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Our emigration: how to open a business in Israel

The repatriated from Moscow to Israel Yevgeny Kogan opened a bookstore in Tel Aviv “Bebel”, In a short time became a successful project.

Eugene and Lena Kogany.
Photo: VC

His story told edition VC.

In September 2015, spouses Eugene and Lena Kogan repatriated from Moscow to Tel Aviv. The idea to open a bookstore came to them a year before moving to Israel, but the couple did not have a business experience. In Russia, the couple worked as editors: Eugene - in book publishing Corpus, and Lena - on the Kultura TV channel.

The founder of "Babel" dreamed of his own book while still working in publishing. At the annual exhibition of literature Non / fiction Eugene was selling books Corpus and communicated with buyers. After the first time he jokingly wrote in Facebook about what would be great if it became his work. A few years later it happened.

“Zhenya read a lot and wanted to share it with other people. A bookstore is a great way to talk about books by selling them. When abroad or in Moscow you find small cozy shops with a coffee shop, from where you do not want to leave, you begin to dream that such a place will appear in you too. We just changed our lives and thought about what to do in a new place ”, - Told Lena Kogan

The name "Babel" originated with the dream of opening your own book. The spouses say that they love the work of the writer Isaac Babel, and jokingly add that the Kharms store already exists, albeit in Kiev.

Eugene and Lena chose a special version of the spelling of the name in Hebrew - it uses letters as when writing the word "Babylon", but the vowels (special characters to designate vowels in Hebrew) are arranged so that it reads "Babel."

The couple also noted that the writer's work is known in Israel, and he is immersed in Jewish culture. But they did not think about this when choosing a potential name for a bookstore.

Search for premises and registration of documents

After moving to Tel Aviv, Eugene began to explore the city and search for premises. At the same time, he did not know the standard rental prices and how the paperwork process looks like.

In November 2015, he found the right place, but the agent replied that it was already taken, and offered an alternative, which the spouses eventually liked. The space with white walls was clean and did not require repair.

Kogan turned to a lawyer to check all the documents related to the premises, and, after making sure that there were no problems, the spouses signed a lease agreement.

After that, Kogan ordered bookshelves from village craftsmen and filed an application for the first batch of books from a Moscow company. The couple also bought a cash register and hired an accountant for remote work, who was engaged in preparing the necessary documents for opening a store.

“If we were to open a store now, already knowing all the details, it would have taken two weeks. Business registration in Israel is a very simple process that takes ten seconds. You go to the accountant, say that you want to start your own business, and give him your passport, company name, address and lease agreement. He presses three buttons on the computer, registers you and your business with three tax authorities, " рассказал Eugene.

She and Elena also issued an insurance certificate with an agent. The insurance is valid in case of natural disasters, fire and applies to store visitors - if they are damaged in the territory of the outlet. Also, the owners have issued insurance for children, since “Babel” holds events with their participation.

Kogan admits that you can do business without insurance, but in his opinion, this is stupid.

“If the buyer in our store breaks his leg and sues, then we have insurance for this case,” he says.

The whole process of launching the store took the family two months. At the end of December 2015, a test opening of the book “Babel” took place in Tel Aviv.

The only problem with the documents was the unpaid signage duty - the businessmen simply did not know about this requirement.

Two weeks after the opening of "Babel", an employee of the mayor's office came, who said that he needed to pay for the store signboard - otherwise the business was threatened with a fine.

“Here, they first warn and ask to correct, and then they fine them,” says Eugene.

The family did not disclose the amount of investment in the project, but, according to entrepreneurs, starting a business with regard to rent, ordering shelves, buying books, lawyer and accountant services cost them less than $ 5 thousand. Spouses spent money from their own savings.

The biggest expense is rent, since they had to pay 100% to the agent and 100% for the first month. In addition, the premises were rented from 1 in November, and the store began to work only at the end of December.

The purchase of the first batch of goods has also become a significant cost.

