The dream of owning your own business

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They are the backbone of the Swiss economy: small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs for short). There are almost 600,000 of them throughout the country. The carpentry firm LERI in Zurich is one. We spoke to its owner Arbnor Begaj about the day-to-day workings of a Swiss SME. 

SMEs make up 99% of all the companies in Switzerland and employ two-thirds of the entire workforce. We truly live in a land of SMEs. Credit Suisse honored this enterprising spirit by declaring February 20 Entrepreneurs’ Day – just in time to mark 200 years since the famous industrialist Alfred Escher was born.

A small business in a big city

The carpentry industry is an important part of Switzerland’s SME success story, employing more than 50,000 people. LERI is a small carpentry firm right in the middle of Zurich’s District 4, where we meet owner Arbnor Begaj. He bought a long-standing carpenter’s business in January 2019 and employs three staff. 

A master carpenter in his office

It’s a sunny winter’s day, and Arbnor Begaj leads us past countless screwdrivers, saws, and huge lathes to his office on the third floor. The master carpenter spends more time in the office than in the workshop at the start of the year: “I’ve got to prepare the annual accounts,” says the Valais native with roots in Kosovo. He moved to Zurich 12 years ago and says that it’s much easier to build up his business in Switzerland’s largest city.

We picked his brains about the day-to-day challenges and opportunities an SME faces and the story behind the company’s name, LERI.

Five questions for a Swiss SME

Mr. Begaj, you founded your company by taking over an existing business. Did you consider starting from scratch?

There was no way I could find a suitable place to start a new carpentry workshop. My machines take up a lot of room, and buying new ones would have cost a fortune. It was much easier to take over an established firm than to start from scratch. The old business’s customers accepted me as their new carpenter very quickly, even though they didn’t know me.

You used to work for a carpentry firm, and now you’re in charge of your own. What has changed?

The stress (laughs). Seriously, though, the biggest difference is the freedom you enjoy when you’re your own boss. I can make all the decisions myself without having to justify them to anyone. The downside is the uncertainty. You ask yourself whether you’re going to have enough work tomorrow, then the next day, to keep paying people’s wages. You don’t have to worry about that sort of thing if you’re just an employee.

What gives you the most headaches as owner of a carpentry firm?

There’s a massive price war on the Swiss carpentry market right now. That makes it harder to win over new customers. Price is an especially crucial factor in our industry. Zurich’s more expensive than many neighboring cantons, and that’s reflected in the price.  Wages, rents, and materials cost more here – and we always work with Swiss suppliers because they help us to guarantee the best quality.

February 20 is Entrepreneurs’ Day. SMEs are seen as the backbone of the Swiss economy. How difficult is it to start and manage your own company in Switzerland?

It’s actually quite easy to start a company in Switzerland. The authorities here hardly put any obstacles in your way. That said, I have to admit that I felt rather alone once I’d done it. I didn’t get any support – financial or any other kind – and didn’t know who to turn to for help. What insurance do I need? How do annual accounts work? Do I need a pension fund? It was really hard to find the right information.

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One last question: How did you decide on the name LERI?

I made it up from the first two letters of both my kids’ first names. 

Thanks for talking to us!

Each SME is different

From carpenters to chocolatiers and online farm shops – AXA’s customers come from all areas and industries. We showcased this diversity in our SME advertising campaign last year.

It featured video portraits of SME customers recounting their experiences with AXA. They include Amanda Odermatt, founder of Amode, who described how she realized her dream of owning her own company thanks to AXA’s start-up package, and Lukas Voegele, Managing Director of Graf Kaffee, who recalled how he was able to keep his roastery operating after a dust explosion.

These and other stories from our SME customers offer the best proof of the quality of AXA’s insurance solutions. You can see the whole campaign and find out which other SMEs are also part of our community here: https://www.axa.ch/en/unternehmenskunden/blog/our-sme.html

Every third SME is insured with AXA

AXA’s customers come from all areas and industries

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