Arnoud van der Knaap, owner of Kwekerij De Noordpoel, can of course only talk about his work for the Members’ Council in his column. The strategy committee and the sustainability management team to which he is involved in. Or about how he views the future of the cooperative. But he likes to add a personal touch, and let the person behind the Member’s Council member emerge a little more.

OK, I hear you thinking. For a column of the Members’ Council that might be a bit strange. But I will explain why. I think the connection between members is extremely important. As a member of the Members’ Council, I am the cement between the members on one side and the company (management and supervisory board) on the other. That is why I would like to tell you a bit more about myself.

Let me start with another surprising revelation. I am not a grower. At least, not in the traditional sense of the word. Let me be even more blunt: I didn't even want to be a grower when I was younger (otherwise I would have continued my father's nursery). But now I am very happy that I ended up in this beautiful business. At our nursery in De Kwakel, I have plenty of people with green fingers. I am more the one who runs the nursery. And I've been doing that for about 25 years with a lot of pleasure (although, with all the hassle that comes my way as an entrepreneur, I also regularly curse it).

Opposites in the company

What characterises our company is the daily hectic trading. We grow a very wide range of visually attractive perennials, in various pot sizes, and large bedding plants. We sell mainly to the exporters based at Royal FloraHolland, to garden centres and cash & carry. Preferably everything directly, via FloraXchange and Floriday. The clock is our least favourite sales channel. That has always been the case. Even though I think that the clock, especially for cut flowers, is still a very important sales channel. We are, in the first instance, not there for the bulk, but we focus on fine-meshed sales. Our company is located next to Royal FloraHolland Aalsmeer (did you know that Aalsmeer-Zuid is actually in De Kwakel?), so we are able to deliver quickly and several times a day.

When I was struck by corona quite soon after the start of the pandemic, my wife Marloes came back into the business. By now, we are increasingly running the nursery together. And yes, sometimes it is tough. Especially in the high season, you're always on each other's back. And then we are also opposites. But that is perhaps what makes us so strong as partners - in business and in life. Together we are now also working out plans for our future nursery at a new location (close to De Kwakel).

Constructively critical

And as a member of the Members’ Council? During the time of the Florinee petition, I regularly had serious conflicts with other Members of the Member’s Council and in particular with the Management and Supervisory Boards. I dare say I am one of the most critical members of the council. It is important for the Members’ Council to be and remain critical of what happens within Royal FloraHolland, without taking the place of the management. As a grower-entrepreneur, you are used to turning the knobs yourself and to changing gear quickly when necessary. That is why our signal function as the Members’ Council is so important and necessary; input from fellow growers is essential for this.

I also have four (lovely) children between the ages of 14 and 22, Aaron, Tristan, Isabella and Julia, who need attention from time to time in their own way. The eldest is a teacher, number two has just graduated (HBO Nursing). Are there any successors? Let them go their own way first, if they like it they can always work in the nursery. Our boys still work at the nursery outside of school. Football is my sport. On Sundays, I have been playing in a team of friends at KDO for years. We also have two season tickets for Ajax and of course we visit all the CL matches. The Kwakel fair at the beginning of September and the accompanying parade (which has since been declared a National Cultural Heritage Site): my weeks are actually pretty full. Yet I still find enough time to dedicate myself as a member of the Members’ Council. Because I think it is important. Not for myself, or for my company, but for us. As a collective of growers. With my efforts, I want to contribute to our cooperative still existing in ten, twenty and a hundred years' time.

Many changes

A lot will be needed to achieve this. Unfortunately, our cooperative's current earning model has been at a loss for years. With declining clock volumes due to an increase in direct flows, the (logistical) income has fallen sharply. The differences between the members have widened in recent years; our cooperative has many growers with a relatively low turnover. The larger growers (whether or not through consolidation with fellow growers) account for most of Royal FloraHolland's turnover. Both groups have different interests and wishes; the one size fits all membership is no longer sufficient. Both types of growers are important for the cooperative. Royal FloraHolland is unique; together with all our fellow growers, we can bundle an enormously wide range of beautiful, sustainably produced products. Floriday, our own platform that has been the subject of much debate, must be developed further and become more user-friendly for both growers and buyers.

Many changes that should lead to a healthy earnings model for RFH, with more added value for our members (as opposed to non-members). The Strategy Committee (and Members' Council) set to work on this. Quite a challenge, I can tell you. But a great challenge to which I am happy to contribute.

Let us hear from you

Critical members, who give resistance when necessary. Opening their eyes to other possibilities and solutions. I think our cooperative can only benefit from that. I myself usually seek out critical members in my region personally if they have any ideas. Maybe I can do something. And such signals give me valuable input.

I would like to end this column with an appeal. Sign up en masse for the members' sessions and other meetings of our cooperative. If only for the contact with fellow entrepreneurs. You hear from each other how your business is doing, what each of you is up against and how someone else is solving it. Energy prices are a hot topic right now, of course. In addition, it is extremely important to make your voice heard. You are a member of this club, don't you want to be part of it? Enter into dialogue with each other, with the Members' Council and with the Royal FloraHolland company. Come up with signals, tell us what is bothering you. Talk to each other in a constructive manner. Don't just shout, but also actively participate. We desperately need each other to shape the future of our cooperative in the right way.

The Members’ Council regularly publishes a column in which a topic is discussed that concerns a member of the Members’ Council, but also observations and developments are discussed. This time, Member’s Council member Arnoud van der Knaap, member since 2018. Arnoud is the owner of Kwekerij De Noordpoel in De Kwakel.

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