Book selection

Photo: Facebook / Babel. Books Tel Aviv

The assortment of "Babel" at the time of opening consisted of 300 titles. The founders of the store say that initially they did not understand how many positions there should be when starting a book shop. Spouses formed the first list with an eye on their own library.

“At the beginning of 2016 of the year, a week after the start of Babel’s work, a large number of visitors arrived who bought half of the books. In January, Russian booksellers (and indeed everyone) do not work very actively. Therefore, we could not order new editions for almost a month. I had to arrange the remaining books on the shelves not with spines, but with covers to plug the holes, " confessed Kogan.

Eugene and Lena order publications through the Burrows distributor, as the company works abroad and provides a large selection of literature.

Nevertheless, businessmen cooperate directly with some Russian publishing houses. In particular, with Ad marginem, “Scooter”, “Session”, “New Publishing House”, “Grundrisse” and others.

The spouses note that it is more convenient to work with large lots (by the standards of “Babel”) than with small parcels. But for the sake of some books, they turn to affiliate publishers. As a rule, for the sake of new products.

In addition, books in publishing are cheaper than distributors. Spouses strive to have lower prices in Babel than competitors.

Now the assortment of the store includes about a thousand items. Approximately this number is kept constantly. All books are exclusively in Russian. Among them are fiction, nonfiction, contemporary writers and classics.

Lena says that she and her husband select the literature for the store manually. On the shelves are publications that the spouses love, want to read, or those about whom familiar critics speak well. In Babel, according to her, there is not a single random book.

On the shelves of the store you can find a large number of writers and poets of 20-30-s of the twentieth century, memoirs of authors and works on literary criticism. Babel also sells books on Judaica, the history of Israel and Jewish culture.

At first, the most popular books among buyers were those that the store owners recommended to them personally or about which they wrote on the project page in Facebook. Also among the guests of "Babel" literature in demand is on demand. Non / fiction.

In the first months of the store, Eugene and Lena led the so-called hit parade of best-selling books. The list includes “One in the Ocean” by Slava Kurilov, the autobiography of Solomon Maimon, “White City, Black City” by Sharon Rothbard and others.

Lectures, meetings and presentations

Presentation of the magazine "Floors" in "Babel".
Photo: Vasily Yuriev

In addition to selling books, spouses organize events — for example, meetings with authors, lectures, poetry evenings, or presentations. They are held daily from Sunday to Thursday. The store itself is open from Sunday to Friday until Shabbat. On Saturday, respectively, the day off.

"Babel" is not limited to events only from the world of literature. The store also hosts lectures on painting, the history of Israel, sea battles, Taoism, science and other topics.

In the book are those poets and writers who live in Tel Aviv. However, Babel hosts events with authors from Russia. For example, Marat Gelman, Lev Rubinstein, Elena Yakovich, Sergey Gandlevsky, Dmitry Vodennikov, the poet Orlusha, the performer Umka, Victor Shenderovich and others spoke in the book.

Participation in almost all events (except for poetic meetings and book presentations) is paid, as the owners pay a fee to the invited lecturers. Yevgeny and Lena do not consider the proceeds from the lectures to be serious - the main income comes from selling books. However, they do not disclose financial figures. In 2016, the store’s monthly revenue was about 15 thousand shekels (about $ 4 300).

Shop owners pay tax on the full amount of income from an event.

“If the ticket costs 50 shekels ($ 14), then we give the speaker 25 shekels ($ 7), and we are left with 16,5 shekels ($ 4,7) after tax deduction,” explains Kogan.

According to them, only those events that are visited by 30 people bring more or less serious money - this is how much it is placed in the small hall of Babel.

First customers and regular guests

For two years, the store has formed the core of regular customers. Eugene and Lena know many visitors by their names - their circle of contacts in Israel was formed from buyers. Now they go to visit each other.

At the same time, Kogan does not believe that Babel forms a special community in Tel Aviv. In his opinion, for this, it is necessary to exist on the market for more than ten years, like the Moscow book Phalanster, and to work in the title language of the country.

