When ISIL invaded Falluja in 2004, Nareez Khalifa fled the city with his wife and son and arrived to Erbil without a job or salary. “My brother, who lives in Baghdad, used to send me money so I could pay for the house we rented, but I could not depend on him forever,” said Nareez.
Nareez had to earn a living, so he sold his car and partnered with three friends who were also displaced to start a supermarket. “I chose this business because my father used to own a supermarket in Falluja so I had an idea of what was involved.” The supermarket sold dry goods, meat, and canned foods, including pickles. “We found a big premise but the owner wanted USD 1,100 per month, which we could not afford, so he agreed that instead of paying rent, we would give him half of our profits,” said Nareez.
The business had few customers and the partners started to lose money. They still had to pay for electricity and for a daily employee, and give half their earnings to the owner. “We approached several companies but they were not willing to display their goods in our shop because we did not have many customers,” said Nareez. But the team still wanted to try to make it succeed.
In the course of a community assessment, IOM learned about Nareez and his partners’ project and decided to help them expand their business. “What really helped me and improved my business was the business development service training. I learned more about the meat market, attracting customers, diversifying the merchandise and developing a business plan,” said Nareez.
The team received four business enhancement packages, including show refrigerators, display freezers, an electrical digital scale, a meat mincer and brand new display shelves. The shop looked better and goods were attractively displayed, the supermarket started attracting more customers. “Traders started to come and ask if they could display their goods in our shop. They gave us their stands, which made the shop look better. I also bought air-conditioning units so customers would feel more comfortable in the shop and stay longer,” said Nareez.
The team then opted to change their deal with the shop owner, and pay him rent instead of half of their profit. “Although we now have to pay USD 1,700 per month, we are happy that we are not giving him half of our profit,” said Nareez’s partner.
The supermarket now receives around 250 customers a day. The four partners are earning a living and are saving to expand their business. They were able to pay their debts and are now saving to buy a generator, as paying USD 300 a month for electricity takes away from their profit.
Nareez’s advice for entrepreneurs is to never give up, and to take risks to grow their businesses. “I bought a lot of our equipment in installments and never knew how soon I could pay my debts, but I believed in my business and wanted it to work. We are very grateful for IOM’s support. It was what brought our project to life.”