Expat business fraternity flourishes in Kuwait - Paperwork, bureaucracy 'restrictive'
KUWAIT: An expatriate status does not deprive you from successfully running a business. Many expatriates belonging to different nationalities have conducted their businesses in Kuwait. Ahmad is a Canadian citizen of Arab origin who was born in Kuwait and studied in Canada. He started small business there. After returning to Kuwait, where his family lives, he launched a branch of his company.
"I founded my general trading and contracting company in Canada when I went to study there in 2001. I was trading with real estate in Canada selling for foreigners in 2004. I came back to Kuwait and launched a second branch. I also launched a travel agency. So it is one company that has two lines of business," Ahmad told Kuwait Times. The global downturn took a toll on his business. "The crisis hit our business. We survived after downsizing the business. It is slowly improving, and is doing much better than it did in 2008. This business is more than enough. We are trying to expand now by taking baby steps," he added.
Jacob Ommen, an Indian expat living in Kuwait for the past 23 years began his little business in June 2003. He runs a small bookshop in Kuwait City called Q8books. "My bookshop should not be seen as a traditional business. It is primarily a hobby that doubles up as a small store mainly to bring a selection of good books and inexpensive reading. Aside from serving the community, it prevents me from remaining idle and away from the television," he stated.
According to him Q8books is the only bookstore in Kuwait which has an online presence. "This has made it easier for people to reach us. More than 90 percent of the books available in my shop are used books, with only three percent being new books. So I do not import books from abroad so I do not bother with censorship. People come to my bookshop to sell their books and buy others. So, the books keep circulating. I do not know much about business but I love books," stressed Ommen.
"The global financial crisis boosted my business. People preferred to read books than go to a restaurant. I have a job in the morning, so I open my bookshop in the afternoon. I do not make great profits out of it. I started it the hard way because I did not have anybody to learn from. Q8books is a unique bookshop, it works in a way in which books are recycled," he concluded. Mahmood is a 35-year-old Iranian who has lived in Kuwait all his life. "I was born here in 1977. After I graduated from high school, I searched for work. I worked as a store manager at a furniture showroom for five years. I invested my savings into a small project consisting of a trading (import and export) company in 2000. I founded this office with a Kuwaiti partner and I began importing cars from the United Sates to Kuwait," he pointed out.
"In the past, when I started my business it was easy. Later many rules were passed like a ban on importing a vehicle that is older than five years. The business became more difficult. Also, the economic crisis in 2008 had a negative effect, and sales were less. The situation now has improved than how it was in 2008. It is still not very good," Mahmood added. He imports vehicles from the US and display them at the auto-bazaar of his friend in Salmiya. "Sometimes, I advertize in some websites or the press. I also run two laundries I rented to other people. I receive a fixed amount. The profit I make covers my expenses which are high. I spend on my family, as my father has retired," he explained.
Shirley Sales, a Filipina businesswomen who first arrived in Kuwait in 1998, began working as a private tutor. Today, she owns three restaurants, a trading company and a beauty salon. Her business has tasted success, expanding to Bahrain, Dubai and the Philippines. "After my first sponsor released me, I joined Alghanim, where I worked as a secretary. I decided to open my own business and I left the company. With my savings and indemnities, I launched my first restaurant with a Kuwaiti partner in 2004 in Fahaheel, serving Filipino food. Later, I established a general trading company to import and export Filipino food by supplying different supermarkets with Filipino foodstuff. I was the first to import non-alcoholic beer, swift hotdog, fiesta Pinoy and other products," she said.
Sales was not hit hard by the crisis. "When there was a crisis, people reduced spending on other stuff but not food. In fact, the demand for food always increases, as people will always buy food. Now, I own two restaurants in Farwaniya and Mangaf respectively. I also have own a beauty salon in Farwaniya," added Sales. According to Sales, the sponsor is the main catalyst that helps run a successful business. "In general, it is easy to do business in Kuwait. You should always have a good partner who will not cheat on you. My partner really helped me grow my business," she concluded.