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“Managing a franchise business is very easy because one finds almost everything ready”

Ariful Islam is a 39-year-old entrepreneur born in Rajshahi, Bangladesh. He arrived in Finland 11 years ago, after completing his Master’s Degree in IT, with the intention of continuing to study. But some time later he changed his mind and decided to have his own business: "I didn't want a fixed-time job, I needed freedom," he explains.

Since 2019, Ariful has been running a FAFA’S franchised restaurant in Sello, one of the main shopping centers in the city of Espoo. His business employs 6 other people, Finns and foreigners.

In this interview, he explains the advantages of acquiring a franchise business, compared to other options such as buying an existing single-location business or starting something from scratch.

-QUESTION: How did you become an entrepreneur?

-ANSWER: I came to Finland to study after completing my Master’s Degree in IT in Bangladesh. But after a couple of years studying here I changed my mind. I did not want some fixed-time job and I thought it would be better for me to do some business. I needed some freedom, that’s why I became an entrepreneur.

-Q: Why were you interested in FAFA’S restaurants?

-A: Actually, because I had seen a couple of FAFA’S in the Helsinki region and I realized their concept is a little bit different compared to other market competitors. They are selling vegan food and this is a new concept in Finnish culture. I also liked the business model, which was very nice compared to other restaurants. I was keen to do something vegan.

-Q: Did you have any previous entrepreneurial experience?

-A: Yes, I had some previous experience in B2B business in Bangladesh.

Ariful Islam employs 6 people at his restaurant in Espoo. Photo: Suomen Yrittäjät

A franchise business

-Q: Why did you choose a franchise instead of launching your own project?

-A: Managing a franchise business is very easy because one finds almost everything ready. I mean that the restaurant will be ready and you will also have customers because the company promotes the brand and people already know it. You just need some training and then you can get started. There is less hustle and bureaucracy than when you start your own project. In addition, an established business has other advantages.

-Q: For example, which ones?

-A: Finland is a difficult place to establish new business concepts because there is very little population compared to other countries. There is a lot of competition for customers here and if you start something new you have very little chance of succeeding and you may lose everything. That is why it is better to take an existing business, where there are already customers and the business is good. At least, you know how things are going to happen there and how they happened before.

-Q: Do you think this model is suitable specifically foreign entrepreneurs?

A: Yes, because if I wanted to have a commercial space for my own project here at Sello, it would be very difficult to get it. This is especially difficult for newcomers, because a company like Sello wants to make sure that entrepreneurs have a solid foundation and a good track record. In this sense, the company that franchises the restaurants already acts as a kind of filter, making things easier for the entrepreneurs.

-Q: Does it have any advantage to have your restaurant in a large shopping center?

-A: The concept is almost the same everywhere, but the sales here at Sello are higher, because the mall has many customers. That is why I chose to come here, although they offered me also other restaurants.

-Q: Are there other peculiarities that may affect the business or profit?

-A: The rental price of the premises also increases depending on the sales. This is something common in shopping centers: if you sell more you pay more for your space; if sales drop, there is a lower limit.

Ariful Islam, serving a customer in his restaurant. Photo: Suomen Yrittäjät

The acquisition

-Q: How did you find the restaurant you bought?

-A: I had already run a FAFA’S business in Kerava. But that was before 2019, when the company Fafa’s Plats decided to franchise all its restaurants. So I told them I was interested, they offered me this one and another one also in Espoo, in Urheilupuisto. I preferred this one because of the location, there are more customers here.

-Q: Was it difficult to make a deal with the company?

-A: Not really. People from Fafa’s Plats were friendly and they actually helped me a lot. At that time there was not so much competition to acquire this type of business. Today it is more complicated; if you want to buy a FAFA’S restaurant, there are many people in the queue.

-Q: According to your experience, what is the first thing a business buyer should take into account?

-A: If you want to run a restaurant business, the main challenge is finding a good location. And that is something difficult to achieve for most foreigners because there is usually some underlying problem, for example that we do not have a solid training for the business or we hardly speak the local language. This is also why buying an existing business is easier for many of us.

-Q: What are the main risks?

-A: Like I said before, in Finland the main risk is the small population, which makes the competition tough. A year ago there were half as many restaurants here in Sello as there are now. I don't think there are other risks.

-Q: How did you get the funding?

-A: I had to take a loan from the Nordea Bank backed by Finnvera. Fafa's Plats also helped with this, because they had a contact person. Getting the financing was easy, but a good credit history is very important.

-Q: Are there any possible mistakes that you would like to warn other business buyers about?

-A: Now, when some foreign friends ask me for advice, I always recommend that they find someone - a legal advisor or a friend - to translate and help them understand everything that is written in Finnish in the contracts. That is the main thing, to make sure that the entrepreneur understands all that is in the papers. I also recommend learning the language as soon as possible. It helps a lot.

-Q: Do you have any regrets?

-A: Yes, I regret that in the last two years I have not been able to take a vacation because of the coronavirus (laughs).