With an estimated turnover of about EUR 430,000 from providing mystery shopping services, Adrian Barbu intends to consolidate his company’s market position on this niche and to launch other retail services in the future
Adrian Barbu is a young entrepreneur who accumulated considerable professional experience as an employee before deciding to go it alone and set up his own business. He worked for A&D Pharma, a small company owned by four French university graduates at that time, in the sales department, holding a junior position. He was promoted on the back of his results and performance and when the group developed he was put forward for a top management position. “In the end it didn’t happen as at the same time Kraft Foods Romania had offered me a top marketing position within the company,” remembers Barbu, managing partner of the group of firms theCONSULTANTS. He spent five years as sales manager at Kraft Foods, laying the foundations of some new procedures in the company such as merchandising, trade marketing and category management. But he left Kraft for an old passion, retail and services, deciding to work for a company specialized in this field. For Barbu entrepreneurship came as a natural step in his career. “When I realized that I understood quite well which tools were missing from the retail and services market that managers needed to use, I decided to offer them as an entrepreneur,” says Barbu, of his reasons for choosing to set up the business.
He started his enterprise six years ago, along with his business partners Marian Trusca and Cornel Neacsu, with mystery shopping being the first activity. The enormous potential of such services was the main reason for setting up the company. “There was a lack of tools to monitor the performance of the staff employed in stores. The market was emerging and I felt it was an available niche where we could become market leaders. We didn’t imagine anything else. Before I had only worked for companies that became leaders on the Romania market,” adds Barbu.
The idea to set up this business came when he was working as commercial director for a retail chain of 100 stores and felt that the only way to increase the business in a controlled manner was through an objective evaluation of performance at the interface with customers, to be able to understand to what extent employees act in order to make the customers happy and increase customer loyalty. But why this field? “I understood what it meant. I was an expert in the retail and services area, and the market was easy to enter at that time – there were no barriers. Plus, the investment needed to set up this business was moderate while the fixed costs – which are usually hard to manage – were low,” says the managing partner. “Everything promised success. And over time, with hard work the promise became reality.”
Asked to pinpoint the most difficult time his business has faced, Barbu says that he came close to closing the company down, because of the lack of capital. “We had made a big mistake because we had been relying on two-three large and profitable customers that suddenly changed their strategy and cut their investments in some external services. That turned around our cash-flow in less than 30 days and we barely recovered, making use of our personal savings in order to revive the company,” says Barbu.
If he started another firm, he wouldn’t change anything in his approach to business. “Except for the major mistake I mentioned above, we have employed good strategies and made good moves. I like this type of activity very much; it satisfies me in many ways,” says Barbu. But he would change a few things: he would have become an entrepreneur much earlier, he would have accelerated the rate of growth during the early years of his business and he would be more courageous. “I spent too long working for multinationals and in hierarchical structures,” says the young entrepreneur. As for the challenges, Barbu says that to identify or create the synergy with a customer, to manage to work together in a team and to help the customer boost its performance is one of the biggest challenges for consultancy services. Asked about the competition, he says that there have always been a lot of players, but now it is a very crowded market. “We started on virgin territory in 2004 with mystery shopping services, but now the situation is different. The market has reached maturity and is moving towards saturation,” says Barbu. He thinks there are many things that differentiate his company from the crowd, from its strategy to its characteristics as a group of individuals that are working together. “But the biggest differences are the way we select and develop our employees and also our pleasure and passion for our work. We are like a happy family,” says Barbu. He adds that the business still has a small market share for consultancy services, while SHOPPERS is leader of the mystery shopping market, with an estimated market share of between 20 and 25 percent in 2009 that will increase this year.
As for future plans, Barbu intends to make his firm more useful to its customers, with developing the current products and services and launching new ones as its main objectives. Moreover, the company is exploring new territories, promoting new top solutions to manage businesses. “We officially launched a young and very efficient marketing discipline, Customer Experience Management, in Romania last month. Plus, we recently launched mystery shopping projects in Bulgaria and we are preparing for Macedonia. And we will keep going,” vows Barbu.