PSL Europe took on a new alignment after buying out the parent company in 2015. The product philosophy of the company has remained: Electronic gadgets that distinguish themselves from the masses through their design, functionality and quality.
The stylish showroom that places the designer products in the right light, has remained exactly the same, after all PSL Europe has been located in Zoetermeer, near The Hague since it was founded in the year 2000. However, the electronic specialist has only been a “real” Dutch company for just under two years: Namely, in 2015 Arthur Strijbos and Martijn Verwaal took over PSL Europe per management buy-out from the Chinese holding company, the Sweda Group. “We were looking for a new approach for the European market – with local stock and printing and with a focused product line-up,” commented Strijbos, the company’s CEO. PSL has its roots in Hong Kong, which is where the former parent company, the Sweda Group, which was founded by Paul So in 1978 and which predominantly specialised in watches for many years, was based. In the light of the declining demand and a slump in the watch market at the end of the 1990s, the company began to expand its portfolio with electronic items – PSL was born and quickly grew into a well-known European player in the following years. From the very beginning, the company placed its bets on products that were not only self-designed, but which were also produced in the Far East under their own direction and fell back on the network of the parent group for this purpose. The product innovations that PSL has made a name for itself with over the course of the years advanced into bestsellers – above all the USB People, small characters which concealed USB storage media inside. “We sold more than 1 mil. of them alone in the first year,” reported General Manager Verwaal. But also ideas like the Slap on Watch, the Nurse Watch or the USB Chain pepped up the market for electronic gadgets. PSL Europe realigned itself in the course of the MBO in 2015. At the beginning of 2016, Erik Jan Schimmel became a further shareholder – and thus a veteran in the industry: For example, at the Dutch importers KCF, Schimmel was significantly involved in the merger between the companies KCF, ITD and Impex Electronics into Mid Ocean Brands in the year 2000 and subsequently took on the position of CEO at Mid Ocean until 2005, before joining Li&Fung and then taking over several positions outside of the industry. “In joining PSL Europe, I am returning to the promotional products market,” stated Schimmel, “whereby the structure of the company in its capacity as a flexible specialist is what especially attracted me.”
PSL Europe has reduced its product portfolio down to the current around 180 items, as Verwaal explained: “In the last years the line-up had been expanded for instance to include household products such as cutlery. We have taken all items that have nothing to do with electronics out of our product line-up and are thus concentrating on our brands essence again: High-quality, functional gadgets with a sophisticated design. Here, we can boast diverse novelties, such as the loudspeaker Frank from the ‘Mr O’ collection by the famous designer, Rodrigo Otazu.“ Furthermore, PSL Europe recently entered two sales partnerships: On the one hand, the company is representing the brand Princess Luggage (suitcases and travel accessories) on the European B2B market. And as of July 1, 2017 PSL Europe has been selling the products of BrandCharger – including articles of the famous brand Skross – and acts as the European back-office of the Hong Kong company in the Netherlands. In return, BrandCharger is operating as a strategic partner for product development, as Strijbos explained: “After the management buyout we no longer had any access to several supporting departments that belonged to our former parent company. We have found a partner in BrandCharger, who can help us operationally with their back-office in the Far East – i.e. with the logistics and quality control, and moreover, who can collaborate with us in the product development area. This step enables us to maintain our focus on unique, own designed items. We have positioned ourselves strongly in the area of custom-made design – for instance we can deliver individually designed power banks for orders of just 100 pieces upwards. Incidentally, almost all products are made at production sites that are Smeta 4-Pillar audited.“ At the beginning of 2017, PSL Europe was able to win over the promotional products distributor and manufacturer, Elasto, as a further strategic partner for logistics and customising. Hence, the products are no longer stored and individualised in the Far East, but instead at the company premises of Elasto in Bavaria. Schimmel: “Thanks to our partnerships we are now not only more flexible and much faster than before, we can also offer better prices, because the parent company’s margin has fallen away.“ The sales team that makes up part of the headcount of 20 employees in total located in Zoetermeter has also been restructured. The majority of the customers from the European promotional products trade are served from here. PSL Europe maintains own offices in France and Spain and has sales partners in Poland and the United Kingdom. “Our export share is around 80%,” explained Verwaal. “Apart from the Netherlands our most important markets are Germany, France, Spain and Italy.” Strijbos added: “After the necessary restructuring last year we are now optimally aligned to really take off even more in Europe.”
// Till Barth
photos: Till Barth, © WA Media (1); PSL Europe (2)