Corné van Willigen surprised friend and foe a year and a half ago by closing not only the physical store of Hi-Fi Corner, but also the webshop. 'I really should have done that a year earlier,' he says now. 'Then we would have been even further ahead with Butterstreet 21.'
If there is one thing Corné Van Willigen has learned from the last few years, it is: make decisions faster. Getting rid of a plan earlier if it doesn't work, making timely adjustments if necessary, going all the way for a good idea earlier. Something like that. 'With Hi-Fi Corner, it had been dragging and pulling for a while. But the longer you wait with the decision to quit, the more arguments you find to keep going anyway.'
Logically, it's not easy. Hi-Fi Corner is a family business that existed for almost forty years. You don't just say goodbye to that. Father René made the company (the physical store in Groningen) big, son Corné led the ship to an online revenue model. It brought success and awards. And yet three years ago it was finished.
Easy, lucrative, fun
Cutthroat competition on the Internet made it almost impossible for a small player to make any money. 'The margins became so small that every mistake we made on an order meant an immediate loss on that product.' During a trip to San Diego, he saw the light. A tycoon in the online business said: your business should be easy, lucrative and fun. 'I had to conclude that with us it was no longer any of three.'
Corné van Willigen made the painful decision to close the company's real and virtual doors. 'But we still occasionally get mail from agencies and banks and such. You don't want to know how much hassle it is to stop a business. You can write out whatever you want, but you're obviously never really gone.'
Going bankrupt is essentially easier, so is an outside acquisition. Those two options were not seriously considered. Corné, who owned 95 percent of the shares, had quite a few conversations with takeover candidates. 'The condition was always that I would retain an active role. And that, I had already decided, I really didn't want. In my mind, I had already said goodbye.'
We want to become the Netflix of e-commerce. That means good quality visuals, everything you need to give your business a real swing.
That head was already more in Boteringestraat, at number 21 to be exact. The business that sprung up there seven years ago to support the online operations of Hi-Fi Corner promises much more, he knew. 'I get so much energy from working full time with that business that I soon knew I had made a good decision. A little too late perhaps, though.'
Butterstreet 21 builds e-commerce shops primarily in niche markets. 'We are particularly fond of special techniques. Specific software for the systems on the back end, or for the platform underneath. Not to use a nice gadget, but purely to improve e-commerce. The website is not an end, but a means.'
What is special about the company is that it not only builds but also advises. 'We have a lot of experience and knowledge in both. Many clients want both. Then we sit around the table to figure out how to improve the online business and build the tool to achieve that. But it also happens that we only tell how it could be done, or, on the contrary, only implement what has been thought up by the client.'
Those are services that Van Willigen was diligently looking for at the time to optimize Hi-Fi Corner's Web store. 'I just couldn't find what I needed, exactly that combination of services and knowledge we needed. So I put the right people together myself and started Butterstreet.'
In the beginning, Hi-Fi Corner was the only customer, but that quickly changed, as the concept caught on in the market. 'We were growing fast, by double digits every year.' He did it on the side, a few hours a week. And now he's been focusing his full attention on it for a while. 'I found that quite exciting when I had decided to say goodbye to Hi-Fi Corner: will Butterstreet be successful enough? After all, it's all about bringing in new customers all the time.'
Well. Meanwhile, he put many hours of his time into a cool spinoff of Butterstreet. Last November was the kick off of it. 'TurnTheCorner.me we have now called it.' It's about a community for e-commerce. 'And especially the people who are not very familiar with it yet, with the great opportunities. Think online training, discussions, courses, showcases.'
Corné van Willigen thinks big. 'We want to become the Netflix of e-commerce. That means good quality footage, everything you need to give your business a real swing. You can buy courses separately or take out a subscription and see it all.' He is convinced there is a need for that. 'During the kick off, 550 entrepreneurs were already watching. That says a lot.'
He shifts gears quickly. 'This project is one of those things where you don't have to think too long. Make a choice and throttle it. Make a decision and get behind it. Since I've gotten better at that, the easy, lucrative and especially the fun came back arrow-quick.'