Continuing our look at foreign entrepreneurs, this week we meet Ronny Haesen from Belgium.
I may always feel the need to preface these articles with the fact that there is an abundance of Croatian entrepreneurs and we write about them all the time in various ways. However, this series is simply to highlight that while statistics and numbers point to the fact that apparently EVERYONE is leaving Croatia – there are people from all corners of the globe, CHOOSING to move to build their lives here in Croatia which says a lot.
Now, meet Ronny Haesen, a Belgian entrepreneur, who, among many things has an import/export business for top quality meat.
First and foremost, why Croatia?
Since visiting Croatia for the first time in 2004 the country has been attractive to me from the moment I set foot on its very soil. After travelling throughout Dalmatia back in 2004 and being in family business in Belgium since graduation, I discovered the huge potential that the region has, together with the desire to spend more time here the decision to set up business was made and we started with Food and Beverage (F&B) in 2005. Since that moment I have been and am still involved in multiple lines of business in Croatia, ranging from real estate developments, import & export, environmental engineering projects and F&B. Although I have been doing business in Croatia since 2005, It is only since the beginning of 2015 that my family and myself are permanently living in Split. For this article I will focus on our meat import and distribution, nevertheless, the answers to the questions below are a combination of experience from all the years I have been here doing business.
Intro your business, what is it you do?
Together with my Croatian partners we import the renowned Belgian beef to Croatia and via a partner company based in Rijeka distribute it throughout the entire country, from Pula to Osijek, Zagreb to Dubrovnik, Split and the islands. The majority of our clients are exclusive restaurants and 5* hotel groups such as Westin, Sheraton, Maistra Monte Mulini, some high-end hotels of the Valamar group, Girandella in Rabac, La Chroma in Dubrovnik), and much more.
How is your product perceived in the Croatian Market?
Noticing the need on the market for a high-quality product, which is consistent with price and quality and on top of that always available made the market very welcome and open to us.
Find out what the market needs and what the country has a lack of and you have completed half of your market study.
What were the opinions of your friends and community, were they supportive of your idea, or…?
Although I have never bothered much about the opinion of others on my business and private life I must say that at the beginning of our journey in Croatia back in 2005, people mostly looked surprised and asked me why Croatia, “is it safe there” (laughing loudly) or is there potential? Today they usually ask me to help them set up a business themselves or to assist them in the purchase of some real estate.
What were some of the greatest challenges you have faced in business in Croatia?
The vast size of Croatia in comparison with “la petite Belgique”. It brings great challenges in regards to distribution, sales, storage, follow-up on customers, frequent visits, etc.
Secondly, the language, It just seems impossible for me to get my hands around it properly, although most of the Croatians speak English or German, both languages that I speak, it is my wish to become a fluent Croatian speaking expat. I guess it is the Slavic that is hard for most Germanic-speaking people, but we’ll get there.
And, like everywhere [in the world], separating the genuinely good people from the “others”.
If you knew then what you know now, would you have come?
Besides some mistakes I made in my first few years, I have never regretted the moment we started our journey to Croatia and I sincerely hope life allows me to stay here for the rest of my life.
Any advice for the would-be entrepreneurs?
I seriously recommend taking a qualified lawyer or specialist to assist you, from set up to roll out phase and even after that, same with a professional accountant. My experience tells me that the bureaucracy is crippling but taking advice from people who, although most of the time mean well, don’t exactly know what they are talking about or are not fully up-to-date on the laws and the changes that happen on a monthly basis, will hold you back and make the road even more exhausting and seemingly endless. Don’t lose time, work with professionals only!!
How is it working with Croatians in terms of a business mentality?
This, of course, differs from sector to sector and individual to individual, but in our line of business, I can say that most Croatians in the industry welcome our product and that most of them are internationally trained and professional.
What are 3 things you love about Croatia?
The laid-back Mediterranean culture and the food and beverages that come with it, it’s dazzling nature and last but surely not least, the low crime rate.
What are 3 things you would like to see improved in the business climate?
- Easier access to business loans which is currently non-existent or it has unreasonably high rates with potential collateral needed from your entire family.
- Lowering of VAT
- Face the problem and work on bureaucracy
Advice for foreign entrepreneurs thinking of coming to Croatia?
There is plenty of potential, particularly in anything which is directly or indirectly involved with tourism, this includes real estate developments.
Stay away as far as possible from any business that requires you to frequently deal with politics and government, local or national!!
“Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.”
For more information or questions, you can contact Ronny Haesen, CEO Team Blue (import & export) at
Tina Peruza, CEO Godiva Gastro Luxury (national distribution)
Do you have your own story of moving to Croatia and setting up a business? We would love to hear about it, email: [email protected]