“The customer is always our focal point”
When Wim Dijk launched his agricultural business at the age of 19, he was determined to become the largest flower dryer in the north of the Netherlands. Having reached his goal within a few years, he then aimed to become the prime supplier of natural materials in the Netherlands. Wim is now embarking on fulfilling his latest dream: together with Mentha Capital taking the internationalization of Dijk Natural Collections to the next level.
From production to trade
In 1989, having completed my vocational education at agricultural college and gained work experience in floriculture, I wanted to follow in my family’s footsteps and own all kinds of agriculture-related businesses. When a flower drying company needed an increased supply of flowers, I invested in huge flower fields. However, in the late 80’s, the dried flowers craze had already passed its peak and during our second year the flower drying company, our sole customer, went bankrupt. As a last resort, we decided to set up a drying company ourselves and sell the dried flowers directly to florists and garden centers in the area. We noticed immediately that this trade was much more lucrative than the production itself.
At that time we learned to listen very carefully to the customer. When our client told us he needed accessories like pine cones, cinnamon sticks and dried orange slices, we responded immediately. We bought dried-fruit cutting machines and freight loads of fruit. On Saturdays and during the holidays students helped us to produce dried fruit slices. We bought exotic flowers to dry from China, India and Africa. The assortment expanded and the company grew steadily, partly because of our contacts with some importers from Germany.
After 10 years of operation, we presented ourselves for the first time at an international trade show which revealed that the market for our products was much bigger than we had initially thought. We gained ground in neighboring countries and traveled to China and India to purchase products. In early 2000 we developed our company by focusing on importership. Wholesalers were no longer our competitors, and now became our customers. Our annual growth reached tens of percents and some years we even doubled our sales. In 2011 we searched for a location to expand our business. Together with the municipality of Coevorden, we conceived a plan to first buy small plots of land to build on and to purchase the rest in the following years. Since 2015, our offices, warehouses and showrooms have been located “under one roof.” This makes for much more efficient operations than we had in the past when five warehouses were spread across the region. We now achieve much higher sales with the same number of people.
From entrepreneur to manager
By 2013 it had become clear to me and my wife that our entrepreneurial roles had gradually shifted to those of a manager. We were at the office a lot, experienced stress and drifted away from the work we enjoyed, such as sourcing and product development. Given the levels of sales and profitability at the time, we wondered whether there might be parties interested in participating in our business, and taking over our managerial responsibilities. We talked to our sales consultant and nine interested parties. In the end it wasn’t the highest bid that we went for, it was the one that gave us the best feeling. With Mentha Capital it was paramount that they really shared their thoughts on the future direction of the company and the completion of my work. They liked the fact that I would remain involved and focus on what I am really good at – after all, sourcing products in distant countries is quite difficult.
The first interview with Renee, Gijs and Edo from Mentha Capital went very smoothly. I’ve always done everything on instinct, and I still do. The feeling was a good one and I am now firmly focused on the future. I’m convinced that together we will build an even better company. The right chemistry and favorable terms are critical. What I had imagined has now come true − I set my own agenda and concentrate on sourcing.
From trend follower to trendsetter
Our company has been so successful because we are extremely focused on the customer and the customer feels valued. This is best illustrated by most of our customers being willing to come to our showroom in Coevorden twice a year. In the past, this was not common. About 15 years ago, we enjoyed great success because we responded to our clients’ needs. At that time we were purely a trend follower and did not introduce new products onto the market ourselves. Now the reverse is true. If after consulting the sales and procurement team we believe in something, it will become our focus for the coming year. Previously I decided everything myself. When I was stubborn and proceeded to take a course of action which others opposed, it often proved to be a failure. At my first sourcing trip to China, I bought a whole container with happy fruits, plastic apples, pears and bananas with smiley faces on. Unfortunately, these were a little too revolutionary and proved unsellable.
Our present assortment is a mix of all kinds of natural products made of wood, glass and metal. Everything our customers perceive is one piece of nature. Our collection entirely differs from those of our competitors with its unique way of purchasing and product development. We do not buy everything in India and China like others do. We visit countries where we have direct contacts with suppliers. We visit a local market in a new country, and if we come across beautiful products, we go deeper into the jungle to find the supplier − usually cooperatives of family-run farms. This way, the local population benefits the most. In Indonesia for example, the roots of felled trees are still in the ground at many teak plantations. To plant new teak these roots should first be grubbed up. We make bowls and other teak items from the roots.
We distinguish ourselves in design and styling. We have extremely good product developers. They accompany us to the factories and design the most original products on the spot. Approximately 80% of our collections are our own design. The remaining 20% are bought at fairs. These items are modified so that they have their own style.
The most important lesson I’ve learned is that a business can last a long time when it offers something that makes people happy and focuses its gaze outwards. There is no doubt that teaming up with Mentha Capital further strengthens our outward focus − the customer is always our focal point.