Opening and Running a Shop in Spain – What’s It Like?

In this expat interview I talk to Karl Wroot who runs the business Beds Direct, in the old town of Javea on the Costa Blanca, Spain.

The purpose of these Spanish interviews/articles is to talk to ex-pats who have moved from Britain to Spain. We will find out how they have settled in Spain, how they manage to survive financially in Spain and whether they have any regrets about their move to Spain.

Beds Direct is a retail shop which sells various items of furniture although of course it specialises mainly in beds and accessories. Karl is English and in his 20’s.

Karl, what made you or inspired you to move to Spain from England?

“My family moved to Spain when I was just four so I grew up here in Javea. I went to a local Spanish school, there were only I think about 3 other English kids there.”

How did the Spanish children treat you?

“We were just all accepted, there were no problems whatsoever. When I speak Spanish it is just as the local people speak and they wouldn’t even know I am English which I think really helps me in my business.

When I was fourteen I ended up moving back to England which was a hard adjustment at first. I did A levels and was about to go to University when I decided to return back to Spain.”

Ok, obviously question – why?

“Most of my family were still living here in Spain and I had a job offer in our family business. Of course I was attracted by the weather and Spanish lifestyle and I knew exactly what life was like here in Spain so the decision to move from England to Spain was not as hard for me as perhaps it is for others who may fear the unknown.”

What changes have you personally seen in Spain in the years you have been living here?

“When I was growing up in Javea there were so few cars on the road but now the population has exploded with the amount of foreigners moving to the Costa Blanca. Now Javea is busy all year round.

This may not be exact fact but I’ve heard it said there are perhaps 70% foreigners here in Javea and only 30% locals. Of course not all foreigners are British. There are lots of Germans, Dutch, South Americans and East Europeans. Javea is very much a melting pot of diverse nationalities.”

This begs the question – how on earth do the Spanish regard this influx of foreigners?

“Certainly some of the locals do have resentments but these are mainly the older Spanish locals, the younger Spanish people have pretty much grown up with how Javea is now, so they are used to it.

I think maybe the problem is that ok there are many British people setting up businesses which sounds good for the local economy and yes they pay their taxes (well some do!) but then they tend to want to only employ British people so that doesn’t really benefit the Spanish locals in Javea.”

Speaking of business – you have set up on your own – how are you finding running your own business in Spain?

“Running a business in Spain is hard, the first two years especially. It takes a lot of word of mouth and time for your business to become established. I’m sure it is easier running a business in England.”

What makes you say that – surely running a business is hard everywhere?

“I think in England people are more settled in their local area and they don’t move around so much, so it is quicker to get a name and become established. For example here in Javea it is very transient and people come and go a lot. If I sell a mattress it will be some time before people need to come back for a new one. Often by that time they have moved on. Also then I lose out on the potential of them telling their friends about me.”

What advice can you offer to people looking to start a new business up in Spain?

“Well for starters don’t start a bed shop up in Javea old town!

Be prepared to persist with your business. Don’t come to Spain and expect to make a million. Try think of an original, unique and novel business idea that hasn’t yet been tried in Spain.

Make sure you prepare for starting a business in Spain by learning the language. It is like taking an exam, the better and more you prepare the better you will do.

Something that locals have mentioned to me is how annoyed they get when they see an English run business that doesn’t include the Spanish. To give you an example there are some restaurants that only have menus printed in English!”

Your business obviously attracts a multitude of different nationalities. Many ex-pats starting a business in Spain will be limited to catering just to English-speaking people but what are the local Spanish shoppers like?

They are very price conscious which is why my prices are so low! They are very supportive, by that I mean that generally they don’t travel long distances to shop and they try stay loyal and give the business to someone they know. They talk, so it is vital to build up a good reputation and to not upset people as word of mouth is so important here in Spain where there is still that community feeling.”

Is opening a shop in Spain easy?

“No! You now need to gain approval first. I think that the council look at how many other similar shops/business already exist. Then you will need to have a surveyor in and gain an opening license. There is a lot of red-tape and paperwork involved in opening a shop in Spain but of course it is all achievable with a bit of patience!”

What downsides are there about living in Spain?

“For me personally I would say being single in Spain is hard which obviously is a very important consideration. With Javea being a seasonal tourist resort, people are very transient. People come and go much more whereas in England people do tend to stay in one place much longer and you have time to build relationships.”

What do you like about living in Spain?

“I think the same reasons most people would give for moving to Spain – the weather and the lifestyle. It is great being able to rely on the weather for example when you plan a BBQ with friends.”

The Spanish ex-pat interview above was recorded on the 14th of March 2008. We hope the information about moving to Spain and opening a shop in Spain has been of use to you and a special thanks and good luck to Karl.

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Comments

  1. Pascale Laugier says:

    Hi,
    Thinking of moving to Spain with my husband and our 6 year old daughter. We’re both English speakers, my husband is Swiss and I’m British but neither of us speak Spanish, we do want to learn it though.
    We would like to set up a small business, like a small food outlet or coffee shop. If anyone can give me some advice that would be great.
    We were thinking of Barcelona or Valencia but if anyone has better locations we’re open to suggestions.
    Would it be hard for us to find work until we’re able to set up a business?
    Thanks
    Pascale

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