'Especially in the Corona era, we realized that you'd better have a lot of work space'.
Breeding couple continues to innovate and follows its own path.
BENS Young Plants is not only a fresh green seed as a new content partner, also owners Bart Bollaart and Susanne Blom (BENS stands for B and S, their initials) are a sparkling, open, and hardworking couple. More than twenty years of experience has put them on the map as propagation specialists. Author: Karlijn Santi Raats
BENS Young Plants in Sappemeer, The Netherlands, specializes in cuttings, grafts and planting material. The assortment consists of Hydrangea, Magnolia, Prunus, but also Photinia, Ilex and Skimmia. The company works with two permanent employees and flexworkers. In 2018, BENS Young Plants was the first company to receive a certificate from auditing party Plant Patrol as proof of neat business operations and royalty administration.
The cutting company examines the latest licenses. Bollaart and Blom present new license types via the trade show floor, social media and their website with contagious enthusiasm. One of the latest releases on Groot Groen Plus 2019, Prunus laurocerasus 'Zsófi' (Sofia) was fully personified in terms of characteristics and appearance as a beautiful lady. That's a conscious choice: human traits and the human size have Bollaart and Blom high priority. Customer contact takes place via personal email addresses and phone, but also by app. Potential customers are stored in a customer contact system, introductions are followed up immediately, and with approval, customers receive a monthly newsletter. Annually Blom visits all customers. Blom says: 'At these moments I can evaluate the previous year with the customer. And at the same time discuss their needs for the coming year. Throughout the year we also try to be as close to the customer as possible. When we have an order ready, I sometimes send a photo of it to the customer with the text 'Coming!'. We also hang a card on the cart with our logo and the text: 'Hello, we're young and small, don't put us outside right away'. I saw a fellow cartoon company hanging a card of ours on their bulletin board. That's very nice to see'. Bollaart nods: 'We notice that good personal contact brings us to the front of the queue for repeat orders. Customers think of us first before they look around'.
A few years ago, the trade journal Bollaart and Blom spoke after they had made considerable progress in the field of logistics and housing in 2017: they had added a 1000 m2 foil greenhouse and a 1500 m2 shade hall, laid a new cultivation floor with a closed drainage system, and put the workspace and canteen in a considerably larger format. Within the construction team Bollaart and Blom themselves played a major role. In addition, the entrepreneurial team had automated an Urbinati tray filling machine with water street and stacking unit, and a CC trolley shower with fertilizer unit. The entrepreneurial couple is progressive, but not reckless. Although Bollaart and Blom are constantly sold out and have financial planning under control with their advisor, they prefer not to invest with borrowed capital. That does not alter the fact that both continue to set goals for their company. Bollaart: 'We are constantly thinking about further work efficiency. Particularly during the Corona era, we realized that it's better to have a lot of work space, in order to be able to work remotely from each other. We have plans for the future, but it's still too early to tell about them.
Growth, also in Corona time
Since its foundation, the company has faced many challenges, including the loss of one hectare of mother plants in 2011-2012 due to extreme temperature changes during that winter. After years of gazing on the gas, BENS Young Plants has been firmly on the map for quite some time now, is professionalizing, and is showing a healthy, steady growth. The commitment to growth and work efficiency in 2017 was therefore a necessary next step. Bollaart: 'We have grown mainly in terms of volume; the numbers have increased. Not so much because certain varieties are being purchased more (Blom briefly hooks up with 'Hydrangea cannot be contracted'), but because the variety has increased. More and more varieties are added'. Blom: 'This increase is an enrichment for the assortment. Licensed varieties are more and more beautiful, more compact, have more flowers on the bush, a firmer stem and contain more color'. Even in the Corona crisis things have gone wrong. It even went very well,' says Blom. In April, May and June we had our entire average annual turnover. Because people stayed at home and worked, they started working massively in their garden. That had a direct effect on our sales in the Netherlands and in Europe. At the very beginning of the crisis, in February, a Portuguese customer canceled. At that time, we held on to our hearts for a moment to see how the crisis would turn out for us. We wondered whether our products would still be allowed to cross the border. Fortunately, the borders for trade have never been closed. We haven't had any more cancellations. In fact, the Portuguese customer came back. Unfortunately for this customer, I had already resold the lot at the time.
In the coming years Bollaart and Blom want to switch to organic as much as possible. Pest control in the area of Sciarid Fly and larvae is already done with predatory beetles and nematodes respectively. Bacillus thuringiensis is used against caterpillars. Bollaart brews its own compost tea to make its crop strong in the fight against diseases and fungi. We source the ingredients for the compost tea from BioSolutions,' he says. We started this year and we like it so much that we want to buy more organic products there in the future. The trade magazine asks whether Bollaart and Blom have turned to competing colleagues for organic fertilization. Bollaart shakes its head fervently. I never look at what other propagators or growers do, or have. We have to look at our own possibilities'. Blom adds: 'We have always followed our own path in everything we did. That has been the best way so far'.
Bollaart and Blom are sober and modest, but the story between the two propagators is actually quite romantic: Bollaart was the first to leave north to try his luck as an entrepreneur. Blom came to work for him part time and after a few years the spark spread. Since then they have formed a strong entrepreneurial couple that knows how to distinguish business from private life. Bollaart and Blom laugh: 'We are stuck together. Certainly now, because we have recently become general partners. There is no turning back!