— In the media it is written that you are from an international family…
— My mum is French, and my dad is Russian. They met at the “Chaika” (Seagull) swimming pool thirty-two years ago when my mum came to Moscow with work. So, I have both French and Russian roots. But I have a French passport, and I consider myself to be French.
Antione Galavtine was born in France, in La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast, in 1985. He was a professional sportsman (swimmer). In December 2008, at the European Swimming Championships in Croatia, in the 4 x 50m freestyle relay the French team set a world record becoming European champions. Antione was a member of that team.
From September 2012 until December 2014 he worked at the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Moscow.
In December 2014, he started his business in Moscow: the French patisserie COMME A PARIS. Since then he has been successfully developing and scaling his business, and realizing a great number of business concepts.
— Before becoming a businessman, you had a glittering sports career, didn’t you?
— That’s down to my dad. He was junior world champion in the modern pentathlon. He took me to the pool when I was nine. I remember that I covered my first thousand metre distance using my legs. I took a kickboard in my hands and went the whole distance without stopping.
And in ’97, as a family we moved back to Moscow. Mum was appointed head of the representative office of the French bank BNP Paribas. She had a four-year contract. You could say that my career as a professional swimmer began in Russia. I began to take part in competitions. In 2001, we went back to France, and I began to attend the Federal Sports Training Centre. In the USSR such centres were called Schools of the Olympic Reserve. Sporting successes soon followed.
— Mum is a banker, Dad a sportsman. And suddenly you start baking bread?!
— When I was going from Russia to France in 2001, I already knew that I’d be back. It was only a matter of time. I always liked Russia and the childhood years I spent here. I fell in love with my second Homeland. In 2011, I met a nice Russian girl who has played an important part in my life. That was also one of the reasons for my returning to Russia to stay here, perhaps, forever.
I had to begin a new life, look for a new job. I worked for two and a half years at the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI France Russie), where I developed certain skills, and made the necessary contacts. Various business projects began to form in my mind. One of them was to set up a small individual bakery making authentic French bread.
— And how did you start off promoting your business idea?
— Since 2012, I had always lived in the South West of Moscow. At first in Yasenevo, then in Konkovo. One day I heard about “Ecomarket”. It’s a unique project: a market and food-court with produce and dishes from various countries. And I was advised to take a look at some small premises for my business idea. I looked. I liked. And so started the story of my bakery, of my brand, COMME A PARIS.
In Russia, unlike Europe, since the 1920s, bakery products have traditionally come from large baking factories, forming up to 90% of the total market. But in the last two decades, since Western players started supplying, investors have been coming in to recreate the European format of mini-bakeries. In Moscow, the results for 2015 show that the industrial production share has fallen to 64.5%, which is equivalent to 542,000 tons of bakery products. The rest, 298,000 tons, comes from supermarket bakeries, and is mostly baked from frozen semi-finished products; and from small private full-cycle production facilities. It is this last segment which is actively developing, with an increase in volume of 8.4% per annum. Investments in opening bakeries at supermarkets comprise about 500,000 roubles, most of which is spent on equipment: freezer chest, proofer, oven and display racks. To turn a bakery baking semi-finished products into a separate independent production facility with an area of up to 20 sq.m. requires investment of one to two million roubles, of which 500,000 roubles will go on procuring equipment and the rest on fitting out the bakery and paying rent for the duration of the work and setting up for the start of production.
The second most popular format for a private bakery business in Russia is a full-cycle bakery selling its products through its own or other cooperating retail shops, and also in the hotels, restaurants and cafés sector. In this sort of bakery, producing up to 500 kg of products a day on an area of 150 sq.m., about 15-20,000,000 roubles will have to be invested. Operating costs include raw materials 34%, wages fund (for up to 25 people) 30%. and communal and rental payments 9.5%.
Confectionery bakeries, somewhere between the bakery and restaurant business formats, have been developing actively in the past five to seven years. As well as the arrangements for baking bread and rolls, they include basic hot and cold shops. Soups, salads and sandwiches are prepared in them. The bar menu, in addition to tea and coffee, includes alcoholic drinks. The bakery products are from a unique recipe and a special technology, and are sold for 140-400 roubles, which is several times as much as the market price in general. Investments in opening a confectionery bakery amount to 25-35,000,000 roubles, of which more than 40% goes on equipment, and about 25% on finding, planning and repairing the premises of about 250 sq.m. The project will pay for itself in three to three and a half years.
In the short term, it is the full-cycle mini-bakeries supplying city apartment blocks which will be of the greatest importance.
— And how much money did you spend on starting your business?
— About half a million. That was my initial investment. I bought an oven, a freezer, a work surface, a couple of tables, some chairs, and that includes the rent... But the real investment wasn’t money, it was the huge desire to turn my idea into reality, which became the stimulus for me to invest my heart and soul in this project. Realising that in the early days I would have to throw myself into this new business completely, I was ready for any difficulties I might encounter in the initial stages. For the first six months I forgot what a proper holiday was. I was never away from the bakery. If, for example, I had to get to the tax authorities or be away from there for any length of time, I’d ask someone from the neighbouring premises to keep an eye on my shop for me. Because at the time, I was completely on my own, and I had to do absolutely everything myself: the buying of all necessary ingredients for the bread and pastries, the selling, the book-keeping, right down to the cleaning.
