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CPHagen: Saint-Gilles lifestyle store sells Nordic brands

10:52 09/07/2019
Thomas Petersen from Denmark sells design and fashion from his homeland

The idea of opening a shop full of beautifully designed products from Nordic countries had been percolating at the back of my mind since I arrived in Brussels 13 years ago.

I felt the shopping experience in Brussels was not especially good in comparison to Copenhagen, where there’s such an abundant choice of quality functional products at competitive prices. Nordic brands here are poorly represented – either “cheap” or exceptionally expensive.

I did an MBA and started a job, but last year, commuting back and forth to Paris and not getting much time with my family was driving me nuts, so I quit to start my Nordic venture. I made a long list of products and started by speaking to the suppliers about terms and pricing.

Finding a shop in Brussels near Place du Chatelain was a stroke of luck. The second was having friends in restoration and website development who were available for work. We opened in spring 2018 after eight weeks of hard work. People come in and say “Wow this looks like a living room, but what can I buy?” I love their reaction when I tell them they can buy everything they see.

The webshop is taking off, despite it being a tough market. We are seeing customers shopping online from UK, Germany and France, with less than half our customers in Belgium. One of the problems I’ve found is that e-shopping in Belgium is not as advanced as it is in these countries.

The administrative hurdles of setting up in Belgium also surprised me. A good accountant is an absolute necessity and I found mine through a friend of a friend. When I was told that instead of using software, I had to sit and write what I make in a book every day like they did in the 1950s, I thought it was a joke.

But you can be audited on the spot at any time, and if your book isn’t up to date, there’s a big fine. I have to keep separate books for the online sales and the sale of second-hand vintage items as it’s not the same VAT category. I can see the system being more liable to fraudulent claims than a software system where there’s not much to fiddle with. Luckily, updating each book only takes about 10 minutes a day, but I’d rather be selling a beautiful Nordic object.

This article first appeared in ING Expat Time

Written by Thomas Petersen