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Moving in the Baltic

Feb 11, 2017
An interview with Aivars Usans of FF International Movers

It was back in 1993 that Aivars Usans joined a freight forwarding company in Riga, Latvia. Aivars became a senior manager with the company and, at the age of just 24, accepted an offer to transfer to Rotterdam where he stayed for over two years. But Aivars really wanted to run his own company so, when he’d had enough of Rotterdam life, he returned to Riga to work on his venture FF International Moving (FF meaning Fast Forward).

The company joined FEDEMAC as a direct affiliate in 2003 and later Aivars joined the FEDEMAC Board and served as its president from 2012-2015.

FF International Moving was something of a novelty in Riga at the time. “Nobody knew about the moving business,” said Aivars. “How was I to promote the service if nobody knows what it is?” In fact the only real business there at the time was moving foreigners hence the ‘International’ in the name. That was the only business available.”

The domestic business in Riga was very unprofessional. People would move furniture without protecting it in any way. “That was the way people wanted it done,” he said. “We refused to do it. We even turned down a contract with the Latvian Bank because we thought it was too dangerous to the image of our company.”

But things have changed in Latvia now. Today the industry is more mature and is growing. FF has grown too: it now has 18 people and five vehicles. It’s still a small company by world standards, but it’s a leader in its marketplace.

The company recently joined PAIMA. Aivars believes that PAIMA will be good to help him develop the business. “We wanted to expand and PAIMA has the right type of agents for us,” said Aivars. “We are also right for PAIMA members as we are filling up their blank spots by covering Baltic countries. There is very little traffic controlled from Latvia so we need good connections. Good agents with good reputations. We have to go a long way to get a customer that’s next door to us.”

He also said that he doesn’t have a need for recognized quality standards. “I prove to my customers every day the quality of my work,” he said. Indeed FF International has worked for the national airline for 15 years and recently brought six branches of the national library together, moving four million items over eight months. So he must be doing quite a few things right.

Aivars’ company already provides a service throughout the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia from Riga, but the medium-term plan is to open FF offices in Tallinn and Vilnius to provide a local service from the three bases.

What are the threats? What could stop the plan being successful? Well, Aivars knows that he is operating in a politically unpredictable part of the world. “Look back in history,” he said. “We have belonged to so many countries over the years. We would be more secure if we could rely on today’s government decisions and taxes not to change so unpredictably. It is quite a challenge to run a business in such a changing world.”

FF International is a leader in its market, provides a wide range of services including fine art moving and storage, and has recently become a sales agent for MultiTrolly and Sofrapack. Not only is the company not short of business, it’s not short of ideas either.

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