Every year, Smit Kwekerijen from Sappemeer supplies some 15 million plants. They do so throughout Europe, including to large companies such as IKEA and Intratuin. Smit has a good name in the ornamental plant market, is a valuable employer in Groningen and recovered strongly after a stagnant flow. What is the secret of their entrepreneurship? Managing director Kees Pingen sums it up succinctly: "We know our strength and focus the organization on that as best we can."
That passion alone is insufficient to keep a business running smoothly is evidenced by the story of Smit Nurseries. Owner Obed Smit is a 'plant hunter' at heart, with a great talent for finding, breeding and cultivating plants. Under his wings, the nursery - which he took over from his uncle - experienced considerable growth. Until development stagnated and business slowed down. Smit realized that turning passion into a healthy business is a skill in itself and sought an experienced partner for strategic management.
Surprised by culture
Kees Pingen, as general manager, confidently accepted the challenge at the family business. "A quality product always offers opportunities, but firm choices were needed and a different set-up of the organization." The Badhoevedorp-born entrepreneur remembers well that he was pleasantly surprised by the corporate culture at Smit. "The high degree of commitment and loyalty remained intact even when the assortment, locations and personnel were reorganized. I haven't experienced that anywhere else like here in the North. The work attitude was benevolent, but rather expectant. By shifting people around and encouraging personal development, new energy is flowing into the organization." Smit Nurseries went from eight locations down to four. That hurt for a while. But after six months the reorganization was complete and growth slowly returned.
Proving things right
Implementing internal changes takes time, while the pressure was quite high after several lean years. Investments were needed for such things as greenhouse maintenance; there was catching up to do. "Funding was a struggle. It is difficult because a bank is all about trust in your business. We had to prove that now, unlike in the past, we are doing well. It is partly thanks to NOM that we were able to stay afloat during that period," Pingen says. "NOM has always been involved in our business operations, they are also co-owners and present at the consultations with the Supervisory Board."
We had to prove to financiers that we are doing well now
Setting the trend
The nursery is back in an upward spiral. With rediscovered passion and strategy, growth continues. There are now six locations again and some 250 people working there. Pingen is using that flow to continue building an independent position. "I want to do more than just move with the market at home and abroad. As a forerunner in knowledge of plants and cultivation, Smit Kwekerijen can also exert its own influence. Because we mainly supply large customers, name recognition among consumers is less important. Our main concern is the popularity of certain types of plants, such as the hype surrounding the pancake plant in our assortment. Green is hot again in home styling and we benefit from this even more when - together with partners - we create certain plant trends ourselves."