When you think of Russia, do you think of capitalism? What about customer service?
If your view of Russia is that are still waiting in bread lines, you might be more than a little surprised. Some months ago, I was assisting a client from Europe in relocating to Moscow. “This is real capitalism, the stores are open at least until 9 or 10 in the evening, and even if they’re closed, you can often get what you want delivered any time of day or night, 7 days a week… where I come from, almost everything is closed at 5 p.m.!”, he exclaimed.
This European newcomer’s statement is probably true for most of Russia’s major cities. The days of bread lines are long over. And although the economy is facing its share of challenges, foreigners are often surprised at the hidden benefits of doing business in Russia.
There is plenty of bureaucracy here, but in many ways, the bureaucracy is different than in the West, which provides some hidden advantages. For example, you can open a sole proprietorship or an LLC quite quickly and easily and can usually start off with a tax rate of 6%. Or, if you want to become a realtor for example, no training or licensing is required by the government. Your ability to stay in business will be much more dependent on your ability serve customers with excellence than anything else.
I can remember my first trip to Russia in 1995. I walked into a store that was literally called “Store”, there was a barrier between me and the shelves, and the “customer service representative” behind the counter wouldn’t even bother to look at me when I entered.
Those days are also long over with shopping centers and malls continuing to pop up at what I would almost call an “alarming” rate. And you can help yourself all you want off the shelves, and more often than not you will be bombarded with smiles and offers of assistance as soon as you go anywhere near the store entrance.
But even with these improvements that I have had the chance to witness over the years, I still often felt that Russia was selling itself short.
I saw that the Russian people did not see the value of much of what they were producing, or thought that these products, services, tourism destinations, or educational systems would not be interesting to the rest of the world.
I have already told you about some of the exceptions to this rule, including my friend in Perm who makes high-quality handcrafted guitars at a very reasonable price, or about Nadezhda Molugova, who took the Russian art education method, adapted it for Western students and opened the Florence Classical Arts Academy.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the legendary Rostselmash harvest combine factory in Rostov-on-Don. I really didn’t know what to expect, but was blown away by both the facility, the professionalism of everyone I met there, and also their worldwide vision. I found it fascinating that when I asked some questions hinting about politics, they expressed absolutely zero interest in the subject. Instead, as it turns out, they have production facilities around the world, including in the USA and Canada.
Here are some shots from inside the Rostselmash production facility from my Russian language vlog:
These are all positive examples, but I have found it fascinating that many Russians don’t believe that their idea would be interesting to foreigners. And even if they think it might be interesting, they don’t know where to begin.
That is why I wrote a book in Russian. It is called “Matryoshka: Как вести бизнес с иностранцами (How to do business with foreigners)”. Although the book is only 116 pages, it was not an easy project, and from start to finish took about two years. “Matryoshka” is the Russian word for the famous nesting dolls that are an obligatory souvenir purchase for any first time visitor to the Motherland. And in the book, “Matryoshka” is symbolic of any product, service, or idea that Russia can offer the world.
I was recently talking with some Russian journalists. They were at first praising me for the book and my Russian video blog project, but then they became almost aggressive and began to sharply question why I don’t create more English language content. I then, of course, told them about the Planet Russia blog, but more importantly, told them that it is not my responsibility to represent Russia to the world- it is Russia’s responsibility. I would just like to provide some pointers in how Russians can present their products, service, and ideas to the world in a more effective fashion, and perhaps more importantly, first convince them that they have value.
I certainly hope that “Matryoshka” serves this purpose. I have started to travel and present the book and also do some business seminars on the subject, with a particular emphasis on the difference between the way Westerners and Russians approach negotiations.
So far, I have presented in Moscow, Vladivostok, and Rostov-on-Don and I am encouraged by the feedback of the Russian businesspeople that I have had the privilege to meet. Later this month, I plan to go to Dagestan, a place that I have dreamed of visiting for many years.
I have also been encouraged that the book received some good attention, including from Forbes Russia. If you speak Russian, you can download the book on Amazon Kindle, or order a hard copy here. You can also usually find a copy in most major bookstores in most large cities in Russia.
I guess this post has sort of turned into a book commercial, but it is also sort of an explanation as to why I haven’t been blogging as frequently recently. The book and Russian video blog project have taken up much of my time in recent months. But on the other hand, they have introduced me to new people and ideas that I can’t help but sharing with you. Or should I say “Matryoshkas”…