When Japanese clothes retail giant Uniqlo opened its doors to the public in the heart of the city last August, it marked a major win for the retailer but also the beginning of a challenging period for those involved in establishing the new store.
“When we started looking at Sweden, we didn’t have any stores in the Nordic region,” recalls Tomokazu Yokoyama, head of store development at Uniqlo.
“We realized there are many cultural similarities between Japan and Sweden and when I visited Stockholm for the first time, I felt that our clothes would be a perfect match for Swedes. For us, however, the location of our stores is very, very important. Invest Stockholm helped us find the best possible place, right in the middle of the city – the beautiful building helped us make up our minds.”
From helping companies scout locations to navigating the regulations, connecting them with key contacts, bankers and local government officials, and advising on “softer” aspects of what makes a workplace tick, Invest Stockholm advisers “hold their clients’ hands” throughout the entire process, all free of charge.
The reasons for firms wanting to move to the Stockholm region are many, but generally from the employers’ point of view they tend to be market or competence driven, according to Negar Sabaghzadeh, Business Development Manager at Invest Stockholm.
“Many of our clients want a plug-and-play process, a quick and easy establishment, and they realise that compared to other European cities that’s what they get here as it’s a simple process to set up and the business culture is very straightforward,” she tells The Local. “Companies have thriving markets and access to great talent, especially in tech and IT, while for employees, openness and equality are benefits we hear again and again. It’s just a great society.”
Negar adds that Invest Stockholm’s service doesn’t stop once the company has established in the city. The agency is also committed to helping the company grow following the move. This can include putting clients in direct contact with a local network of service providers such as law firms, accounting firms, and helping them with work permits and bank accounts.
“We also have some great guides covering everything from A to Z, describing the processes, rules and regulations, all free of charge,” says Negar, whose organization covers not only the capital, but, with its partnership with Stockholm Business Alliance, a total of 55 municipalities, stretching as far as Gävle, Linkoping and Västerås.
Understanding local work culture
Like Uniqlo, expanding into Stockholm also seemed like a natural choice for the world's largest flexible workspace provider, WeWork, which opened its new workspace in Malmskillnadsgatan in early June. According to Northern Europe General Manager Wybo Wijnbergen, the clear sense of vibrancy and openness of the people were major contributory factors in the move.
“It’s an incredibly exciting city to be in. It’s amazing to see so many tech companies here and how internationally they scale. With the 485 buildings we have globally we can also help Swedish companies to land easily in all kinds of other cities and countries as well, so we hope this will turn out to be a mutually beneficial arrangement for us,” he says.
For Wijnbergen, beyond the practical nuts and bolts of setting things up, the advisers at Invest Stockholm were an invaluable resource with advice on many of the less obvious issues that actually mean a lot in such a people-led line of business.
“For us, it’s very important to understand local work culture and traditions, so getting that information directly about things like fika, jantelagen and lagom are really important considerations. Although we’re a global company, our spaces and design need to be very local. We have to understand traditions and the ways people interact with each other and this differs by city and country.”
As the vast majority of Uniqlo’s staff is local, for Tomokazu Yokoyama the focus was more on securing the right network he needed to establish the business once the location for the new store had been secured.
“When I first visited, I had no contacts, no network – the only networks I had were Invest Stockholm and Business Sweden. They told me about how and where to hire employees, introduced me to city authorities and external agencies, and provided me with all the necessary information, so what they did was really find me a network and not just a location for the store,” he says.
‘Great opportunity to build a social life’
All sides are also keen to press home the point that it’s a two-way street when it comes to foreign companies moving into the city though.
“What I love is that Stockholm’s a very connected city and one that’s easy to commute into. Swedes are all more or less fluent in English, so as an international person working here, there’s a great opportunity to build a social life,” says WeWork’s Wijnbergen. “We noticed very early on how eager and easy Swedes are to connect with. They’re generally very open and curious, especially when it comes to new work concepts, so it was a great fit,” he adds.
It’s little wonder then that Uniqlo and WeWork are both so enthusiastic about their moves into Stockholm. In the latter’s case, over 85 percent of its new workspace was already subscribed by the time of its launch, which is a testament not only to how strong the market is, but also how easy the process was from day one.
“When you’re opening in a new city or country, it ultimately comes down to local connections, understanding what’s important in the local culture and building relationships,” says Wybo Wijnbergen. “With the help of everyone involved, this has been one of the best examples we’ve experienced of how to open in a new market.”