Entrepreneur: From a studio apartment to a EUR 10 million turnover

Newsroom 05/10/2009 | 15:36

Felix Istrate is one of the many young Romanian entrepreneurs who decided to start a business after just a few years of experience as an employee. He graduated from the Economy of Tourism Faculty in 2002 and found a job as a dispatcher in an expedition house with 10 transfer trucks carrying 20 tonnes each. There he met Dragos Ghita and together they set up their own company, Agnis Trading, in 2003. “I worked in many departments at my first workplace, and in a few months I became executive director, in charge of the management of the entire activity. The firm generated USD 25,000 of income a month at that time,” says Istrate, general manager of Agnis Trading expedition house. His first job also gave him the opportunity to learn many things about a new industry that seemed to fit perfectly with his personality. At present, Agnis Trading is a 100 percent Romanian investment and is among the top five players on its niche by market share. Istrate learned the secrets of the job, became a manager, made some business connections and became his own boss. But why did the two partners choose to get involved in such a business? Significant profit margins, underdeveloped internal road scow transport market and lack of strong competition were the most important reasons. Moreover, “like any ambitious young man, I wanted to earn more money than as an employee,” says Istrate of the driving force behind setting up the business. The two partners rented a studio apartment and bought a PC and a fax machine. The USD 1,000 initial investment was recouped in the first month of activity and Agnis made a profit after just one year of operations. By the end of 2003 the office was relocated to a two-room flat. “We started the business with two clients and a lot of courage. There were just two of us, but we knew how the business worked. We had a very serious approach and were determined to succeed,” says Istrate. He added that customers came by word-of-mouth, recommended by many other satisfied clients. Istrate strongly believes that courage, earnestness, the favorable context and the state of the domestic road transport market were the most important ingredients that brought them success. Furthermore, there is no room for regret over any decision that Istrate and Ghita made, because “a business is the result of all assumed decisions,” as Istrate says. “I have never thought about how it would have been if I had made a different decision, because at a specific moment that decision was the best for the business from my perspective,” he adds. Meanwhile, both the number of Agnis Trading's customers and turnover doubled thanks to the economic boom that Romania had enjoyed in recent years. In 2004 the pair had the idea of extending both the team and the business. To this end, they bought a site in south Bucharest and started to build a new office building for Agnis, with the support of their own construction company. Brand promotion was overdue since the business had grown so fast, so Istrate and Ghita began to pay more attention to it. Today, the company has a 50-strong team, 45 active clients in its portfolio and more than 4,000 transport providers. Asked about the most difficult times that Agnis has faced, Istrate replies that it is hard to single out just one, because each development stage of a business has its own challenges. “Neither the beginning nor the present are quiet times. We are seeing the shrinkage of all markets. It is almost impossible to work on oiled wheels in our industry,” says Istrate. He adds that Agnis Trading's growth strategy was a sustainable, prudent one. “If I started again with another business, I probably wouldn't change anything, because Agnis Trading has grown on a prudent, serious, flexible base,” says Istrate. Currently, no client contributes more than 10 percent to the company's turnover. The greatest challenge for Istrate and Ghita since the very beginning has been to satisfy customers' needs beyond the terms of their contract. “We are assuming to provide a high-quality service under the contract terms, but sometimes, when a customer shows their gratitude it is the greatest recognition of our effort,” says Istrate.As for the competition, the big players are already paying more attention to the domestic road transport market and have begun to focus more on this segment. Multinationals active in this industry also have expedition activities, rolling stock and logistic centers. Moreover, many of them operate road, sea-borne, river-borne and railroad transportation. So greater specialization on the market is needed. “I have always believed in the ‘make a difference' concept to be a successful businessman. I think that we make a difference through a serious and coherent approach, helped by the quality of our services. We are very flexible and treat each customer in a unique manner,” says Istrate. According to him, the firm's future plans include a 10 percent increase of team experts and the process of transforming the company into a public one. Another target is to become a leader on the internal commodity transport market.

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