Our goal is to help you avoid those expensive ‘learning experiences’ made by people that came before you and show you how to make a success of your life and your own business in Costa Rica.
Brian Kerr runs a successful dry cleaning business in Escazú, a popular residential neighborhood a few minutes west of San José center.
Brian is British and came to Costa Rica ten years ago after living in Canada for twenty three years where he ran 26 dry cleaning stores. He has been involved in the dry cleaning business all his working life apart from time out to do his military service.
He was actually born in a house attached to a dry cleaning plant so you could say he has been associated with dry cleaning all his life.
Early years were spent working for a company that specialized in cleaning film and theatrical costumes before starting up his own dry cleaning plant in Central London and acting as agent for several machinery manufacturers in Germany, Italy and the United States.
That first move from England to Canada was because of the “high and irrational taxation”, which is something that many of us can relate to. After nine years in Ottawa, Canada running a series of dry cleaning plants, things were going the same way and it seemed time to look around for a more accommodating future home with the potential for following a retirement business project.
Why Costa Rica? Brian visited Costa Rica in 1994, checked it out and liked what he saw. Besides Costa Rica, he also visited and researched Trinidad, Australia, New Zealand, Poland and Hungary.
What helped him come to a decision? “Simple,” he says. “I was looking for a country that welcomed foreigners, had reasonable taxes, a pleasant climate and I could feel and be free.
My homework was always to go visit and not stay in an upscale hotel but to find a small place among the local population so that I could get a feel for a country and listen, and observe.”
Once he decided that Costa Rica was right for him, it took him just 2 weeks to complete the financial details for moving and ten years on, there are no regrets about the choice. Sadly, Brian’s wife died after just 2 years but he has since remarried a Costa Rican lady and is very much part of the local community.
There have been no big surprises to living here; in fact Brian emphasizes how easy it has been to set up a happy life and business here. He was looking for a work project that would keep him busy and happy and knows that he has found it.
However, he does emphasize that if you want to work, it is important to stay within your area of expertise and not to be “seduced into going into something wildly different”.
Too many people follow some unrealistic dream that doesn’t work out and end up blaming Costa Rica rather than their own lack of experience and research into a no-win venture.
What are the challenges? Brian stresses that by continuing to work in a business he knows about and by taking a studied look at the country first the difficulties have been minimal.
The biggest challenge? “The language! I am hopeless at languages and as I speak Spanish with a British accent, very few people seem to understand me which is a bit frustrating”.
He does add wryly, “I understand my Spanish, my wife understands it and my employees understand”, so it is not too much of an issue that has prevented a highly popular dry cleaning enterprise drawing clients, 95% of whom are Costa Ricans from all over the local area.
Brian also cautioned against taking ‘business advice’ from local attorneys saying that if you find a qualified, trustworthy attorney, it makes sense to follow his legal advice but that only few attorneys know anything about actually running a profitable business.
An average day is immersed in the business, which opens from 7am to 7 pm Monday through Friday and 8 am to 4 pm on Saturdays, and Brian considers himself fortunate to enjoy his work so much in a country he has grown to love.
His excellent Tico staff have been with him for 7 years and he finds them to be ‘one of the best crews I have ever had in any country – honest, reliable, hard-working and pleasant to be with”.
How about personal safety issues and crime? Costa Rica’s reputation for safety is justified according to Brian. He was once mugged by three thieves in downtown San José but admits this was his own fault by parking his car in a bad area to ask for directions. “Big mistake!” he comments. But compared to Ottawa where he was burgled and had two cars stolen, there are no worries if you use common sense.
In fact if he had known about Costa Rica many years before, he would have moved here 25 years ago.
Words of advice before you decide. “Do not leave your reason behind, come and rent a place (do not buy) and check out the country. If you wish to retire, take a hard, long look at yourself and your desires before settling in any one area. If you wish to continue in a business, remain in your area of expertise.”
The future is “golden” for Brian Kerr “because I feel happier personally and in my business than I have ever been before“.
Brian Kerr is the Owner and Manager of ‘Drycleaning Internacional’ located opposite the old church (parts of which are 200 years old) in San Miguel de Escazu or Escazu Central. The business telephone number is (506) 2288-1370
Written by Vicky Longland – Vicky has spent all her adult life in Latin and Central America originally as head of the translation department for an international human development organization and currently working as a freelance translator and writer for several national and world-wide publications, specializing in people’s issues, the environment and lifestyles.
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