‘I can put my hand on my heart and honestly say I’m 110% happy I made the move. When I compare my life now to a year ago, I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner?’

Buying and running your own business in Spain could be easier than you might think! Last year Stuart Cavanagh, his girlfriend Stacey and father Tom bought a Commercial Real Estate Agency Franchise in Benalmadena. The trio had no previous experience in real estate or living abroad, yet just one year later their new business is booming. Here Stuart tells their story’¦

What made you all decide to move to Spain?

A couple of years ago my parents decided they wanted to move permanently to Spain, they had spent many holiday’s on the various Costa’s but loved the Costa del Sol in particular. They felt life in the UK was getting harder and harder, my father was getting up at 3am for his job as an HGV driver, 6 days a week and only really had Sundays to relax with the family. In the end they put the house on the market and took the plunge. Their only real reservation about leaving the UK was leaving us behind, but in terms of quality of life we knew they were doing the right thing.

We didn’t realise how much we would miss them once they had gone however, and after a while Stacey and I began toying with idea of moving to Spain ourselves. The more we talked about it the more it seemed like a good idea. We were both fed up with relatively low pay balanced ( or not balanced! ) against a high cost of living, long hours at work away from each other, increases in crime, inadequate health care and of course the BIG issue, the English weather! We both worked hard, but we couldn’t afford to get on the property ladder and nights out where a beer costs 4 pounds and endless taxes all make you take a different view of your life and look at different options that may be available to you.
Spain seemed like a great option and Stacey felt that a 2 and a half hour flight would mean that we would never be too far from home should we need to dash back.

At the time I was working as a recruitment consultant for a major retail company and Stacey was a nursery nurse. When I was 19 I worked for a time in Bahrain in the Middle East as a bar and restaurant Supervisor before returning to the UK to do an HND in Business, so I did have some experience of working in a foreign country and Stacey was also an air stewardess in a previous life, so between us we hoped we could adapt fairly quickly to something new.

Having made the decision, what was the next step?

Well we started planning! My parents were able to give us lots of help and advice about the different areas along the coast and ideas as to what we might do work wise. They were keen to go into business with us and the idea that appealed to all of us the most was to buy a bar together. We all had industry experience, Sue and Tom ran a pub in the UK, and it would mean that as a family we could all work together which really appealed to us and was a major factor in our decision to move to Spain.
I started to research commercial real estate agencies through the web and eventually arranged to fly out and meet up with Bars in Spain to view some of their commercial properties.

My parents and I got on very well with David and Lorena who run Bars in Spain and having looked round various bars they suggested we might like to think about the possibility of buying a Franchise of Bars in Spain rather than a bar. So in other words instead of running a bar, we’d be selling them instead! This was quite a lot to take on board and of course I needed to discuss the idea with Stacey so I flew back to the UK and we began to look at our future again through totally different eyes!

At the beginning, Stacey was quite dubious about the idea of a franchise. She felt the whole thing sounded like a lot of very hard work and of course we had no experience in that field. After some thought and some research into the company she began to see the possibilities and long term advantages to running our own business and we both decided to fly to Spain and meet with David and Lorena. Stacey, David and Lorena instantly got on and we went on to have several meetings with them to discuss the idea of buying a Franchise. Funnily enough it wasn’t David and Lorena trying to convince us but the other way around as they were keen to ensure that we were serious about taking on a Franchise and joining the Bars in Spain network. As time went on we all liked the idea of buying a Franchise more and more. We could still all work together as a family, we realised that between us we did have the skills required and the work hours appealed to us as they would be like office hours. Plus of course we felt the risks and expenses of opening a branch of an already existing and successful company were far less than the risks and expenses of starting something completely new and where we were completely alone.

Were you given any training?

Once we had signed up to purchase a Franchise we all undertook an intensive 6 week training course designed to take us through running our own business step by step. More than that the course also dealt with Spanish law, residential and commercial real estate and even some of the administrational headaches you have to cope with when moving to Spain!

I had spent the last few years back at night school so I fell back into the mind set of learning but Stacey and Tom found it more difficult. The thing about the training that most impressed Stacey was that it was fun and easy to understand with role play exercises which bought the whole thing to life. For Tom of course it was more difficult because he hadn’t been in a ‘learning situation’ since leaving school many years ago, but by the end he began to find he was taking in more than he realised and that the whole course made him feel far more comfortable about the task we were all about to undertake!

Now, I would advise anyone thinking about buying a Franchise in any field to really look into what sort of training you will be given, what business materials and what ongoing support is available once you start your business.
In our company we are supported all the way. We still see David and Lorena at least once a week and they ´held our hands ´through our first few sales which was brilliant. It’s really important to make sure you are getting the support you need, otherwise you may as well just be doing it on your own.

