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Hope springs eternal for expat pet shop owner

Rebecca Jacobs · 15 Jul 2014, 14:58

Published: 15 Jul 2014 14:58 GMT+02:00

Iwanchuk bought Tindra to keep her hopes up when she moved to Sweden. She wanted a positive name for her pet, and Tindra is Swedish for twinkle or sparkle. It worked.

Two years later, Iwanchuk is the proud owner of My Pet Shop in the Gothenburg suburb of Hisningsbacka.

Iwanchuk says that Tindra is the “luckiest dog in the world because she gets to be with mummy everyday at the pet shop.”

Iwanchuk has worked in Canada since she was 14, holding two or three jobs at a time, even while attending university. She learned patience by working as a bartender, restaurant manager, greenhouse worker – and pet shop employee.

She left her familiar life in Canada for love.

Iwanchuk has known her fiancé, Dennis, for about a decade. She said it  “took guts” for him to ask her to drop everything and move to Sweden, but she took the chance. The couple is getting married next year.

“I would rather take a few steps backward in my own self-establishment to take a few steps forward for love,” Iwanchuk explains.

Once her feet were on the ground here in Sweden, Iwanchuk wasn't afraid to get them wet. Earlier this year, she found a young woman wanting to sell My Pet Shop so she could continue her studies. Iwanchuk pounced on the opportunity and having already finished her own studies, you could say she “traded places” with the girl when she bought the shop.

“I was entrapped by the lovely dog world here in Sweden,” Iwanchuk remarks. “I feel like there are loads of people who absolutely cherish their dogs.”

That's where the challenges began. To effectively run a shop in Sweden, the Canadian native needed to learn Swedish business terminology quickly, not to mention how to network and interact with Swedish customers.

Luckily, she discovered a wealth of helpful websites that easily switched between Swedish and English.

She used Bolagsverket and Allabolag, but she found the most help from Almi. Almi is a free service that gives loans and advice to entrepreneurs. Iwanchuk presented her ideas for the pet shop to Almi, and they helped her develop a plan.

“They gave me absolutely excellent advice,” Iwanchuk recalls. “I think they kind of pride themselves in helping foreigners come into place in society here in Sweden.”

Certain aspects of business were easy for Iwanchuk. Canada and Sweden have similar laws, she said, and she knew how to do her taxes in Sweden.

She said it definitely would have been easier if she had had a better social network in Sweden. But choosing to enter the Swedish animal industry helped grow her network.

She threw herself into the community and reached out to dog clubs and other expats. Schools contacted her to see if there were internship opportunities at the pet shop for students.

“The network almost develops itself once you get yourself out there,” she says.

She was surprised at how welcoming the community was. People gave her luck with gifts of semla buns, sweets, roses and indoor flowers. Since then, she’s gained plenty of regular customers.

“The customers are incredibly supportive of the fact that I’m from Canada and trying to make it here,” Iwanchuk adds. “They never want the shop to go away.”

Iwanchuk admits that she didn’t earn as much from the store in the beginning as she hoped. But the patience she learned from earlier jobs helped her to keep her head up.

One way to remain hopeful was becoming fluent in Swedish. While she waited for her personal identification number, she learned Swedish through Rosetta Stone, practicing three hours per day. Rosetta Stone helped her to skip levels in SFI (Swedish for Immigrants) courses.

Iwanchuk thinks there’s still room to make her Swedish more “charming” when chatting with customers. After all, there aren’t any animals for sale in the store who can help her with the charm. Unlike Canada, Swedish pet shops typically sell food and accessories, not actual animals.

But Iwanchuk doesn't mind She loves the local feel. In Canada, American brands dominate the shops. In Sweden, local animal owners dedicate themselves to feeding their pets the “best and healthiest” food, some of which comes from within Gothenburg.

Iwanchuk herself makes handmade dog collars which she also sells in her shop. And her ambitions don't stop there. In the future, she wants to buy a piece of land from the city so she can be an agility instructor for dog owners.

She wants to create a place for dogs and their owners to be happy and play together. It’s this optimistic, hopeful attitude Iwanchuk kept in mind when she moved to Sweden. She encourages other expats to do the same, even when times are tough.

“Always keep your vision in sight because, you know, this is our life,” says Iwanchuk. “It might sound risky, but you’ll never know if you don’t try it. I know it’s hard for some expats, but as long as they stay hopeful, it definitely gets better and easier.”

Rebecca Jacobs (rrjacob2@illinois.edu)

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