Natalia Bolohan is a young entrepreneur and the Founder of several brands including Gusto Pretzels.
Over the past 5 years Natalia has grown her company from a start up with just 3 employees to a company which dominates the segment with 7 stores and 40 employees across Chisinau, Moldova and is looking to expand into Romania.
How did you decide to start Gusto Pretzels?
In 2012 I starting thinking about starting a food business and started looking at my local market and decided that there were no companies providing delicious pretzels. In 2013 we opened 3 stores and in 2014 we opened another 2. Today we have 7 outlets in total and we are approximately 40 employees, mostly women.
How was your first year in business?
I knew it would be hard, but everything can be learned, step by step. I think I am very lucky to have met smart good-hearted mentors who helped me at the right time. I can say that it is not impossible, but not so easy. The drive to move forward counts!
How do you deal with all of the competition in the market?
The competition is welcomed as long as it is healthy. The competitors make you move forward, make you develop. They motivate you to persevere and not to give up. Eventually it is the strongest most savvy one who wins. You have to find something more you can offer to your customers, something different from what your competitors can offer. The company’s strength is 100% quality, another one is the convenient location for customers!
What other challenges have you faced over the past 5 years?
Financial ones. A company cannot develop only on the basis of sales. If you want to grow, you need to expand – to have at least 4-5 outlets. And, it is very costly to open an outlet. The equipment only cost 12-13 thousand Euros. One invests about 25-30 thousand Euros in an outlet with proper fitting. Then, entrepreneurs are turning to banks. Another challenge is that banks do not want to invest in small companies, because they perceive small businesses to be risky. We have a great cooperation with a bank now, although it was very hard in the beginning.
What was your largest investment in your company and how it was used?
The equipment we need to change the new technological process has been purchased. At the moment, a new, more roomy and comfortable production facility is being retrofitted. We still need a new automatic production line amounting to 70-80 thousand Euros, and this is a new challenge for us!
What are your greatest achievements to date?
We are very happy that our products are consumed by customers! Another success is that we have entered into cooperation with specialists from abroad. We invited a German expert (bakery technologist) who had been training our employees during 3 weeks. We have understood that we must invest in our team members for them to become true specialists.
What is like to be an entrepreneur in the Republic of Moldova?
It is neither difficult nor easy. Whatever you do in your life, you must make the effort. Soon, we will be able to compare what is like to be an entrepreneur in another country too, because we are expanding on the Romanian market. But here, in the Republic of Moldova, not all niches are occupied yet. There is room for something new.
What are your goals for 2017?
Our short-term objective is to open another 2 outlets this spring in Chisinau. As for the foreign market, we would like to expand in Romania since it is close and easy to monitor. We will start with 2 outlets in Iasi. By the end of the year, we would like to have a total of 20 Pretzel outlets.
After changing the technological process this year, we will be able to offer our products as a franchise. Thus, it is possible that our pretzels will also be eaten in China.
Why did you choose to join CEED?
I do not want to be a part of yet another training and communication platform. Everyone who runs a company, regardless of how long, faces challenges. His/her experience can be beneficial to others who have also faced such situations. As a member of CEED I can meet entrepreneurs who have faced similar challenges and get quick solutions.