Following the training, were you able to get up and running straight away?

After the training finished we eased ourselves gently into the day to day running of the business. It was really important to us not to feel too pressurised in the beginning. The move itself is quite exhausting, finding a home, moving your furniture and possessions over from the UK, then you have to deal with a lot of administrational matters such as opening bank accounts, applying for a NIE number which is like a social security number and organising landlines, mobile numbers, ADSL lines and so on. And these are all things which tend to take a lot of time in Spain. It’s a not country where you can get things done in a hurry, and if you start to get stressed with the system you tend to get nowhere. The best thing you can do is to relax into the Spanish way of doing things and enjoy it!

We seemed to settle into our roles really easily, Stacey runs the administrative side of things, Tom lists the properties and I deal with the sales side. The feeling of running our own business is really good. We have fulfilled our main objective of allowing the family to work together and when I think of what I was doing 12 months ago it is such a difference. Then I had a view of a grey skyline from the office window, now I have a view of the Mediterranean. Some of my friends are still at university up to their eyes in debt, and here I am on the Sunny Costa del Sol, running my own business!

Is it as rewarding as you hoped it would be?

Stacey now says that running the business is the most rewarding job she has ever had, as everything you do is for yourself. It is hard work, but because we enjoy what we are doing and are working for ourselves we don’t mind putting the effort in, especially when you start to reap the rewards! However, we wouldn’t advise anyone looking for a free ride to embark on a franchise like ours, because as the saying goes you only get out what you put in! Although it’s hard work, there is still plenty of time to enjoy being a family and to enjoy life in Spain. These days we enjoy a better quality of life, we spend weekends on the beach or walking our dogs in the mountains and we’re not too exhausted to enjoy our time together.

Working with your family is never going to be easy but we all decided that if we set boundaries right from the offset it can work. The trick is being able to separate work from home life. When we are at work we are Stacey, Stuart and Tom working as a team to get a job done and earn money. When we go home we relax and go back to being a family. I may be the boss at work, but if I try to carry that role into the home Stacey will soon tell me what’s what!

The best thing about working with your family is that you don’t have to worry about trusting someone or being let down. We treat each other professionally at work and don’t let any arguments from our home lives affect our professional judgement. My father loves what we are doing as he feels he is helping us to start something which we will hopefully be able to hand down to our own children! Some people may read this and think that there is no way they would be able to work with their families and maybe we are lucky, but I believe that if you are all working towards the same goal and are mature about your situation, working with your family can be a really rewarding experience. There is one problem though, you can’t pull sickies!!!

Are there any downsides to your new life in Spain?

Stacey misses her family and friends, but they often come to visit! I miss watching Manchester United, but other than that everything has been a plus, I’m even learning to play golf!

What’s been the highlight of this last year for you?

Without a doubt, our first sale! There’s no feeling like that one. You work hard building up a good client base and then you make your sale and you know why you worked so hard. It’s incredibly rewarding. Stacey says she can put her hand on her heart and say she’s 110% happy we made the move. When we compare our lives now to a year ago, the only question we ask ourselves is why we didn’t do it sooner.

What advice would you give someone thinking of moving to Spain to buy a business?

Be prepared for a bumpy ride! Everything doesn’t just fall into place. You need to do your homework. Research the area’s where you are thinking of moving to as the different Coasts and towns of Spain each have their own unique personality.

Speak to reputable real estate agents and recruitment companies and talk to those who have made the move. Explore different business opportunities and make sure you have good legal representation. You will need to make at least two field trips while planning your move and need to factor in the time it takes to purchase and build up a new business.

You will need back up finances to support you while setting up and a strict business plan. If you’re thinking of buying a Franchise make sure you ask about after sales support and explore all the small print! If you’re planning on buying a bar make sure you’re prepared for all the hard work that comes with it. If you are thinking of working with family or friends make sure you discuss earnestly whether or not you can really work together before committing yourselves financially.

I don’t think you really need to be a certain type of person to move to Spain, but it does help if you are open minded and willing to integrate yourself into a new community and the Spanish way of life, but most of all you need to be committed to seeing your plans through.

I think my final piece of advice is to follow your dreams wherever they may lead, even if they take you somewhere completely unexpected ‘¦ just like ours did!

Samantha Sintes

Bars in Spain SL offer their A-Plus Real Estate Franchise Systems for sale throughout all major areas of mainland Spain and its associated Islands. To find out more call 0871 250 2000 (UK) or 0034 952 499 400 (Spain) or visit www.barsinspain.com

Part of the This Is Spain Network. Operated by Costa Insider SL.