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Gagik Aghbalyan

Perseverance Pays: Village Start-Up Business Keeps Balasanyan Family Together

The Balasanyan family rises early every morning in the Achadjour village in Armenia’s Tavoush Province.

Their business demands it. They make a line of carbonated fruit beverages marketed under the brand-name “The Sweet Drop”.

Six years ago, 36-year-old Aharon Balasanyan had a dream: to start making limonad for the Armenian market. And the idea has caught on; kind of.

Mr. Balasanyan refused to leave his native village and move to Russia in search of seasonal work.

“We were professional migrants. When we used to go to Russia, with my father, I thought about getting 150,000 AMD together and starting a business and working in Armenia,” says Mr. Balasanyan.

He says that while the money was good in Russia, his heart wasn’t into traveling back and forth. 2010 was a fateful year for him. He had back surgery and decided to stay in Armenia.

“Night and day, I would think about starting a business, so that I wouldn’t have to leave my home and my children. They operated on me in January and by June the lemonade plant was up and running,” says Mr. Balasanyan.

His parents were against the idea. But Mr. Balasanyan persevered. He put down 300,000 AMD as collateral and got a bank loan for an equal amount.

It was trial and error at first. He had to come up with the rate ratio of syrup to carbonation.

“We entered the market. Everything was difficult at first. We had no experience and didn’t know the tastes of the consumers. The product didn’t sell. It took months to get a grasp of what the consumer wanted,” says Mr. Balasanyan.

His mother, Emma, says those troubling times were very disappointing. “I would go to bed thinking what will happen to all that money we invested if the business fails. I wanted to go back to calmer times. But every morning we’d get to work energized. If one has a desire and willpower, the business will succeed,” she says.

Sweet Drop lemonade captured the market gradually. “We won over the stores and then the restaurants. Then, we took orders for weddings. The product has maintained its reputation. People know that if its limonad from Achadjour, it’s a quality beverage,” says Mr. Balasanyan.

The plant will be churning out 10,000 bottles of the beverage this summer. That’s down from 30,000 last year. The drop, according to Mr. Balasanyan, is that people’s discretionary income has dropped. Store orders have drastically decreased.

With assistance from Armenia’s Small and Medium Entrepreneurship Development National Center, the family has also launched a pastry plant called “Enjoyment. Mr. Balasanyan’s wife Rouzanna has been awarded the “Best Young Businesswoman” prize for her efforts.

The two plants sometimes hire local villagers to assist the Balasanyan family members who work from dawn to dust. Even Mr. Balasanyan’s 14-year-old son helps out.

While Mr. Balasanyan says he can set-up the limonad business in Russia, he has no plans of leaving the village.

“It’s tough work, but I’m happy living on my native soil. It feels good having your own business and that the label on the beverage bottles represents who I am. No matter how tired I return home in the evening, I go home to my kids. It makes it all worthwhile,” says the proud businessman.

When asked if he plans to expand into making preserves, given that the area is rich in various berries, Mr. Balasanyan says he won’t take the risk given the economic situation.

“If things change and people have a bit more to spend, I might expand. What’s needed is a market. It’s more important than getting aid or tax breaks. Even if the government were to give me 2 million AMD, what good would it be if the product doesn’t sell,” he says.

Mr. Balasanyan gives me a parting word of advice. “When starting a small business, money is the last necessity on the list. One must first have a concept, an idea, and then follow it till the end.”

Photos: Gagik Aghbalyan

Comments (3)

Berge Jololian
Exemplary and outstanding work! Best Wishes for the Balasanyan family. Once again, I wish Hetq would make it an editorial policy to better inform the reader with an attached photo-map of the location of the story being reported from. Where exactly is Achadjour village? (Google maps does not correlate with the name spelling most of the time).
Love it, the son has the eyes of a real entrepreneur
Try Achajur

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