Board of directors column: There is now a truly different Royal FloraHolland

December 22, 2021
Royal FloraHolland
In this series of columns, we give the floor to the directors and managers of Royal FloraHolland. This time, CEO Steven van Schilfgaarde looks back on the past year. "We have really changed over the past year, both in terms of content and our approach."
The last working week of the year is a good time to look back at the past twelve months. Exactly one year ago, the Netherlands was, like now, in lockdown. Now, too, we are well prepared. Flower sales remain steady and fortunately, in the countries around us, the shops are still open. 2021 was an eventful year in many ways. I am very happy with where we are now as a cooperative and as a company - and that is really different from a year ago. This year we achieved an absolute record turnover and are in an excellent position.

Disappointing

However, this joy was rather rudely disrupted earlier this week by the disappointing articles in the Financieele Dagblad. Apparently, a number of people within our sector feel the need to deliberately damage our cooperative. That is more than disappointing: I find it downright bad. Out of their own commercial interest, some people misrepresent the facts, make a completely misplaced comparison with the Greenery, the VGB complains about not being allowed to help decide on rates and the initiators of FloriNee try to score points after all.

The 'news' about the roses clock was not whispered to the journalist by the initiators, but in the wrong context by a buyer. We are also accused of monopolistic behaviour for the umpteenth time, while the ACM has clearly established after investigation that this is not the case at all. Royal FloraHolland is thus deliberately placed in a negative light. It is incomprehensible to me that the FD then fails to let the many members who do support the policy have their say. The editor also failed to call us for a reaction before the piece was written. The response we eventually did give is only fragmented and partially included. That too is disappointing. Our full response to the FD is included at the bottom of this column.

Rapid developments in the market

In the past year, we have really changed, both in content and in our approach. This is very clear in three different aspects. It applies to where we stand in terms of digitalisation, it is visible in our dialogue with growers, buyers and other stakeholders and our role as a service provider has also changed. Everything is happening at a pace that we can just about manage. In response to the rapid developments in the market. That is the reason for the change. We are doing this to sustainably strengthen our position as a cooperative. Apparently, not everyone is happy with that, but fortunately the vast majority is.

I think everyone in the sector now realises that digitalisation is not only unavoidable, but also offers many opportunities. Our sector is already much more digital than we thought possible a few years ago. At the beginning of this year, we said we would do it together. In dialogue with growers, buyers and software suppliers. This approach, with a jointly developed roadmap, is bearing fruit. The results are impressive. The turnover of direct trade through Floriday exceeds one billion euros. There are more than four thousand users each week from more than 45 countries. There are already more than 1700 growers with a shop on Floriday, making Floriday the largest digital B2B shopping street in Europe. This year we have made great strides in data security. More than ever, that is a basic condition for trust in digital business.

Intensive and structured dialogue

What is also different is how we have structured our consultation with our growers, buyers and other stakeholders. Never in the history of our cooperative has there been such an intensive and structured dialogue between RFH and stakeholders as in the past year. I am thinking of the meetings with the committees of the Council of Members. In particular, I would like to mention the support teams and leading teams who think along on important programmes, such as Floriday and One Auction. I have really experienced that with the major changes we are facing as a sector, dialogue is crucial. This fits in perfectly with the cooperative we want to be. In doing so, I consciously choose to lose some momentum in order to gain support. Speed is necessary to be able to respond adequately to the rapid market developments. This is in the interest of the collective. It is always about finding the right balance. We recently reached good working agreements with the VGB, based on the individual customer-supplier relationship. New is the arrival of three customer platforms, specifically aimed at the needs of different segments. There is excellent cooperation with the trade on issues such as sustainability. Dialogue also means that you do not always agree with each other. But it is important that you keep talking to each other and are open to each other's opinions. We need each other. Only together can we strengthen the position of the Netherlands as the hub of the horticultural industry.

As a sector, we have had to deal in recent years with digitalisation, consolidation, growth of retail and direct, internationalisation and sustainability. These were also the dominant trends this year. Our strategy of Order-Pay-Deliver stems from our response to those global trends. We are changing to maintain our international position as a sector and to strengthen it wherever possible. RFH is no longer an institution as in the past, but a service provider that facilitates growers and their buyers with a broad range of services that fit their business model. The launch of Floriway is a milestone in this respect. In this way, we are strengthening the Netherlands as the hub of the horticultural industry.

More attractive membership

We are financially healthy, we are writing black figures this year, and we can therefore invest in our future. We must do this because our strategic challenge and the importance of developing new revenue models remain as great as ever. We have been able to take major steps this year. For example, we have fully harmonised purchasing on the clock at our export locations with image auctioning and number printing. We invest heavily in Floriday and New Logistics. And with Aalsmeer-Oost we can meet the great demand for space from our customers. It enables us to strengthen the market place and organise it efficiently. A fortnight ago, our cooperative celebrated its 110th anniversary. There are not many companies or organisations that last that long. We should cherish that. That is why we are also looking closely at membership. We are going to make membership more attractive than being a leader. Or the reverse: we are going to make it more attractive for captains to become members. Because members are the core of our cooperative.

Finally, I would like to wish everyone happy holidays and a healthy 2022.

Steven van Schilfgaarde

Response to Financieele Dagblad

Contrary to what some people claim in the article, Royal FloraHolland is currently in an excellent position. The facts are as follows. The turnover on RFH’s marketplace will amply exceed 5 billion this year. This represents hundreds of millions more than the previous turnover record. This year, direct trade turnover via Floriday has accounted for more than 1 billion. More than 1700 growers already have a “shop” on Floriday which makes this platform the biggest digital B2B shopping street in Europe. There is by no means an exodus of growers and buyers. The number of cancellations, as per 1 January next, only amounts to several dozen out of a total of 3800 members, and the majority of them are due to business succession or business termination. Internationally, the number of members and buyers is growing. At the present time, RFH is going through the transition that was in the air for a number of years. A transition that is necessary to ensure a robust future of the Dutch Floriculture sector and is welcomed by the majority of our members. Wherever digitalisation takes place, you will increasingly see other parties arise and try to benefit from that development by means of their own initiatives. Never in our history has there been such a structured and intensive dialogue as in this past period. Pleasing everyone, all of the time, is however impossible. Members who are leaving or decide to use alternative settlement platforms are choosing not to uphold the cooperative spirit. For example, they do not contribute to the collective promotion by the Flower Council of Holland (BBH), for which RFH handles the collection of the levy. Instead of putting one’s own interest first, it was collaboration and solidarity that ensured the worldwide success of the Dutch Floriculture sector.

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