Integrating in Algarve: international business people
As part of a series on integration in the Algarve we are looking at the different ways in which foreign residents adapt and cope with a change of language, lifestyle and culture. This week the focus is placed on what it is like to start a business in the Algarve.
By Emma Bertenshaw [email protected]
Adega do Cantor is a winery based in Guia and run by Max Birch, whose family have been established in the area for more than 40 years.
Opened in 2002, the winery was the first of its kind in the Algarve, says Max.
“It did not fit the usual business model stereotypes here so we found that getting the right licensing was our main issue in the beginning. We are primarily an agricultural business but also rely on tourism.”
He added: “Most of our visitors are British and we get a lot of Cliff Richard fans too, because of his connection with our business, but we have seen a marked rise in other nationalities lately.
“The Algarve itself feels very international to me. There is a slight cultural difference but not by much.”
This year Adega do Cantor has been exploring the national market outside of the Algarve for the first time.
“We want to establish our wines nationally and so far we are getting good feedback.”
Following the attention their products received abroad, it has been more gradual locally.
“Portuguese would try a wine in a restaurant and if they like it then they will visit, so it is a different kind of market,” he said.
Sheena Rawcliffe, Managing Director of The Resident Group, which publishes the Algarve Resident, came to the Algarve over 22 years ago.
Sheena says that, at that time, it was noticeable how male-dominated business was.
“I found in meetings that negotiations would be deferred to my male partners rather than me,” she said.
However, she found building relationships was mutually beneficial, as many businesses were keen to market to the growing expat market and a lot of Portuguese she met wanted to learn English too.
The importance of understanding who to market to was something that Meri Hanlon had to learn quickly when she opened her health food store, Harmony Earth, in Praia da Luz over eight years ago.
Specialist stores such as this were virtually non-existent in the Algarve, or even the rest of Portugal, so Meri felt that the products that she used to sell in Canada would provide a niche for people in the Algarve.
“My business grew gradually by word of mouth, mainly in the expat community. I listened to what my customers asked for because, for example, peanut butter, which used to be something I considered a staple product in Canada, just wouldn’t sell here among the British and other Europeans.”
Although Praia da Luz is considered by many to be predominantly British, Meri says that her customers are 50% expats of various nations and the other half are Portuguese.
“I can understand Portuguese and read it quite well but my speech isn’t great. Still, it doesn’t stop me communicating with some of my regular customers so I always manage to get by.”
Meri said that her main frustration in starting her business was adjusting to a different pace than she was used to, often waiting longer than expected for suppliers.
This matches what Chris Winstanley experienced with his furniture business, Moveison, in Chinicato, near Lagos.
Chris says he made a gradual move to the Algarve over five years ago. Having family here already meant he was able to help with their business while seeing whether it was the right move for him.
He sold his business in the UK and bought his stepfather’s furniture business in the same location. He was able to identify opportunities for growth within the business and now runs a staff of six.
“I think it is a good idea to come over with enough funding to last a year and then, once you are settled here, to learn the language and the culture of the country you are in.”
Like Meri said, he also found the different sense of timing very frustrating at first but now appreciates that, on the other hand, people are flexible in business here while that would not be possible in England.
“It’s important to have a positive attitude about what is possible to improve or adapt in your business. Most businesses in the Algarve are small to medium enterprises and need to constantly think of new ways to generate revenue.”
He added: “The Algarve is a unique, multi-cultural place. It is useful to get involved in social cultural activities locally and that can benefit your business as well.”
The Algarve Resident would like to hear from readers who may have their own point of view on the subject of integration. Email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected]