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Sari Ricciardella: The hard times of a business failure and bouncing back again

 Sari Ricciardella

The hard times of a business failure and bouncing back again

By Lida Cena

 We commonly hear endless pages of successful business stories, but business people rarely share their stories of failure. Sari feels compelled to share her story with us, her tough times decisions made and how her business went from being successful to recently collapsing. She was the only woman among male friends who had to “grow ‘balls’, learn to drink and become ‘one of the guys’”. Her company, OVH Cart, started when she was of a young age and required a lot of sacrifice. In this interview, Sari shares her deeply heartfelt story of the hard times of her business failure and what drove that. The experiences of the difficult times often go beyond finances; they rather affect the personal aspects of identity and self-worth. This is one of the rare stories that business people prefer not to talk about, but Sari has bravely chosen to open up about how it feels to experience a business failure, a self-evaluation process of what it means, seeing the doors close on one venture and thinking ahead to opening those of another. Sari gives a strong message to those who may find themselves in similar situations and how to get through the roller-coaster entrepreneurial journey.


What was your business?

I bought my company OVH Cart in 2002. Almost everyone has been using my products as the company was selling shopping trolleys or shopping carts, depending how you want to call them. I was 27 years old when I started, I had six employees, only one of them was a woman and most of my clients were men. And of course, I was the youngest among all. I had to grow “balls”, learn to drink and become “one of the guys”. Those balls cost me one marriage but that is a different story. My company didn’t manufacture anything and we imported most of our products from abroad. It was a successful business and made a good profit for several years.

What happened that changed the situation?

Three years ago, in June 2014, our biggest supplier, a French shopping trolley manufacturer, got into trouble. Suddenly they stopped deliveries for three months and there were no guarantees what would happen after that. I spent months running around Europe, searching for compensatory products for our clients. Our sales dropped 40% and for the first time in the company’s history we were in red figures. My first mistake was that I hadn’t prepared the company for that at all. All of a sudden, we were out of cash and I had to call my bank. The bank director looked at the figures and at me and told me that they can no longer help me but maybe I should consider to pay back to the company some money that I had taken from it the previous years. Well yes, I had taken big shares but I also had a huge mortgage to take care of after my divorce. I hadn’t saved anything in my drawers or socks. I had to turn towards a private investment group and I took a loan from there with really high interest. I was over optimistic and signed a paper to pay it back in a few years. Ever since then the company was struggling! The French manufacturer restarted after four months, we managed to gain back the trust of our clients, our sales were increasing and little by little we started to be profitable again. But that loan was there with the high interest to pay so I was stressed, and made another mistake by losing the focus.

What do you think are the reasons that led to the bankruptcy?

My mistakes! I can’t blame anybody else even though I have said that the Finnish tax office can’t think and my bank director is an idiot. That’s not the truth! I should have prepared the company for the bad days and I should have contacted the bank right away when our supplier stopped deliveries. And many other mistakes as well. But there is even a bigger reason and it hurts to admit it: I lost the flame with this company. When I started the search for the compensatory products, I delegated my works to my incredible staff and handled the rest from my laptop from home and hotels. I felt that I wasn’t needed anymore and started to look for something else to do.

When this stressful time started, I began to use nutrition supplements. Those helped me to sleep and gave me the energy to push forward. When I started, I swore that I will never sell nor tell anyone. Well I didn’t need to. When people around me saw my change, they started to ask questions and within six months I was involved in network marketing even though I hadn’t planned that all. My down line grew fast and kept on asking me questions that I didn’t know the answers to. So I started to study and became a certificated nutrition coach. I got more and more interested, studied functional nutrition, became a Mental Weight Control Coach and LCF Life Coach. I studied NLP and hired myself a mentor. I got interested in The Success Principles of Jack Canfield and went to his luxury retreat to Italy and did his TTT (Train the trainer) online program. I spent time with the Passion Test Creator Janet Attwood, learnt personally from her and became a Self-Love facilitator from her new program. My employees kept on asking me to be more present. They thought that I had joined a cult. My clients didn’t understand me at all and the bank director started to be desperate. But I loved what I was doing! I felt that I had found my passion, I was finally able to help others and I believed that my staff was doing fine without me.

How did you feel about this situation and what kept you moving?

