Handmade Crafts Blog

Starting a new jewellery business in Croatia - by Ruth Seba


And now for something a little bit different!

One of our favourite topics is craft businesses - how they get started, stories people have from running them, etc. A few months ago, Ruth Seba from Seba Silver was kind enough to write us a guest blog with a different spin - we haven't been able to publish it until now, but better late than never!

What makes Ruth's post so interesting is the fact that she and her husband weren't starting a business here - they were starting one on a small Croatian island. Lets just say they ran into some challenges which certainly make me grateful for the 'ordinary' red tape we have here in the UK!

It's a long post, but after a debate, we've decided to publish it all at once . So, lets hand you over to Ruth - we hope you enjoy reading her post as much as we did!

Starting a new jewellery business in Croatia

Ruth Seba - Filigree In March 2011 my husband and I moved to Korcula – my husband grew up on this small island in the south of Croatia (I grew up thousands of miles away in New Zealand, and had been living in the Scottish Highlands for 10 years). We met in Korcula & had decided together that this would be a great place for us to start our first business together. Korcula is a popular summer holiday destination and we have decided to share our passion for filigree jewellery and beautiful handmade crafts with visitors here.

My husband's family have been creating filigree jewellery for approximately 500 years, there is a filigree vein running deep through his soul and it was time for him to be creating again after a hiatus working with his brother for eight years.

We decided to incorporate a variety of Croatian made gifts and Fair Trade products in our store, aiming to offer something different from the majority of other businesses that are established here.

It's been an interesting journey so far and this opportunity to write something about the experience of opening our business here is a great chance for me to reflect on what we have achieved to date.

The paperwork

We arrived here in mid-March with no money (we were counting on a promised start up loan from a brother), no premises for our shop, no working papers and no stock for our shop. Maybe we should've cut the visit to my family in New Zealand a little shorter!

Sharing a drive to succeed and passion for our ideas was a huge motivator. There were many frustrations along the way, the main thing being the extremely slow pace things tend to move at here. I know there is paperwork everywhere, but the Croatians seem to excel at it! We filled in a lot of forms and paid all sorts of people random amounts of money that no-one really explained very well.

Although there is paperwork involved in starting a business anywhere, what I found interesting here was that we had to prove my husband's ability to work as a jeweller – without any formal training this was not so easy! Thankfully he had been employed as a jeweller in Switzerland for 16 years and we were able to obtain a letter from his employer there.

Filling in the necessary forms to open our shop we had to list ALL of the products that we might potentially sell in our shop. To me this seemed ridiculous, what if we found something new as we looked for products for our shop, could we include these? It seems if products are not on our ‘list' then they have no place on our shelves – shop liable to inspection during the summer months, where paperwork, stock levels, etc are checked and fines are issued when anything is wrong.

Interestingly this fining practice is implemented in all businesses here, earlier this summer all restaurants and cafes in Korcula were fined between two and five thousand Euro for various small wrongdoings. I digress briefly but to give you a clearer idea one of our friends with an established small restaurant here was fined because his ‘tables are too low' – the same tables that have been used for the last 5 years that he has been operating his business!

We compiled our extensive list of products we might one day sell from our shop and at the same time we were able to list an equally extensive list of various types of businesses that we may one day choose to open here. The women who was helped us fill in our forms at the council office encouraged us to think in very broad terms with this list. We included the chance to operate a tourist office, a cafe, make and sell jams and preserves, make and sell our own liquors, open a building firm, and operate a transport service among other things.

We also needed to list our business name, but first it had to be approved - we wanted to use the family name and had decided on Seba Design as our shop name. Two years ago Croatian authorities decided that business names could not include any English words – we choose Seba Dizajn as a close second to our original choice and with the hope that the phonetics of Dizajn would make sense to people.

With papers filed and necessary funds to prove we could operate a business here were borrowed, the waiting game began. At this stage there is no way to know if your business proposal will be accepted or if your choice of business name will be approved or how long this process will take! We were told it would only be 3 weeks until we heard from authorities in Dubrovnik who made all these decisions.

Finding a space

While all this was going on we had been able to locate a space for our first business venture – here is what we started with.

We had found a small bar in need of a lot of cleaning and work before it would be in anyway suitable to open as a shop. We are located very close to one of Korcula's main tourist attractions and although off the main street we thought that 20 metres from Marko Polo house was a good place for us to start.

Onwards, cleaning, painting, shelves built, shelves donated by kind friends who no longer needed them. A sign was ordered for outside, a trip to Split for shop lighting requirements – no IKEA here for a handy one stop shop fit.

Ruth Seba - Finding a Space

We had been generously given some jewellery made by my father-in-law that we assumed we could use as our starting stock while Adolf created new pieces for us to sell. However, without being able to prove where the silver had been purchased we have been unable to use any of this donated jewellery in our store. I find this very frustrating, my father-in-law is retired now but his passion for filigree has not retired! He still creates beautiful work every day for fun and friends, why not allow us to sell some of his work? There is some old stock that he made who knows when but with no proof of where he brought the silver that he used we aren't able to sell any of his work.

About this same time we ran into another hurdle, learning that on top of the 23% PDV (VAT) tax we would be paying on jewellery sold, because Adolf would be making all the jewellery we intended to sell we would be paying an additional 30% of luxury tax. 53% tax, plus we still had to buy the silver and somehow account for the time spent creating each piece - ouch! The lesson being that we should've done a bit more research into the relevant taxes!