Kogan says that for him and his wife, the mystery is where the first Babel customers came from. According to Lena, she and her husband did not spend money on the purchase of advertising.

“The day before the technical discovery, we wrote in Facebookthat we are opening a shop in Tel Aviv. Moscow friends wrote it was cool, there was a lot of noise. But naturally, nobody in Israel knew us. Two hours after the store opened, a girl came and bought Ulitskaya's book. I still remember her, she still comes to us ”, - said Eugene.

Entrepreneurs believe that local media helped attract first buyers. When “Babel” opened, about him wrote Israeli Russian edition BeInIsrael and a little later - project about Jewish literature and culture Booknik.

The founders of "Babel" say that for two years of work they had no crisis situations, except for some days when not a single customer entered the store.

“It becomes uneasy when there are no visitors for a long time. But sometimes, on the contrary, customers constantly come and we don’t have time to eat, ”says Lena.

Plans for the expansion and sale of wine

Tables for visitors who want to drink coffee or tea.
Photo: BeInIsrael

Because of the small area, the store owners have to re-arrange chairs before each event and install the screen in the free part of the room. In addition, sometimes the hall can not accommodate everyone to attend this or that event. For this reason, Babel sometimes repeats events.

In the next two years, Evgeny and Lena plan to change the location to a more spacious one in order to equip two halls - one for books, and the other for lectures and presentations.

According to businessmen, they do not have enough space not only for the participants of the events, but also for the expansion of the book assortment. This is one of the reasons why they cannot yet put books on sale in other languages. Otherwise, you will have to reduce the number of positions in Russian.

The couple thought about selling publications of Russian authors in Hebrew, but could not get an answer from Israeli publishers. In the event of expansion, the founders of Babel plan to make a second attempt.

If entrepreneurs move to a new space, they will receive a license to sell alcohol. Now visitors to Babel can drink tea or coffee brewed in a French press (an espresso machine needs permission). But Eugene and Lena want the store to drink wine.

Book owners do not plan to borrow funds for expansion, because they do not know how to return them in case of failure. But entrepreneurs tried to turn to non-profit funds for financial support, since Babel conducts lectures and creative meetings.

“But nevertheless, a shop is, first of all, a commercial enterprise, therefore, it is impossible to count on help,” says Eugene.

The benefits of living in Tel Aviv

Babel is the only source of income for Eugene and Lena, they say. The store brings the founders a profit, the size of which they do not disclose.

“We were warned that we would earn less wipers, our store would quickly go broke and we should spare our money,” says Eugene.

The spouses believe that they did the right thing when they did not conduct research on the book market and ask about where it is worth opening a book store to Russian-speaking residents of Israel.

“Of course, we would have left Russia anyway, but we could change our mind about the bookstore,” they say.

Lena notes that in Israel, she and her husband felt the taste of a completely different life. According to her, working for yourself is a great happiness, despite the difficulties.

“We never worked for ourselves. In Moscow, I would not dare to leave the “Culture” channel and open my own business. Your business is, on the one hand, independence, and on the other, responsibility. Of course, no one at the end of the month will come and give you a salary, since everything depends on you. But that's fine. The more you work, the more money you will receive, ”Lena said.

According to Kogan, among the advantages of life in Israel is a milder climate and a lower level of domestic aggression in comparison with Moscow and St. Petersburg.

“I do not want to idealize, Israel has its own problems and shortcomings. But there is much calmer and completely different attitude towards the elderly, the disabled and gays. In Tel Aviv, they work quietly, go to museums, ride the bus, and that doesn't bother anyone, ”says the founder of Babel.

Spouses live in Israel for almost two and a half years without knowledge of Hebrew - they are helped in everyday life by English and Russian. There are also no problems with business-related issues, despite the fact that all documents are in Hebrew — an accountant deals with papers, and the staff of any government agency is fluent in English.

However, Eugene and Lena plan to learn Hebrew. Including in order to participate in Israeli book fairs.

“There are people who have lived in Israel for 25 for years and do not know the language. I hope this will not happen to us, ”say the founders of Babel.

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