said. Most products come from around Jakarta, or from local distributors, and fresh produce is purchased from nearby cooperatives.

The supermarket chain is listed on Jakarta's stock market, ranking 11th in size for the entire country, with total sales last year of more than $200 million. The supermarkets are only the very visible flagship in a vast network that also comprises toy shops, body care and discount outlets, as well as food production, distribution and trading activities.

Found by M.S. Kurnia, who died last year, the conglomerate is now headed by Ipung Kurnia, his son, actively assisted by his mother and aunt. The HERO group employs some 14,000 workers, with 10,000 in the supermarkets, and considers itself to be an all-Indonesian operation. Foreigners are only used as consultants, to give advice on areas such as the latest in supermarket design and technology.

HERO emphasizes services and is open 365 days a year. "Since the government stepped up incentives for foreign investment [in 1986], there's been a lot of two-way interest in and out of Indonesia. Indonesians traveled abroad and came home, introducing concepts like 'one-stop shopping' and 'shopping centers,' " says Lukmanto.

So far, the only glitch on HERO's horizon is considerable squawking that supermarkets threaten to drive merchants in the country's traditional local markets out of business. The government has responded by authorizing supermarkets to open only at the relatively late hour of 10 a.m. -- giving the local markets the predawn-early morning commerce.

Rose Resdiano, an executive secretary at a multinational company here, said she sees no problem in peaceful coexistence. "Supermarkets are more convenient, especially for evening shopping, and more hygienic for meat and fish. But if I have time, I still go to the traditional markets. There's more choice for fruit and vegetables; they're fresher -- and at least 15% cheaper."

But with Indonesia's 180 million population now moving inexorably toward the magic $1,000 per-capita income mark targeted for the year 2000, the wheels of modernization seem firmly in motion. Although HERO currently has only 15 supermarkets outside of Jakarta, Lukmanto said the group's expansion plans call for 100 outlets by the end of the decade.