is de Amazon of plants. On an average day, its 500 employees process 28,000 orders from more than 11 countries. CEO Paul Geraeds explains how, 70 years after it was founded, this fully family-owned company is able to achieve a turnover of 125 million euros.

‘We have two distribution sites in the Netherlands. In De Zilk, the plants are assembled, as it were. This is a procedure that resembles pre-packaging. A pot of herbs, for example, is made up out of several plants. These are gathered together here, pout in a single pot, and subsequently sent to our headquarters in Lisse, from where they are shipped to the customer.’

‘You could consider us a green version of Amazon, or its Dutch variant This green distinction is very important, because our added value lies in our knowledge of how to treat plants and the packaging methods they need. One third of our turnover is still generated by the sale of flower bulbs. Every tulip bulb we sell is put through an X-ray device to ensure that it is properly developed. We store our bulbs in eleven climate zones, in which the temperature, air circulation and humidity are precisely identical to that in the bulb’s country of origin.’

Is that really necessary? At Schiphol airport those bulbs are simply displayed in the racks.
What happens there and in other stores is terrible and is contrary to how the Netherlands should be promoted. As a branch of industry, we should oppose this. At Bakker, quality is our key priority; we aim to deliver the freshest and most attractive plants possible. This isn’t only due to the customer satisfaction aspect; delivering good products is a matter of pride to us.’

‘Planning is also more difficult when you are selling living plants: which colour will be coming into fashion next? When we are putting together our range of flower bulbs we make convenient use of the Keukenhof park and permanent flower exhibition, where we maintain a big bed of flowers with a huge diversity of varieties and colours. All we have to do is find out which colour combinations people like best.’

How do you do that? Do you conduct market research?
‘No, it’s even easier than that. Once this season is over, we analyse all the images on Facebook and see which flowers or flowerbeds were photographed most often. We then base our new collection on this information.’

Once this season is over, we analyse all the images on Facebook and see which flowers or flowerbeds were photographed most often.

‘It was not until after the Second World War that we really started up our export activities. The Netherlands was devastated at the time, and we received many goods from the United States and Canada. Our founder, Piet Bakker, responded smartly to this by thanking our benefactors overseas with gift packages of flower bulbs.’

So, Piet Bakker was actually a green version of Freddy Heineken?
‘Yes and no. The company doesn’t so much owe its commercial success to advertising but, in addition to a focus on providing high-quality merchandise, to database marketing. In 1953 we were already working with index cards, sorted according to customer details and purchasing behaviour. Piet Bakker was one of the first people to understand the value of an address.’

‘This is the core competency we used to build up our international market position. We put together a catalogue twice a year, which is then distributed among our target group. These are the customer addresses we know, but in order to expand our database we also establish affiliations with other post order companies. Their customer base is then analysed by postal code and whether or not these prospective customers have a garden. The primary segmentation criterion is that they make frequent use of remote purchasing, while the secondary criterion is, of course, that they actually have a garden. We also advertise in international gardening magazines, from which we aim to generate leads to our products. Not only in print, but also on television. In the Netherlands, for example, we sponsor ‘Rob’s Grote Tuinverbouwing’, a popular garden remodelling TV programme.’

‘To put it briefly, our initial strategy was to look for customers. Our current strategy is all about being found.’

‘To put it briefly, our initial strategy was to look for customers. Our current strategy is all about being found. This can be brought into connection with my appointment as the CEO of this company in 2014. My prior work experience was in the leisure business, where I learned to use all the possibilities that the Internet offered Center Parcs. We understood that the post order model was not infinite; it is partly because of this that I was appointed to start using this as soon as possible.’

‘The first thing we did was to build a completely new website that was adapted to the requirements of our modern age. To be honest, it’s even ahead of its time. You are probably familiar with the function that when you click on a product, a list appears at the bottom of the page saying ‘these products could also be interesting to you’. We make use of this function as well, but the preferences are different in every country. Previously, we had to adjust the settings ourselves, but the products to be shown are now automatically selected for every region through artificial intelligence. An automatic optimization of the web shop!’

‘It is our intention that the webshop will ultimately replace our catalogue, or to a considerable extent. Our commercial policy is therefore also directed at being found instead of finding. We do this by delivering good content and publishing this in such a way that it is immediately found when somebody searches for something related to our products on the Internet. Our e-commerce marketeers know exactly which advertisements should be show in every country triggered by which query.’

‘In addition to search advertising, search engine optimization is very important: how will people find you in the search results without advertising? There are several methods available for this, but the most important of all is content. The more relevant content is offered on your website the higher your ranking will be and therefore your chances of being found. In this, content is the most important criterion. We have, for example, created a number of short videos with pruning instructions or demonstrating the best way to get rid of snails, in addition to 800 articles full of gardening tips and inspiration.’

‘I also find it extremely interesting to see how old economics and modern new economics come together. In our search for more and more content, we are grateful for the knowledge of Jacques Bakker (one of the two sons currently leading the company), who has designed a comprehensive gardening course containing 24 lessons. This is an ideal vehicle to help you move up in the search rankings and we are now busily engaged in digitizing content.’

‘It’s clear that the turnover we are generating through online sales is growing much faster than the initial post order sales. In this, I am referring to fat double digit figures.’

‘It’s clear that the turnover we are generating through online sales is growing much faster than the initial post order sales. In this, I am referring to fat double digit figures. Of course, we have a large organization, and a number of jobs that are out-of-the-ordinary compared to the average gardening company. We employ seven database marketeers and 12 e-commerce experts, and have our own DTP department to handle all our communication.’

‘We currently deliver our products to 19 European countries. In 11 of these, we have our own service center for customer support. Only 7% of our turnover is generated in the Netherlands. In a country as small as this, the nearest gardening center is only 15 minutes away, but in France or Norway you might have to drive for half an hour or even 40 minutes. The convenience of having products delivered to your doorstep is only increasing.’

Don’t your customers find it strange when they order a product from an Italian branch and receive a package sent from the Netherlands?
‘Yes, of course, they can tell on the packaging that their product comes from the Netherlands. But if there is anything that we are not ashamed of it is our Dutch roots. To the contrary, what could be better for a green company to be established at the very heart of the bulb region, with Keukenhof within flying distance?’

Flying distance?
‘Yes, in order to emphasize our unique location we put together a short video showing a drone leaving from Keukenhof and landing on our company premises, all of which takes less than one minute.’

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