It is easy to make money in France
While it's often claimed that it is hard to set up a successful business here, we speak to those who have done it
By Samantha David
“I’m an entrepreneur through and through,” declares Serge Frauenfelder. “I’m 43 and I started my first business – a temporary work agency – when I was 20. Since then, I’ve set up numerous businesses. It isn’t hard.”
His latest venture, a shop called Ecodestock in Sarrebourg, Lorraine, is causing a stir.
“We sell groceries which are past their ‘best by’ dates. Not meat or yoghurt, but dried goods like pasta and rice. There is nothing wrong with them and they are perfectly fit to eat but, in France, many people don’t know the difference between DLC and DLUO,” Serge explains.
DLC stands for ‘date limite de consommation’ and is used on perishable goods (meat, fish, dairy products, etc) and should never be ignored. DLUO stands for ‘date limite d’utilisation optimale’ and is used as an indicator on goods with a long shelf life (generally dry goods, including biscuits, sweets, vegetable oil and flour, etc) and there is no legal bar to selling goods in this category once they are past their best-by date.
Serge says he got the idea for Ecodestock when someone phoned him at his cleaning company (a business he set up to fill a gap in the market for companies willing to tackle ‘difficult’ jobs, including crime scenes and flats that have housed people with domestic hygiene problems).
“They were offering to sell me these groceries and I could see instantly that it was a good idea. I knew I had to act fast. You can’t hang about when you’re dealing with best-by dates.”
Contrary to those who complain that setting up a new company in France is hard, Serge says: “I set the whole thing up in a month.”
The shop is an SAS (société par actions simplifiée), which is similar to a limited company in the UK. “I’ve done it before, so I knew the way. It costs around €10-15,000 and it’s not as hard as you think. The main thing is to avoid the banks. I’ve never asked a bank for finance. Never.”
Banks, he says, are run by people who are risk-averse.
“I’m bitter about banks. They don’t help entrepreneurs – so I finance my businesses myself. Today, being an entrepreneur means not using credit. I pay up front, straightaway, and I expect to be paid in the same way. It simplifies your business and saves you money because you don’t have to pay someone to chase up invoices. It’s a golden rule. I don’t sell or buy without immediate payment.”
Ecodestock is doing well, he says. “I employ 15 people in this company overall and there’s still a lot of development to be done. The backbone of the business is sourcing and the second is running the shop.”
He would like to open more branches. He acknowledges that the reception on the high street has been mixed. “However, we’re all different. Plenty of people see the price advantages.”
Serge denies the shop is a product of the economic crisis. “The real crisis isn’t economic, it’s environmental. What will really ruin us in the future is a dying planet – not selling a few things past their DLUO dates.”
He is outraged by food waste – the waste of the labour used to produce it, the pollution involved in packaging and shipping it... “It’s not just a few boxes, or crates or pallets. Entire lorry loads of groceries are thrown away every day and it’s a scandal. We can’t go on squandering resources.”
He adds: “Consumers don’t throw food away because they want to. They do it because they think they must. But we have to make everyone understand the difference between DLC and DLUO. I’d really like to see an end to this confusion. “I think the English phrase ‘best-by’ is clearer and more informative. I tell my customers, ‘No one has ever died from eating out-of-date crisps’, and it’s true.”
Serge has three children and says that all of them eat food that is past its DLUO date.
“Their mother eats it too and she’s a doctor, so that shows you how safe it is.”
He adds: “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, that’s who I am. I love to see what I can create. I’m not a specialist in anything, I’m interested in everything. I’m never bored.”