Bolotbek Isahunov: “Technologies allow us to satisfy the needs of even the most fanciful client”
Few businessmen in our country could tell such an extensive history of the formation of their company, as does the founder of the well-known furniture brand in Kyrgyzstan – Bolotbek Isahunov. The company Full Mobili came into existence in the Kyrgyz Republic 23 years ago and throughout all that time it went through the various stages of development of our country, which have naturally influenced the business to one degree or another. Full Mobili saw the dashing 90s, the financial crisis, two revolutions, the rapid development of the industry and much more. This company is anexample of how successful a Kyrgyz business can be despite difficult circumstances.
Bolotbek Isahunov owns several types of businesses simultaneously. All of them not only cover various fields of activity, but are also located in several countries, including the USA. Within the current conversation we decided to talk in more detail about the production of “Made in KG” furniture and ask about the development of the first company to introduce Kyrgyzstani citizens to furniture of Italian quality.
How it all began
Bolotbek met his future partner by chance. He was having a hard time finding high-quality shoes for a long time and had started seriously considering setting up imports into Kyrgyzstan (which he later got involved in). But along with shoes, the idea came up to launch another business.
“In 1994, one of my translators within an Italian delegation introduced me to a businessman whose father owned Full Mobili. We became friends and decided to open the company’s representative office in Bishkek. Since 1996, we started importing finished Italian furniture. In those days, such quality was almost impossible to find and interest in our products began to grow immediately,” says the businessman.
The location of Kyrgyzstan in the very center of the region has its own intricacies and challenges. For businessmen, it is logistics, which was expensive and time-consuming. To solve this problem, the management of Full Mobili launched its own production.
“A year later, we opened our own workshop at the Bishkek FEZ (Free Economic Zone), where we began to produce our furniture using Italian technology. European technologists made visits to set up the equipment, adjust the production, and train local craftsmen. That is when we introduced computer technologies in the manufacture of furniture. In those days it was something incredible. Many did not even understand how it worked. But that is precisely what helped us occupy the leading position in the market,” recalls the head of the company.
On the hard times
Full Mobili established itself as a quality manufacturer of furniture using Italian technology. Nearly no one in Kyrgyzstan had such a high ratio of reasonable price to high quality in the 90s, and no one does to date. However, few people know what this company had to go through in order not to lose its position. As it turned out, the most difficult time for local businessmen was the financial crisis of the beginning of ’97.
“I lost almost 50% of the value of the entire business, we lost many customers, the purchasing power of the population decreased sharply, there were many failures and bankruptcies of banks, large companies and smaller companies. It was bad for everyone. In this panic, many began to ‘throw off’ everything, and those who were able to cling to their businesses in some way, were able to restore it somehow. We began to adapt to the situation. First of all, we fixed all sales in dollars. In those times, each price tag read ‘c.u.’ (“conditional units”) next to the number,” recalls Bolot, “There were only a few of us on the market. They needed to hold out for some time, because a little later people began to buy things and dress again. Those who remained were practically the only ones operating, so the demand for them was high.”
During those difficult times, Full Mobili was saved by its regular customers and by technologies that made it possible to optimize production.
“Technology allowed us to minimize waste. Using computer graphics, we were able to use the available raw materials as efficiently as possible: not dispose of the leftovers but instead manufacture some smaller details out of them. In addition, ordinary production, for instance, required five workers, but thanks to the automated system we needed only one worker who could simply control the process. It also helped to lower the costs and make the products cheaper. This is what saved us following the crisis,” the entrepreneur explained.
Nostalgia for FEZ
The free economic zone was once a paradise not only for domestic businessmen, but also for large foreign companies. Experienced entrepreneurs have good memories of the heyday of the FEZ .
“When we entered the FEZ, there was one condition – if you produced your own product, you did not have to pay taxes but pay only 2% in support of the FEZ and 0.15% to the customs department. And it did not matter if you supplied your goods to the Kyrgyz market or abroad. But gradually, all members of the FEZ began to be deprived of benefits. The ‘policy of planted potatoes’ started to take seed – they planted potatoes, but did not wait until they grew, and began to dig them out. So it happened with the FEZ. There were large-scale companies that supplied goods to the USA and other large markets. Production was in full swing and there were good prospects. At the beginning of the FEZ, there was flourishing, explosive growth. But then the game of politics began, and everything collapsed. If they would have left all the initial conditions and eradicated the policies that the FEZ leadership was pursuing, then the FEZ would have outgrown the economy of Kyrgyzstan,” recalls Bolot Isahunov, “Now it is not advantageous to be a resident there. You will be subject to VAT and income tax, and another 2% in support of the FEZ. Now it turns out that it is more profitable to produce outside the free economic zone.”
A little about future plans
Many people know Full Mobili as a manufacturer of high-quality office furniture. But today, the company is heading for the production of home furniture to provide its customers a wider choice.
“Times have changed and today our main competitor is the mobility and wide opportunities that the Internet provides people. Now a client can order anything he wants from anywhere in the world. If he wants a sofa like a certain movie star owns, he can make an online purchase and it will be delivered within a few days. How can we compete with this? We must be more flexible and even more mobile. Our technology allows us to do this. We are going to introduce 3D printers that will allow us to produce parts quickly and in the form in which the client wants them. In addition, a customized approach is our main advantage. We make furniture like an expensive suit – according to custom standards and the wishes of the client.”