Expat Entrepreneur in Malaga: Samantha Sintes
In this new series of Expatica interviews, expat entrepreneur Samantha Sintes narrates the many hurdles she and her business partner had to overcome before their online store was set up.
Name: Samantha Sintes
City of residence: Mijas, Malaga
Name of company: www.indybel.com
Date of company launch: August 2008
Can you give us a brief description of your business and how it is going.
www.indybel.com is an online store for pregnancy and baby in Spain. We sell British, international, organic and innovative products, especially those not available or easy to find in Spain.
I met my business partner Lesley in 2007 after we had both had babies here in Spain. I was formally a TV producer and Lesley cabin crew for a major airline. We both wanted to be our own bosses and not be tied to an office or timetable!
We realised the need for innovative and organic products for pregnancy and baby in Spain as there were products we wanted for ourselves and our children but couldn’t find in Spain.
We then decided to set up Indybel (named after our daughters India and Isabella who were the inspiration ) to specifically sell the types of products we ourselves wanted and needed but at that time couldn’t buy in this country.
We launched our business in August 2008, nearly a year after having the idea. Now a year and a half later it is going from strength to strength. It would be a lie to say we were making millions but as we still class ourselves as a new business we feel we are doing well in terms of attracting customers from all over Spain and beyond. To date we have had orders from America, the UK, France and Greece.
In 2009, we became the first and currently only outlet to sell the popular JoJo Maman Bebe brand in Spain. We also organise baby shower parties in the Costa del Sol region. We also organised the Indybel Maternity Fashion Show last year.
What do you like about doing business in Spain?
We are lucky to have found a ‘gap’ in the Spanish market and filled it -- something we couldn’t have done in the UK as we would have come up against more competition. In some ways I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have had ‘the guts’ to do something like this in the UK as I would have felt under qualified and slightly foolish launching a business in an area where I had no previous experience.
In some ways there are more opportunities in Spain if you go and look for them. Everyone we approached about our idea -- both Spanish or expat -- has been incredibly helpful and supportive.
The more relaxed Spanish way of life does at times extend into business and the sun always makes doing business in Spain so much more of a pleasure!
What do you find most frustrating about doing business in Spain?
Obviously the language barrier can be a hurdle. We are learning fast and have help in translating the site and emails from our husbands but at times it can be frustrating when you know what you want to say and can’t.
Similarly at times our lack of understanding about the banking system in Spain and the gestor system mean that we know what we would like but it just isn’t possible here in Spain or involves going through a million hurdles and endless waiting.
With regards to accounts and the legal side, we are continuously learning and have patient gestors who have been a big help with our three monthly and end of year accounts.
Dealing with suppliers, payment systems and the postal system can also often be frustrating, just because things are done differently in Spain to the UK.
You have to learn how things work in Spain and most importantly accept how things are rather than being irritated by the length of time it takes to get some things done or the processes involved in others.
Also we have found that there is little help available for working mothers from the state.
What hurdles did you encounter when setting up?
Starting a business with two small (often grumpy) toddlers in tow was not going to be easy! When they were at their most demanding it was often almost impossible to work properly. Starting a business in Spain is all the harder because often there is less extended family around to support you and provide childcare. Now all our girls are at school or nursery and we can work at home in peace so things are lot easier!
That aside, our first big hurdle was working our way around the maze of legalities involved in setting up a business in Spain. Do we become an SL or do we work as autonomous? This seemed to be a question that no one had a finite answer too! As helpful as the lawyers, gestors and general business experts were, every meeting simply seemed to just throw up more and more questions. Luckily our two husbands acted as translators, without them the process would have been even more confusing.
We found that if you go and search for it, help is out there. By chance we stumbled across an office in our local town hall which specialised in helping new business set up. Through this office we set up our business and by doing it with their help we avoided many of the costs of setting up a business with a gestor. However, it has been a time consuming and complex process and is only recommended if you have access to a Spanish speaking family member!
The lovely lady who took on our ‘case’ desperately searched for grants to help us, painstakingly typed up our business plans in Spanish, filled out forms for us and on one crazy Easter weekend stayed late just so we could finish and submit a form for a ‘women in business’ grant before the deadline. She also spent many hours explaining to us how an SL company would work. On her advice we took the paperwork ourselves to the various offices in Malaga such as the Hacienda and waited in line for our papers to be processed. The whole process took several months but when we finally signed our business escritura it was definitely worth all the running around!! Once we had created the business, we handed everything over to a gestor to finish off and to ensure that legally we could secure the right trading licenses etc …
Having decided on an online shop, we secured the site domain name and choose and registered our own name (a story in itself as the names we chose kept coming back as ‘taken’ … in Spain you must submit 3 names but you won’t know for a while which name will be chosen, so you just have to keep your fingers crossed it’s the one you want! )
How has the economic crisis affected your business?
Launching at the end of 2008 wasn’t the best time to start a retail business, but our sales have been fairly steady proving that in this climate many people do prefer to shop online. It’s probable that we haven’t sold as high a quantity of luxury items as we might have done had we launched five years ago but we have been careful to choose modestly-priced items as well as those at a higher end to hopefully offer something for all customers.
We thank our lucky stars every day that we didn’t go with our original plan which was to open a physical shop as it’s likely that rent and other expenses would have wiped us out by now. As an online business we have relatively low overheads and can sell all over the world.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs setting up business in Spain?
Do your homework in terms of finding out if you will have a lot of competition. Aim to keep your overheads low, find a really good gestor ( it’s worth the cost ) and seek advice from your local town hall as it’s likely they have advisors and grants specifically for new businesses and often for women.
How does running a business in Spain compare to running a business in other countries that you have lived in?
We never ran businesses in the UK although we both worked full time in various industries. All we can say is that the opportunities, help and support are there in Spain but you do have to go and look for them. Other than that we continue to practice all the skills we learned in our past careers, most importantly we strive to always be professional and to respond to any customers enquiries within 24 hours.
In this new series of Expatica interviews, we invite expat entrepreneurs to share their experiences of setting up and running their businesses in Spain. If you too would like to share your perspective about starting a business, send an email with 'Please send me an Expat Entrepreneur in Spain questionnaire' in the subject line to editorES@expatica.com.
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