I had been shopping trolley woman for fifteen years. I was one hundred percent sure that I would be the owner of that company still for years to come. Even when I got the first warning from the tax office that would mean bankruptcy I believed that I could save the company. My staff was like a second family to me, I trusted them and they trusted me. But then, despite of all my efforts, my company went officially into bankruptcy at the beginning of November 2017. I tried everything to avoid that! Since the first signs appeared, I started and asked for help from all the people I knew and also from people I didn’t know. I contacted banks and financing companies, I travelled abroad to meet possible investors, I prayed. I tried everything I was able to think of.

My biggest worry was my staff. I felt so bad letting them down. In the last month I became an even more pathetic boss as I didn’t have the courage or the power to confront them and their questions. 

My biggest worry was my staff. I felt so bad letting them down. In the last month I became an even more pathetic boss as I didn’t have the courage or the power to confront them and their questions. I had always tried to be fair to them and now I should have lied as I didn’t know even myself what was going to happen. After that came my family, my own future. I had always been a bit of a control freak and suddenly I didn’t have any idea what the future would bring. I still don’t know for sure if we can keep our home, my car, where I can get money for the bills etc. All my credit cards were closed right after the bankruptcy, the phone operator hasn’t managed to decide if they dare to reopen my phone number again, my e-mail address got deleted, I am no longer creditworthy and that affects even simple things like Spotify membership and an Apple store account.

There have been times when all of these things have made me close to collapse. I have been crying without any control, nose running and sobbing just that I can’t do this anymore. I have felt like alone in a dark tunnel without any idea how to get out. But I am fortunate to have my children around and a large network of friends and people to support me. I have wanted to protect my kids from this, so I have been acting strong in front of them. I have been able to share my emotions and thoughts with other entrepreneurs and people who have experienced similar things. That has helped me to keep on moving .

Have you lost any relations during this period? How were they before and after?

Of course I have! I lost my second family, my staff. I understand that they are angry and they need someone to blame. It is all normal and I can take that blame as it belongs to me. They are not aware of all the details that led to this situation but it doesn’t matter. They have the right for their thoughts and feelings even though I hope that one day they could maybe forgive me. Let’s see.


What have you learned during this period?

For a while I thought that my only learning was that I am not good enough. I felt so bad for not having been in control and managing the situation that I really thought that I should just pack my rucksack and start to walk and vanish somewhere. Luckily I didn’t. I have learned that life goes on, that as long as you are alive, you have the opportunity to choose. That even when you feel like in an endless dark tunnel, all alone and no light anywhere, you can find your way out. I have learned that you can always ask. I have three younger siblings and I was the big sister, responsible and taking care of others. I have been a single mother of three children and after my second divorce, for five children. I know how to mount a washing machine and how to drill a hole on a stone wall. I have spent most of my life doing things by myself. Asking was so scary at the beginning but I survived. I have learned that you should follow your passion and be brave enough to jump outside your comfort zone when you feel like that. You may think that you are taking care of things just by doing that with one hand but that is not your case. If you want to be successful in something, you need to focus on it and put your energy on it. Listen to others!

The most important thing – I have learnt to forgive. This is something that I have never really managed to do well. I have even said it out loud several times that I have a memory of an elephant, I can forgive but I can’t forget. Well what kind of forgiveness is that? Not forgiving things means that you keep on carrying those memories with you and let them harm you and affect you time after time. What is the advantage you get from doing that? None! So now I have been really concentrating on forgiving. I take my past as teachings and I keep on learning.

How are you overcoming this challenge. Who is supporting you?

I am lucky to have many friends and a big network of like-minded people around me. My parents and siblings were at first angry and blaming. They were worried and that was their way to show it. With the time passing they have understood that this is only material and the most important thing is that we are all alive and healthy. But I still find it easier to share my thoughts with people who are entrepreneurs too. Those people are not scared of talking about big amounts of money and big risks. I have got many new friends from the retreats and events that I have during last years. Most of them have faced some challenges themselves and they haven’t lost their faith. Talking with them have been really useful.

There is also a cultural difference as in Finland being a bankrupt makes you a “second class” citizen as you lose your credit and you are left with all the debts. Luckily in many countries it is not like that. In some countries a bankrupt is almost a must if you want to succeed and that is most likely the reason that helped me to forget the shame.

