Ten years ago Bottle Promotions started off as the B2B branch of the bicycle accessory brand Tacx. Today, the company from Wassenaar in the Netherlands is a well-known name on the promotional products market and supplies customers from all over Europe and beyond with brightly imprinted bicycle bottles “made in Holland“.
There is hardly a cycling fan, who has never come into contact with Tacx products: The company is one of the most well-known manufacturers for virtual reality trainers, which allow people to train cycling anywhere. Furthermore, Tacx is the official equipment provider of numerous professional teams and individual athletes. For example, the drinking bottles of the Dutch company are omnipresent during the Tour de France – hundreds of thousands of Tacx bottles are used during the race every year by the cyclists, supporting teams and as give-aways. However, it took quite a long time for the company to systematically conquer the promotional products market as a new distribution channel: Tacx has been producing professional drinking bottles for around 25 years, but the subsidiary Bottle Promotions wasn’t founded until 2006. “We didn’t have our sights set on the promotional products market for a long time and only started getting involved in this section once we had already made a name for ourselves in the retail sector,” explained Berdine Heilig-de Boer, Sales and Marketing Manager of Bottle Promotions. When the time had actually come, the newly founded unit was able to fall back on the resources of a company that had grown over decades, which has been pursuing the strategy of bundling all production steps under one roof from the word go.
Tacx was founded by Koos Tacx in Wassenaar, the Netherlands in 1957 as a bicycle shop with a workshop. From 1964 onwards, moped exhausts were added to the line-up, which were produced in-house. In 1969, the company expanded for the first time and moved into a bigger building. In 1972, Tacx began manufacturing roller trainers, later sports bottles and matching bottle cages. “The sports bottles not only fit in well with the theme of cycle home trainers, they are also a good enhancement to the portfolio and ensure the production capacities are exploited more efficiently because the sales cycles are different,” explained Heilig-de Boer. “The cycle home trainers are more a winter product and the bottles are more popular in the summer.”
In 1987, the current company premises that spans around 10,000 m2 was opened in the industrial estate of Wassenaar. This is where the production of the cycle home trainers, the sports bottles and the bottle cages takes place and the premises also accommodate offices and a warehouse. The company is still a family business today, which is run in the second generation by Koos and Peter Tacx. “It is a decisive advantage that we have such short routes and flat hierarchies,” Heilig-de Boer said. “This enables us not only to make plans, and operate flexibly, but also to come to very fast decisions. This is especially beneficial for Bottle Promotions, because we frequently need to dispose of production personnel and capacity ad hoc.”
Penetrating the industry
“We had one client outside the cycling branch. They were specialised in promotional items and sold about 250,000 of our bottles on a yearly base,” reported Joy Schoelink from the Bottle Promotions sales team. “Actually after several years, the wholesaler ultimately decided to focus on purchasing goods from the Far East. As it was a lucrative business for us and this company wanted to sell the name ‘Bottle Promotions’, we bought the name and an old computer and booked a stand at the PSI Show for the first time ever in 2006.” “We started off small, because although we were familiar with the main bicycle industry – i.e. the consumer market – we didn’t know the B2B sector and first of all had to gain our orientation.” “One of the first decisions we took was which sales channel we would opt for,” added Heilig-de Boer. “We decided on the promotional products trade, which is up until today the only channel on the promotional products market that Bottle Promotions supplies.” “The promotional products trade is not the fastest, but in the long run the most efficient and most professional way to get a promotional products business up and running, rather than trying to do it alone,” stated Carl Tolido, also a member of the sales team. “The sales via the trade partners form the basis for the expansion of Bottle Promotions, and since being founded the company has grown between 10% and 20% every year. Today, ten years later, we can say: We are a specialist and well-aligned within the industry with customers all over the EU and beyond.”
Everything under one roof
In the meantime, Bottle Promotions accounts for around 15% of the overall turnover of Tacx. 60% of the Tacx bottles are sold via the distributors on the B2B market. The Bottle Promotions team comprises of 15 staff members, in total around 110 employees work in Wassenaar, where all the production steps are carried out. Around 10,000 drink bottles are produced here a day and more than 6 million a year. “We work in three shifts,” explained Heilig-de Boer, “furthermore our machine park is highly automated. For example the insertion of the drinking spout and screwing on the lid is carried out in a fully automated process. In this way we can current assemble around 30,000 bottles a day, soon it will even be 40,000.”
