Joint venture partnership makes being a business owner easier

04/09 2023 - Stores

Joint venture partnership makes being a business owner easier

Laura Kulmala from Tampere, Finland’s third largest city, is the retail partner in three Specsavers stores, together with optical partner Katja Majuri. Laura and Katja are joint venture partners. That means they share the ownership of their store with Specsavers as the third partner. For the retail and optical partners, that equals strong support and a business model that allows more flexibility in personal life than traditional entrepreneurship.

Laura was a business administration student when she did one of her traineeships at an optical store. She liked the work and stayed on after the traineeship. In 2010, a couple of years after Specsavers had arrived in Finland, Laura moved on to Specsavers. She worked for one store after another, and in 2014 she became the store manager for Specsavers Ylöjärvi.

Growing ambition led to an expansion.

After a couple of years of managing the store, Laura and her colleague Katja had the opportunity to begin the Partner in Development, i.e. PiD programme. The following year, an opportunity for partnership arose, leading Laura and Katja to buy their first store through a joint venture with Specsavers. Four years later, the pair acquired two additional stores in the centre of Tampere.

"I believe my desire for growth was fuelled by increasing ambition and upbringing. With both my parents being entrepreneurs, I had a more accessible path than someone without similar experiences," Laura explains. Moreover, Laura takes pride in the confidence shown by Specsavers in presenting this opportunity. She reflects, "It made me feel that perhaps our previous decisions weren’t as misguided as I thought."

The fact that all store routines and Specsavers operations were familiar also made the expansion easier. "I already knew that Specsavers takes care of its own", Laura says. "Starting your own optical business without the support of a chain would have been much harder. The level of specialisation required would be substantial. Marketing alone requires so much muscle that it would be nearly impossible for a small business owner to compete in this landscape", Laura says.

Several balls in the air

Having three stores brings a different dynamic compared to having just one. With a personnel count of 25 now, managing HR demands considerably more effort than before. Laura laughs, "Luckily, each store has its manager. Without them, things could easily get out of control."

retail partner Laura Kulmala at Tampere Centrum store
The store in Tampere centrum moved to a new location in July.

Laura's daily tasks are very varied. She tries to spend one day a week in each store and two days working remotely in her home office, taking care of the paperwork. As a retail partner, Laura's chief responsibilities are daily operations and HR, and the optical partner takes care of the clinical side of operations and marketing. To tackle new challenges, Laura is actively schooling herself. Apart from the PiD training, she has studied "everything possible", as she describes herself, and is currently in a coaching program for partners.

Joint venture partnerships are easier for business owners

Laura thinks the joint venture partnership is a business model that considerably lifts the load off the partners. For example, when she had her children, instead of trying to juggle both business and motherhood simultaneously, she could take maternity leave like any of her employees and with the same compensation. Because of the joint venture model, Laura has a monthly salary and is both a shareholder and an employee.

The support office makes another contribution to easing the load, not least mentally. Regular communication, motivation, interest, and compassion exist for both the owners and employees through Greenpoint (Intranet), emails, field trips, and training. "They make sure that everyone is equipped with the knowledge and skills to perform at their best."

Training opportunities for acquiring knowledge and skills are readily accessible. Specsavers provides the programs and platforms, while the owners contribute their time. Laura emphasises, "We strive to facilitate learning in every possible manner, even beyond the optical realm. Knowledge is always beneficial, and everyone deserves opportunities in life." Additionally, the owners keep a close watch on the training needs of store managers, recognising that the requirement for new partners might arise unexpectedly.

Entrepreneurial spirit appreciated by employees

Laura's employees view the joint venture model as a resource. "It's clear that it makes more sense to work for an entrepreneur than a faceless investing company". As the owners are part of the team, there is also a spirit of equality. It means, among other things, that when employees need a day off, they usually get it. "We all have things in our lives that we need to take care of, and it's important to accommodate them", Laura says. She also believes that this approach contributed to Specsavers' ranking as the fifth-best workplace in Finland this year in the Great Place to Work study.

As a team member, a retail partner is a professional role model to the employees, showing the way in customer service and taking initiative. For the optical team, technical excellence and modern equipment offer great tools. According to Laura, all the teams in the stores are also "super", and it’s easy to attract new employees.

The most rewarding thing for Laura, however, is customer feedback. Positive feedback makes your spirits rise. The best feedback is, of course, when someone says they have recommended you to others. “Then you know it’s genuine."

Constant change stimulates

Laura doesn't yet know what the future brings. "There’s plenty to do in the three stores. Tampere Centrum just moved, and Ylöjärvi needs renovation. We have our hands full." According to Laura, further expansion isn’t out of the question, but the distances may begin to limit direct involvement in the stores. “We would need to explore new ways of operating.”

joint venture works for Katja and Laura
Katja and Laura are former store colleagues, now partners in three stores.

Laura feels the constant change and development of the Specsavers model keeps her interested. "I get easily bored if things become stagnant. That hasn’t yet happened in my 13 years at Specsavers."

Are you interested in being a joint venture partner with substantial support and a monthly salary? If so, read about our business model or see the job openings.

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