Its name reflects the aim: The industry association PPP (Platform Promotional Products) is the network and organ of the Dutch industry, it enjoys a representative large membership and is very active. In an interview with eppi magazine, the Chairman, Edwin Bouman, provided insights into the association’s work and into the business in the Netherlands.
Mr. Bouman, what volumes are we talking about when it comes down to the Dutch promotional products market?
Edwin Bouman: As is the case all over Europe, this question is difficult to answer. A few years ago the PPP had a survey carried out, which estimated the overall turnover to be between 1 and 1.5 billion Euros. Although such surveys cost a lot of money, the cognitions gained have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Because it is hardly possible to delimit our industry from others – when does one start being a promotional products company and when is it no longer one? There is an immense grey area with huge turnovers that are hardly assignable. The PPP currently has around 250 members – a third of whom are suppliers, the rest are distributors. I guess that we could grow by a further 100 members mid-term. I have a list with around 500 companies that according to their profiles would fit in with our association. However, many suppliers have more than double the amount of customers in their databases – why? Because they also supply printing companies, copy shops, office wholesalers and other resellers, who are not strictly speaking promotional products distributors, but who among others also trade with promotional products. Furthermore, in terms of the users, large volumes of products that are implemented as promotional products are bought outside of our industry, i.e. from the coupon service providers, who are very significant in this country. The business with the Christmas gift boxes, which the Dutch companies buy for their customers and employees at the end of the year, also forms a “parallel industry”, which turns over hundreds of millions and which we incidentally have our own committee for within the PPP, not without good reason.
So, one could at least agree that compared to its surface area and number of inhabitants, the Netherlands has a particularly vibrant promotional products industry?
Edwin Bouman: Absolutely. There is a close network of distributors and it is no coincidence that the largest companies of the European promotional industry are based in the Netherlands or were at least founded there. The trading mentality has a long and successful tradition in this country. We are the “Chinese of Europe”, always looking for better conditions and new opportunities and always striving to improve. Not to forget the fact that most of us speak several languages. Numerous corporations and thus also good customers have their headquarters in the Netherlands, industries such as the food, telecommunications and health care sectors as well as the temporary employment industry regularly and diligently buy our products. Add to that a highly developed logistics network and infrastructure – we are a country of short routes, almost like a big city.
How would you describe the business climate in the Netherlands?
Edwin Bouman: The communication channels have short routes too – there is more and more open exchange between colleagues, as well as between fellow competitors. We talk to each other, are transparent and uncomplicated. Flat hierarchies exist between the companies – sometimes perhaps even too flat. Everyone is at eye level and on first name terms, which is not always opportune. The relationships between the suppliers and the distributors are mutually good. The industry is highly networked. The Leveranciersdagen in Utrecht, which is jointly organised by the PPP and the publishing company, Het Portaal, is the annual meeting point for everyone and this is enhanced by the further exchange within the association.
The Netherlands is one of the EU countries that was affected by the economic crisis long-term. What is the economic situation like in the meantime?
Edwin Bouman: We had difficult years from about 2009 to 2014, since then we have been experiencing a constant upturn. The media talks about strong growth, however personally I think the positive trend is fragile. One has become more cautious as a result of the crisis years, the companies need more “fat for the meat”, to coin a Dutch phrase. There is definitely more scope for further growth – our biggest competitors are not the other promotional products distributors and suppliers, but indeed the other advertising disciplines.
What standing does haptic advertising have within the Dutch marketing world?
Edwin Bouman: It is getting better, but there is still room for improvement. I own a promotional products agency myself and sometimes I use a simple calculation to underline the power of our medium to potential customers: If one assumes that a ballpoint pen goes through seven hands on average, with 1,000 pens one can reach 7,000 contacts – what’s more at a comparably low budget. Many customers ask me in astonishment whether I am joking. We have to keep on communicating these advantages, and this is where the association comes into play: Together we can help the market grow further.
What does the PPP do in this respect?
Edwin Bouman: For example, recently we developed a print and video campaign – the protagonist is a cap that has dozens of touchpoints. This campaign is available to our members and to the members of the BAPP (Belgian Association for Promotional Products) with whom we uphold an active exchange, as a tool kit. Fortunately, numerous members have taken advantage of this opportunity of industry PR. The lobby work in support of the industry is closely linked to PR for haptic advertising and here the PPP also has a good network – for instance we are a member of the Dutch environmental association as well as of MKB-Nederland, the Dutch association for small and mediumsized companies. Nevertheless, we are too small and have to grow – especially with a view to the risks from the outside, such as the self-regulation within certain industries or the pitfalls of the product safety law. That is why I am a strong advocate of a European umbrella association and I place great hopes in the current efforts to launch a new pan-European organisation. It is one of the many reasons why we have the former chairman Joop van Veelen, together with Andre Noordwijk, representative for the PPP, working on the proposed new European association EPMO.
Which further activities of PPP do you consider to be particularly important?
Edwin Bouman: First of all, there is our academy, which primarily targets newcomers, but also experienced industry members. There is no official apprenticeship for our business, but people who want to operate professionally on the market, need a great deal of industry-specific knowledge. We convey this know-how in five modules, each of which covers either one or several themes: Products & materials, graphics/printing, law/CSR, logistics and sales. Additionally, we offer strategy sessions and master classes. Fortunately, this tailor-made further training offer is meeting with good acceptance. Furthermore, we were one of the first European associations to develop a CSR programme for its members. Every member company has to sign our code of conduct. It is also possible for the companies to be certified by an independent testing institute at two further stricter levels. Under our own direction, we further developed the CSR programme that was initiated, but never completed by the EPPA (European Promotional Products Association) for the PPP. So, we now have an updated certification process. Last, but not least we have a helpdesk, which the members can consult at any time if they have industry-specific questions or need a contact person, i.e. for legal issues, etc. These are our most important activities, but there are many others.
Finally, let’s take a look beyond the border: What are your recommendations for companies that want to do business in the Netherlands?
Edwin Bouman: Be open and develop a good strategy – that is the most important thing. Bring a good product and a good story with you, place your bets on niche or strong brands and forget me-too products, because we already have more than enough of those. Offer a good service and a good margin for everyone and consider taking part in the Leveranciersdagen in September. But above all: Make sure you have done your sums properly before you invest, because you will be dealing with traders par excellence.
That sounds like a challenge.
Edwin Bouman: Yes, but those who do their homework, are dynamic and ready for new impulses have good chances. Since we are definitely always interested in innovative products and services and are always prepared to try out something new – if it is lucrative for both parties. Even if the Netherlands is a market with many strong players and a highly competitive environment: As I already mentioned, our biggest rivals are not us ourselves, but actually the other advertising disciplines.
// Till Barth spoke to Edwin Bouman.