The Netherlands are the location of Europe’s largest promotional products supplier, PF Concept International. The company has undergone a total reorganisation over the past years – and now aims to take on a leading position in the field of market development thanks to visionary projects.
When Ralf Oster took up the position of CEO at PF Concept International in 2012, he had set himself the no lesser task of completely restructuring Europe’s largest promotional products supplier. The marketing was centralised, the sales team reorganised, new employees were hired. The line-up was divided up into four product worlds: Bullet offers products in the low-price segment, Avenue high-quality business gifts among others of brands such as Parker, Thule or Jamie Oliver, Label comprises of a complete promotional textile range and WorldSource covers the area of special designs. And with the uncompromising expansion of PF Logo Express in Poland, the company has created a guarantee for fast availability and comprehensive customising services that additionally offers innovative embellishing techniques on a regular basis. Now, five years later, Oster looks down on a consolidated company – with further big plans for the future. “We walk the talk,” is how Oster sums up the development of the past years: “Step for step, we have implemented the strategy that we had developed for PF Concept, and have grown faster, more reliable and more efficient from year to year as a result.” According to own accounts, the supplier that is based in Roelofarendsveen – located between The Hague and Amsterdam – records two-digit growth rates in the most important segments such as decoration or hard goods. 350,000 deliveries have left the warehouse in Poland – the majority of which were completely customised. The standard production time was two days, more than 99% of the orders were delivered punctually. However, this is no reason to lean back and take it easy. Oster and his management team have set themselves the task of forcing two major theme areas for the coming months: Digitalisation and sustainability. Of course, the company has been addressing these themes for some time already, but now they are coming under the focus of the company’s management and are being pushed with priority.
“In the course of our market observations we have noticed that more and more online distributors are operating on the promotional products market. And we have seen with which lean and efficient structures they have developed their business. As suppliers, we were to an extent forced to change our strategy to be able to accommodate their demands. And we thought about how we can learn from them,” explained Pieter Boonekamp, Vice President Sales. The digitalisation is having an effect on all areas of the company – i.e. the complete presentation of the line-up on the website. “Our products never go directly to the users – but our product information does,” stated Boonekamp. Part of the work of the online team in Roelofarendsveen involves technically linking up internet traders European-wide with the systems of PF Concept, so that they can offer the items of the importers on their own platforms in a smooth process. “Online distributors need high efficiency. That forces us to think differently – and for example create descriptions for all 10,000 of our products that the users can understand as well. The very technical, often extremely concise information for the distributors doesn’t mean a lot to the end user, he wants a shopping experience that he is familiar with from the B2C area.“ With its readiness to achieve a complete digital transformation, the company sees itself as a pioneer in the promotional products industry and intends to invest significantly in this area over the coming years. “This development is being demanded by the customer. As a supplier it will be a problem if you miss the boat here,” said Oster. At the same time he emphasises: “We will keep our eyes on our trading partners that tend to operate in a more traditional way, for instance focusing more on a personal service via telephones, catalogues and trade fairs.” For the coming year, the CEO is going to focus on sales tools that are to provide ideal services for both his traditional customers and the onliners.
The second major theme that is currently moving PF Concept is “sustainability”. “We have ascertained that through the year-long sourcing in the Far East our processes and systems are aligned in a very sustainable manner, but we haven’t particularly communicated this so far,” explained Oster. We are going to change this now: The brochure Serious about Sustainability that gives an overview of PF Concept’s comprehensive sustainability activities will appear in August. In random order further issues are to follow that highlight the individual activities in detail. “It isn’t our intention behind the initiative to maintain that everything is already perfect at PF Concept – corporate-wide sustainability is a much too complex theme for that. But we do want to demonstrate that we are taking it very seriously and will continually address the theme – far beyond certifying products as mere window dressing,” explained Boonekamp. The project is also of high importance to the parent company of PF Concept, the American Polyconcept Group: There the experiences made in Europe serve as best practice examples. The American investment group under the direction of Charlesbank Capital Partners, who took on the role of an investor in the Polyconcept group in 2016, confirmed that PF Concept has done exemplary work in the field of sustaianbility. Obviously Oster and his team have taken the right course in many respects: Proudly, the CEO points out that the Dutch subsidiary is currently the “best performing business unit“ of the Polyconcept Group. The eyes of the European promotional products industry will no doubt continue to be set on Roelofarendsveen.
// Brit München
photos: Till Barth, © WA Media (2); PF Concept (2)