However, what I am now learning is that the ‘rules' constantly change without business owners being informed of the changes. This of course allows the previously mentioned fines to be made each time premises are inspected as try as you will there is no way to avoid some penalty or other. How much of this penalty goes to the state and how much into the inspectors pocket is anyone's guess. Unfortunately there is a lot of corruption here, it will be interesting to see what changes proposed 2013 EU inclusion will bring.

Searching for products to stock

Ruth Seba - Products Locating stock for our shop has also been an interesting experience! I have long held a passion for handmade locally produced products. I grew up surrounded by knitting, sewing, baking and building and can see and enjoy the value in products produced with passion and care. Korcula is a small island I assumed would be teeming with creative folk with fun and interesting products for us to purchase and sell..... the thing is that there are a lot of creative people producing beautiful handicrafts, but without a permission to sell taxes paid etc we are unable to buy from them to stock our shop. I think I emitted a huge sigh at this point, of course it wasn't going to be straight forward! We are living in Croatia!

That said we do have some beautiful stone work produced here in Korcula but for other products we needed to travel a lot further. Prior to our returning to Croatia I had spent MANY hours on the internet looking for potential stock and crafts people we could approach to make products for us. Unfortunately what I generally found was what was already available here and a lot of made in China souvenirs. As it was not our intention to open a ‘souvenir shop' as such the search continued.

In April we attended a Trade Fair showcasing Croatian made handicrafts. I was so excited about the products we might see and people we would meet as we set off on our overnight bus journey to Zagreb where the Fair was being held. I was disappointed by what we found, I feel a little rude to put it so bluntly but having grown up in New Zealand and lived in the UK for the last 10 years I guess I have got used to a different standard and variety of work.

We did meet one wonderful ceramicist and have been selling her ceramic apples, bowls and small ceramic animals in our shop since we opened. There were several other potential products but despite promises of catalogues and price lists and follow up emails and phone calls from our end we still wait to hear from the majority of stall holders. For me this has been another huge frustration, and not something that I had come across when working in the UK or in NZ.

On the flip side to this is the wonderful lady, Danna who supplies us with ceramic fish which have proved to be very popular. We have never met Danna as she lives several hundred miles away but a box of fish arrives several days after our phone call, money is deposited in her bank account when they arrive and everyone's happy.

It is our intention to find some more ‘Danna's' this winter and offer a wider range of products in our shop next year.

The Nepalese connection!

My previous job was with a small Fair Trade company in Scotland and I have visited Nepal many times and know our suppliers there so well that I longed to continue my contact and support with them. So we decided try and import some products here ourselves – I have been involved with this process importing from Nepal to the UK and felt reasonably confident that it shouldn't be too different here.

Importing into a non EU regulated country was an interesting experience. Prior to goods being ordered and leaving from Nepal we met with an agent in Dubrovnik who would handle the necessary paperwork for us. It seemed as though it would be relatively straight forward and Ane that we met was helpful and friendly. We used the same cargo company in Nepal that the business in Scotland uses, and who I know and trust as both friends and colleagues.

Our goods were sent by air freight from Nepal, arrived in Zagreb and were freighted onto Dubrovnik – the closer port for our collection. Many days passed and there were several unhelpful phone calls, it was now getting close to the middle of June, our shop was open and in need of this stock. Besides, we had paid for all the goods and the shipping, we had an experienced agent dealing with all the paperwork, what was the problem? I was more than frustrated by now, for no apparent reason our brought and paid for goods were sat in Dubrovnik a mere two hour drive away and we were not allowed access to them. With a weekend approaching I decided to head to Dubrovnik and see what the holdup was!

Considering my lack of Croatian language skills I don't know what I hoped to achieve but I was determined to have this situation resolved.

What an interesting experience I had at the customs office. Our shipping agent knew that I was coming and had an office at the airport so I assumed that together we would sort out whatever needed to be sorted (I assumed this would involve paying someone money to release our goods). The agent phoned when I was almost in Dubrovnik to let us know that there was a problem, having driven for two hours I was not going back without a meeting.

What transpired was a potentially intimidating conversation with a customs official where I was told that there were ‘a lot of problems' with our shipment – thankfully the person I met spoke good english. I was told the office had not dealt with a shipment from Nepal before and was asked numerous questions about my work in Nepal and the goods that we had ordered. ‘Was there any cocaine in my shipment?', ‘why are the goods so cheap'? ‘we don't believe the quantity that is written on your inventory' etc. I was also told that the cotton t-shirts and ceramic mugs we had decided to import needed to be checked by someone who was on holiday for two weeks.

Ruth Seba - Customers I was able to answer all his questions confidently and remained very calm, assuring him that there were no drugs involved, ‘why don't we count all the products very quickly to check the quantity if you don't believe me?' and that I could provide proof of payment of similar prices for goods from Nepal and I don't remember what else. After a long exchange I was told that the paperwork would be finished in 10 minutes, and 40 minutes later I was on my way back to Korcula with a car load of Nepalese goodness feeling very pleased with myself!

And here we are today..

I feel like there have been so many other interesting experiences, but maybe they are only interesting to us. I hope you have enjoyed this post, and would be very happy to answer any questions you have.

You can see more information about our business and photos of our products and my husband's jewellery on our facebook business page, www.facebook.com/SebaDizajn and follow our blog at www.sebasilver.wordpress.com if you are interested.

We hope you've enjoyed Ruth's post!

If you'd like to write your own guest post, just get in touch with us and we can discuss what might be possible. But we'd love more of you to get involved writing guest blogs for us (it's a great way to promote yourself, too). We'll be back soon with the March giveaway - but until then, happy crafting!

Comments (1)

Gravatar for Marisa

Wow, I love the bags in the products picture. And the location/building makes the shop so unique. I love it!

Posted by Marisa on 08/05/2012 15:35:38

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