A turnover of around 100 mil. Euros and almost 300 employees turn the Gemaco Group into one of the largest promotional products agencies in Europe. With ten subsidiaries in Europe, America and Asia, Gemaco offers global full-service for the planning, procurement and distribution of promotional products – including the holistic management and control of supply chains and processes.
“Actual products are often not discussed initially in many bidding rounds, briefings and allocation negotiations – these don’t take on a concrete form until later on. The priority lies – at least in the case of major, multinational customers – on processes, fulfilment and CSR,” reported Alex de Geus, CEO of the Gemaco Group. However, processes already formed the core competence of today’s group in the early days: When Olivier Somers – today Executive Chairman of the Gemaco Group – entered the promotional product business in the mid-1990s, he specialised in selling university merchandise to student organisations. “I bought my products from Gemaco – at the time a direct importer and already one of the key players on the Belgian market,” recalled Somers. “I concentrated on the logistics, whilst Gemaco took care of the sourcing. Our strong growth ultimately led to us taking over the company at the end of the century. That meant we were one of the largest promotional products agencies in Belgium, at the end of the millennium decade our turnover had already increased to around 20 mil. Euros.“ What followed, was a fast and extensive expansion beyond the Belgian borders: Thanks to the integration of several local main players, Gemaco became an international group with the structure of a holding company that currently unites around 20 independent companies under one roof. In addition to the headquarters in Belgium, there are nine further subsidiaries in France, Great Britain, Poland, Germany and Switzerland as well as in the Netherlands, where there are actually two branches: Whereas Gemaco takes care of the “regular” business in Breda, Gemaco Sales Promotion in Naarden takes care of the big international customers from the FMCG segment. With subsidiaries in Miami and Mexico City, the Gemaco Group is also represented in America. In addition to that, the group also has sales representatives in Milan, Barcelona and Madrid, an office in Hong Kong as well as a sales office in Shanghai. Gemaco has logistics centres for the distribution of the goods above all in Belgium, the Netherlands and in Switzerland, as well as diverse local logistics solutions in other markets.
In total, an alignment that enables high flexibility and efficiency on both a local and international level: “Global solutions are becoming increasingly more popular,” explained de Geus. “The big, multinationals also want big, multinational partners with the corresponding structures. On the one hand, we are in position to offer transnational solutions, yet at the same time are extremely close to the local markets. In this way, we ensure that our services, solutions and products are tailor-made to meet the needs of the local markets, which in some cases differ greatly.” Somers added, “Of course, we have high buying power thanks to our alignment and not only obtain good prices directly with the producers in the Far East, we can also secure our supplier partners certain volumes.” As far as the customer structure is concerned, the focus clearly lies on big companies – from ABN Amro and AB Inbev, to Coca-Cola and Delhaize, through to Ferrero and Swiss Post. “We are not interested in broad distribution and oneoff projects, but are selectively looking for longterm partnerships,” explained de Geus.
Creative services and CSR
Seven companies are located in the “homeland” Belgium under the roof of the Gemaco Group. These include three subsidiaries, which provide industry-related services and form important pillars in the integral concept of the group: The Springbok agency, a classic and digital advertising agency, takes care of all of the communication and advertising issues for all marketing activities of a company. This includes the interlinking of haptic advertising with classic and digital advertising measures. Unides develops designs and products through to complete custom-made designs and thus ensures that the CI stipulations of the customers are strictly implemented. Finally, Unit is responsible for web development and E-commerce: Websites, shop and fulfilment systems, which span the entire supply chain, are created at the developer studio. “In total, 35 designers and product developers work for the Gemaco group,” said de Geus. “All local companies can fall back on the services of the design and web studio in Mechelen, however they do also employ their own developers. By managing the creative and digital processes ourselves, we not only create added value for the customers, but also control the trouble spots in the areas of production, design and digital logistics.” Control is also the top priority in terms of the sourcing, production and import. Gemaco imports around 60% of its product volume directly and relies on strict controls. “Major customers have huge demands regarding quality and CSR, we can’t afford to make any mistakes, explained de Geus. “14 employees of the group are responsible exclusively for CSR and supply chain management, in China ten employees permanently travel to the manufacturers for quality assurance purposes. We are members of the BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative), Sedex (Supplier Ethical Data Exchange) and Ecovadis, a further employee, who is allowed to carry out BSCI-conform audits, is located in our office in Hong Kong. However, we don’t just carry out audits on our own producers, but in some cases also on the importers, who supply us.” In April 2016, Gemaco was awarded the “Gold Recognition Level” of the rating platform, Ecovadis, for its services in the field of CSR. At the end of the supply chain, the customer ultimately receives a complete package comprising of compliance, controlling and corporate identity as well as the guarantee that even in the case of order volumes in the millions and distribution in dozens of countries, the quality and condition of the goods is always uniform. However, primarily he receives haptic ambassadors that represent his brand as efficiently as possible. Because of course, last, but not least, it is all about the products too.
// Till Barth
A detailed report about the Belgian promotional products market can be found here: Part 1.