Enterprise: Red tape a pleasure after guns and bribes.
I t seems that when you're used to facing down the tyranny of the greased palm, perhaps a little bit of red tape isn't such a bad thing.
In fact, one Birmingham-based print specialist has found negotiating through the UK's much maligned small business environment a wonderfully simple experience compared to the vagaries and dangers of running a business in his native Zambia.
It was a second mugging at gun point in his homeland that made up Jitu Bulsara's mind to make a fresh start in England.
'Shots were fired,' the 47-year old says matter-of-factly in his Moor Street shop. 'That's when I thought it's time to pack up and leave. My grandfather started it and I would go there as a child and think I want to follow in my father's footsteps -but in the end the crime rate was so high, guns were all over the place.'
After struggling for years to run a business against the odds, he decided the time had come to run down the third-generation, 50employee, silk-screen printing business that he had joined at the age of 17.
It was not an easy decision. Jitu had loved his work. He loved the physical exertions of scraping giant wooden blocks over silk, squeezing ink into the final image. And he loved the intricacies of hand-cutting images into the stencils, then employing their delicate structures to create huge, vibrant, advertising hoardings. But in the end he did not love it enough to stick with the dangers and frustrations of working in Ndola, Zambia's second city.
'Corruption was everywhere,' he says looking at the queues of people at the bus stop -the decent incorruptible English whose images now pass through his hands. 'You couldn't do anything without bribing someone, it was so frustrating, you couldn't get anything moving without a bribe. Here it is all so straightforward.'
It took Jitu three long years to wind down his old businesses, which also upholstered and made jewellery and copper and silver goods.
'I couldn't sell the business because no one was buying. It was too dangerous, and even if anyone had wanted to buy there weren't enough people around to work. It was very sad after 80 years of service to have to turn customers down.'
Jitu still gets calls from Zambia asking for him to head back and leave behind the Birmingham print shop where he proudly displays, among the frames and price lists, freshly won certificates in photo development.
But he tells them there is little chance of leaving now.
After moving to England with his wife and two children in 2000, he worked selling jewellery in Index and then resumed printing at 3M, while he waited for his long-developed entrepreneurial instincts to bare fruit.
He embarked on trips to franchise shows, and undertook countless hours of research before deciding that opening another McDonald's was not for him. The Kodak franchise was the closest he could find to his old profession.
'I thought it would have the same feel as the graphic design and printing. With printing it was very physical, you had to be very strong, which isn't the same here, but you still need a very good eye for colour. That can take years to hone.'
The break came when he found what he felt was the ideal spot for his new business, A & K Photocity. After looking at sites in Harborne, The Pallasades and New Street, among others, he decided that the Pavilion Central location had the right exposure, facing the renovated Moor Street Station and the shortly to open Bullring. He started trading in October 2002.
'It was quite a financial commitment,' he says. 'And a risk. It's a seasonal business, summer is really the clicking period but we couldn't get it open until the autumn.'
But for Jitu, as long as guns aren't involved, risk-taking is in the blood.
'I do enjoy it, absolutely. It is still too early to say how it will do, we'll be paying off a loan for the machines for the next couple of years and then we'll see how we stand.'
He says he isn't too concerned about the rise of digital photography and the threat of homeprinting, maintaining that domestic material costs are expensive and as detailed on a stack of freshly produced pamphlets -printing at home is frustrating.
'35 mm will be with us for a while,' he adds. 'And you can't do at home what we can do here.'
Jitu does however get to face what can be done in the privacy of one's home. When confronted by the odd bedroom scene, he is willing to print the risque, but that is where he draws the line.
'It's part of the job, you've got to be discrete, but I won't do anything pornographic.'
Hoping that this won't hold him back, he has already hatched plans to expand his empire to a second and perhaps third Birmingham shop and make a return to silk screen printing, initially as a hobby.
But for the moment he is happy dealing with photographs, lightening and darkening each snapshot with a seasoned eye.
'When I get a good negative I think, oh, this is going to be good and I always say to the customer -that was taken well. I'd say that's one of the joys of the job.
'Of course I do miss Zambia sometimes, the lifestyle was more laid-back, but on the whole I don't. I really don't. This my home and I'm here to stay.'
Jitu Bulsara, Director of Kodak Express A&K Photocity in the Pavilions shopping centre
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Feb 11, 2004|
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