— Russians have heard about the quality of French baking. What is its secret?
— For it to remain a secret, you have to keep quiet about it. I can say that only the very best and highest quality French ingredients are used. Today I bake four different kinds of baguette, about twelve different kinds of bread – with cereals, figs, walnuts, lemon peel, dried fruit – from various types of flour – wheat, buckwheat, rye, barley...
— Would you say your business is a successful one?
— Yes, I consider my business to be fairly successful and promising. As for expanding (I moved into bigger, more comfortable premises) I acquired a team and completely changed all the equipment over to more expensive, up-to-date equipment. Even given the current crisis and the market’s economic uncertainty, our French bakery is still afloat, and continues to increase its profits.
— Is there anything left over for yourself?
Unlike Europe, where in certain particularly “breadbasket” countries (Germany, France, Serbia), there may be 5-10 private bakeries in a single neighbourhood, the market for such bakeries in Russia is only beginning to be reborn after the 1917 revolution. For a long time in the Soviet era, the bakery industry in the country consisted exclusively of big bakery factories. Because it was always subsidized by the state, bread was very cheap, so unfortunately Russians are now genetically programmed to believe that bread should not be expensive. But in fact, this is not the case. And if we are speaking of full-cycle production facilities (from flour to the finished product), or, for example, of using only starter technology (as in our bakery), the product cannot, by definition, be cheap. Manual labour, the length of time it takes to proof the dough, the absence of automatic production lines – all this makes production expensive, but on the other hand, the product is really useful, homely and tasty.
The sum invested in our business differs considerably between Moscow and the rest of Russia, and depends on the production and sales model you choose. You can operate by completing the baking of ready frozen bread, and you will only need a furnace and a proofing cabinet (50-200,000 roubles, depending on production capacity). Or you can work full cycle (kneading, setting out, dressing, proofing, baking).
The finished product can be sold retail, or sent out wholesale to partner shops. The profitability of the first and second options will differ considerably. But the scale of the difficulties, the management and organizing tasks, will be incompatible. I think this business is interesting, humane, necessary and useful, but also full of personal and professional challenges.
— You haven’t acquired a second outlet yet, but the size of your first premises has grown considerably…
— We are already planning to open a second shop. At this moment in time, we are looking at more suitable premises, closer to the centre. In terms of the area it covers, my bakery has grown considerably. From 18 to 50 square metres. Now our shop has windows and its own entrance which now makes it a fully-fledged coffee-house. My team is now made up of three employees: two pastry chefs and a vendor. We plan to take on another chef soon. As well as bread and pastries, in October of last year, we unveiled a confectionery section. Everything is made on the premises from the best ingredients. Because my business principle is: work conscientiously, be honest with your customers, and they’ll become your regulars.
— And who are your regular customers?
— Those who live in Konkovo, on the whole. But people also come from other parts of Moscow. 80% of them are my regular clientele. What’s interesting is that a surge in interest in COMME A PARIS is noticeable when we have been in the media or I have been on TV. Foreign businessmen operating in Russia should bear that in mind.
— What else would you recommend for those starting a business in Russia?
— I get the impression that many of my compatriots are fearful of the administrative aspect. I, you could say, arranged virtually all the documentation for starting a business myself. A certain Russian consultancy firm helped me put together a few documents, even though I could have done that without any outside help. Foreigners, though, more often than not use the services of foreign consultants. For example, a Frenchman wanting to start his business here will immediately be offered consultants to take on these matters. But these services cost a fortune. The fact is, by drawing up these papers through a Russian consultancy firm, you can get it done ten times cheaper. The only thing is you have to find a company that does the job properly.
— What else frightens foreign representatives of small and medium-sized business?
— When I was still working at the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a lot of questions were thrown up by the mechanisms for obtaining work permits, the nuances around the visa regime. The French find these rules and regulations in Russia complicated.
— And what else do you want to do?
— I want to open an online store where people can buy my products and place orders. I plan to expand: one shop is great, but two is better.
I am also planning to set up my own newspaper. It will be dedicated to my beloved France, and will come out in Russian. I will start off distributing it in my bakery, but if something interesting comes of it, then it will appear in other establishments as well. In it, of course, there will be fashion, beauty, gastronomy, travel, plenty that is good and useful: there are already writers who have done about 90 articles. I am not a professional editor-in-chief, but I like the business idea itself. And, at the same time, on our new official site www.commeaparis.com, we are going to have an online version of the paper. At the moment, I am thinking about the strategy for developing it: whether to make the content fee-based or to leave it free of charge. We’ll see! One thing I can vouch for is the quality of the articles!