Young businessmen buck the trend

At a time when many companies are facing problems and big groups are in serious trouble, there are some enterprises that buck the trend. These are companies offering either technology products or traditional commodities such as books, but are driven by systematic work and devotion to what they see as their own project. Business reporting tends to focus on problems and ignore success stories. The following companies are the exceptions to the rule, showing a significant growth rate, with investments and targeting that opens new markets. They have a small turnover, under 15 million euros, are run by young people and are building their growth on providing services and products that cover the needs of consumers or enterprises. What these companies also have in common is the real interest in their clients’ needs. Yet their success has other aspects and foundations, which are worth studying, too. Livanis Publications When a publishing company such as Livanis grows at a rate of 30 percent in 2004 and already exceeds 50 percent in 2005, it can raise many eyebrows, especially at this point of time. And yet Ilias Livanis, who manages the firm along with his sister Yiota, believes the book market is in transition. «Companies which are better organized and managed grab a larger slice of the pie in a market that has not particularly expanded,» he says. In 2004, the company’s turnover rose to 12.4 million euros from 9.5 million euros in 2003, a 30.45 percent rise. Similar was the rise in profits, which picked up by 31.37 percent, from 629,000 euros in 2003 to 826,000 euros last year. Early data for the first quarter of 2005 show a turnover increase of 50 percent, compared to the same period in 2004, consolidating Livanis at the top of its industry. The company has published more than 4,000 books of all genres to date, cooperating with over 1,500 writers. A Livanis policy that may have brought it to the top is its careful and conservative steps. «We never published more than 200 new books per year, even during the market’s blossoming in 2002-2003,» Livanis says. The publishing house has «verticalized» its activities: It is the only house that has designing and printing facilities, cutting costs considerably, and intends to add binding as well, Livanis says. It is also planning the opening of another bookstore in Thessaloniki. «Another basic entrepreneurial move is the opening to the academic community for the publication of educational books,» Livanis says. «We also were the first to sell books at points outside bookstores, such as supermarkets, multistores, airports an even on ships.» The company’s rise in sales in recent months is fed by Greek best sellers, promoted by their television adaptations, and international hits such as the Dan Brown books. «It is true we try to negotiate our books for movies or TV series. TV is proven to assist books greatly, and we will place more emphasis on this in the future,» he says. Yet the cornerstone of growth and profits for a publishing house remains the choice of titles. «Each book published is read and selected carefully, with the final decision resting with me or my sister,» Livanis says. «Publishers must follow international book trends, grasp social circumstances and predict what the public will ask for. We also search incessantly with our associates through the big capitals so as to find and secure books by famous or less-known authors. The aim for a publisher is to find a book before it becomes famous,» Livanis says. Encode and e-shop The cases of e-shop and Encode prove what people say: That even in the toughest market, there is room for growth for those investing in innovative products or services. E-shop ( was created in 1998 by three students and today holds a commanding position among electronic trade companies in Greece and specializes in technology products. Its revenues double every year. Encode was founded in 2001 by Greeks with previous careers at top posts in companies abroad. Today it is the leader in providing services of security and risk management for IT systems. As Haris Iliopoulos, Encode’s CEO and one of its founders, says, the firm is active in the US, UK, Belgium, Switzerland and the Middle East, where it recently undertook to realize a security program for one of the strongest petrochemical companies. Originally Encode was funded by a foreign venture capital, and its management is now negotiating with domestic venture capitals to secure new funds. In 2004 Encode’s revenues reached 1.8 million euros, from 1.5 million euros in 2003, most of which came from credit institutions and telecoms. «Our aim is to render Encode an internationally recognized player in security services for IT systems,» says Iliopoulos. He believes the main competitive advantage of the firm is its experienced and quality human resources. The products and services of Encode safeguard of e-business activities. «The more corporate networks open up to be accessible by customers and associates, the greater the danger from ill-intentioned acts becomes,» Iliopoulos says. The company’s solutions range from strategic planning and realization of an IT system’s security project, to simulation of «attacks» to systems to find any holes. E-shop, in turn, developed rapidly in the last few years, recording revenues of 11.1 million euros in 2004 and employing 75 people. Forecasts for 2005 raise turnover above 22 million euros. Apostolos Apostolakis, one of the three founders of e-shop, says that «our policy is to secure for consumers the lowest prices in the market across a great range of products, using technology and its low operating costs as an electronic trade shop.» He further notes that «we have the lowest prices, at all costs, which turned us profitable in 2003.» This helped e-shop fight off rivals, mainly from the IT product retail chains. The company also runs a store in Halandri, northern Athens, and is creating 10 «e-shop points» (three are already operating in Larissa, Volos and Halkida) to strengthen its network across the country by the year’s end. E-shop supplies the market with complete computer systems with the «Innovator» sign plus anything one may need from hardware, software and accessories, Apostolakis says. Soon, the company will present the laptops it assembles. Delivery is made within 24 hours via the company’s fleet or courier services. But how did three students succeed where wealthy groups failed? «We proceeded with careful moves that could be financially supported,» Apostolakis recounts. «We also stayed away from the offers mentality, securing every day the market’s lowest prices in all products, while offering a great variety of items through cooperation with domestic and foreign suppliers,» he adds. In 2000 e-shop got only 400 visits and made 10 sales per day. Today daily hits reach 9,000 and sales come to 400.