Bottle Promotions permanently stocks around 1 mil. bottles, including all different colours. “We offer 23 standard colours from stock,” explained Schoelink. “For orders of 5,000 pieces upwards we can deliver every Pantone shade, the lids are even available in special colours for lower order volumes.” Promoting companies can compile their desired model fast and simply using the Bottle Creator on the Bottle Promotions website. The line-up currently encompasses five product families – from favourably-priced, simple executions through to models that also fulfil the demands of the professionals. The Shanti model for example has a specially developed membrane cap, which allows the bottle to be opened or closed using one single movement. Whereby the membrane ensures that the contents of the bottle don’t leak, the desired amount of the drink only flows out of the bottle if it is squeezed. Like the model with the non-slip closure Shiva, as an alternative to the standard material polyethylene, the Shanti bottle is also available as an organic version. This contains a special material, which changes the molecular structure of the plastic and promotes its decomposition. “We will be presenting two new products in 2017, one is a bottle with an elongated pull sprout as well as a model with a sieve insert for fruits that comprises of a special plastic with a low carbon footprint,” reported Tolido. “As such we are presenting new models for the first time in several years. Unlike several of our competitors who offer a multitude of different types of bottles, we have consciously kept the number of our models down to an overseeable level. Our quality and customising options are our USPs.”
The printing lies in the hands of our partner company, Bax, a specialist in the imprinting of plastics that is located in Voorhout, just a few kilometres away. Bottle Promotions exclusively implements screen printing, either using CMYK halftone printing methods or as special colours in Pantone shades. “Compared to other printing techniques, the advantage of screen printing is that it is extremely durable,” explained Heilig-de Boer. “We offer a photo-realistic all-round imprint on our bottles, which is on a par with digital prints in terms of its sharpness and quality. The challenge lies in adjusting the CMYK screen to fit the round surface precisely. Here, we achieve results that never fail to impress our customers.“ There is a further warehouse in the building of the printers where 900 palette places are available, the company’s own truck permanently commutes between the two locations. “Thanks to our logistics department and warehouse we succeed in delivering orders of customised goods within one week,” reported Schoelink. “We also try to complete order confirmations and print approvals within 24 hours where possible. “
“Our customers know us and know that we are reliable and try never to say ‘no’,” added Heiligde Boer. “And if there is a problem, we always attempt to solve it so that the next contact is the next order.” A customer policy that evidently proves successful: “Around 40% of our turnover are follow-up orders,” reported Tolido proudly. One step towards even more transparency and professionalism is the imminent Smeta 4- pillar audit. The four-phase version is the strictest phase of the Smeta audits (Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit) of the Sedex initiative (Suppliers Ethical Data Exchange), which in addition to working conditions and safety standards also tests the environmental balance and the business ethics of an enterprise.
“As a Dutch company we automatically fulfil a multitude of the prerequisites demanded by Smeta, nevertheless preparing for the audit still involved a lot of effort on behalf of the employees,” reported Heilig-de Boer. “A lot of changes had to be made and adapted to suit the strict regulations, after all we do work in a sensitive area, because our bottles come into contact with food.“ “A Smeta 4-pillar certification is demanded by a lot of big companies in the meantime and since we already supply several global companies via our trading partners, we have to follow suit here,” added Schoelink. “Since we are naturally striving for more companies of this magnitude to include our bottles in their product ranges.” Besides the service quality and reliability of the Dutch company, the bottles themselves are the best form of advertising with their razorsharp imprints – and here Bottle Promotions is continuing to ensure high visibility far beyond the B2B market: “We will once again in 2017 be supplying the teams of the Tour de France with bottles – each of the eight teams receives around 50,000 pieces,” stated Tolido.
A success that proves that taking the step onto the promotional products market ten years ago was exactly the right thing to do.
// Till Barth
photos: Till Barth, © WA Media (2); Bottle Promotions (2)