There is a saying – You either win or learn. I have decided that I learn.

What is your message to other businesswomen who may be undergoing a similar situation?

Never give up! It may feel like the end of the world but there are always new doors to open, new paths to take, always hope. Cry when you feel like crying and talk with your friends and share your thoughts. Have a rest and allow you to have all the feelings that you need to feel but don’t get stuck on them! If you are feeling lonely, don’t stay alone. If your friends and people around you don’t know a way to support you, go and find someone who knows. Talking and sharing help.

I wrote myself a long post on my Facebook page, made the situation clear to everyone to avoid gossiping and rumors. But as a result, I got back so many kind messages from my friends that it actually felt like a huge relief. Remember always that you are enough and it all happens for a reason. You acted according your best knowledge in each situation and that is more than enough. You did you best so let go of the guilt and blaming.


What is happening at the moment with your business plans?

From where should I start? So many plans that I can hardly wait to make them come true! One morning my husband got up and told me that he had been searching for a job all night long. That he believes that he could go and work in a warehouse for the night shifts and bring home some money like that. The thing is that my husband is running already one business and I asked him how he would be able to work nights and days. His company is new and it isn’t making any money yet but demands a lot of work. I also asked him, if he really thinks that working in the warehouse would bring enough money to keep our house, feed our kids (three still living at home) and actually help the situation. I told him, that now it is time to think big, time to think like an entrepreneur, time to think how we can make his company more profitable fast, or if we should even find another company for him. And that is what we are doing now. I haven’t had a salary since mid-October, there are loads of unpaid bills and we need to get money FAST. So his new company took over one distribution contract from my former company. I know the product, clients and market, and I will help him to start that.

On my side, I believe I got a final kick towards coaching and speaking. Two years ago, I said out loud that I want to sell my trolley company and start to do coaching and speaking full-time. Unfortunately I got scared, felt too safe in my comfort zone and wasn’t ready for the jump. Now I got kicked into it! I have founded a new company, Knock Out Your Limits, and my goal is to share my stories and tell people how I have learnt to forgive myself and others, how I have got out of shame and guilt and how I have managed to get up when I have felt that there is no meaning in my life anymore. I would also like to teach how to balance body, mind and soul to reach goals and to achieve success in different areas of life. My big passion is to teach people how they can smile more and feel good!

There is also a cultural difference as in Finland being a bankrupt makes you a “second class” citizen as you lose your credit and you are left with all the debts. Luckily in many countries it is not like that. In some countries a bankrupt is almost a must if you want to succeed and that is most likely the reason that helped me to forget the shame.

I have started to offer one-to-one coaching both live and on skype. Way too many people are desperate and feeling lost with themselves. I want to share my experiences and knowledge with them. I am planning to also do one and two days workshops for women about self-love and self-esteem. Plus, I am working hard to create wellness retreats around the world. Last June I met an inspiring woman, Grace, during a retreat in Italy. We have both been successful in our careers but also met big challenges that have put us down for a while. We have both managed to get back up and smile again. We have decided to work together and empower women globally. Our first retreat will be held in Bali and hopefully in January 2018.

My own experience is that the best way to learn is once you are out of your home and your daily routines. When you are grouped with like-minded people and you can share your thoughts in a safe surrounding. A weekend seminar brings you too fast back home to cook and among people who don’t have any idea why you are so excited about the things you have learnt. So we want to offer women a safe and luxurious place where they are listened and can concentrate on themselves. We want to share how to best take care of your body, mind and soul. How important it is to take care of yourself first and to love yourself.

What inspired you to overcome the challenges you faced with your company?

My dear husband is the bravest man in the world. He wanted to marry me and proposed to me eight years ago, even though I was a single mum of five children, living in Finland, over 3500 km from the beautiful village where he was living in Switzerland, and he was the only child to his strong-willed mother. This brave man was pulling me up from the floor several times during this challenge. He kept repeating to me, that we can get over this together and told me to stay positive. Thanks to him, I remembered our children even during the darkest moments. Thanks to him, I remembered what I had learnt during the last years about forgiving and self-love.

I no longer hate myself. I know that I was acting to my best knowledge along the way. I have forgiven myself and others and I am no longer blaming anyone. I know that my life is in my own hands. I can choose how I want to feel and what I want to make out of it – and I want to make a lot.

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