"The trick is never to sit back."
"If you can't beat them, join them..." Surviving among the big internet giants sometimes requires you to surrender a little bit of your “principles.” Not that Sander Berendsen has handed SB Supply over to the lions. "Although we use the platforms of Bol and Amazon, for example, we remain exclusive on the online market, with our own brand. According to Berendsen, the designation “starter” can be removed from SB Supply: “The company has matured and the game we play has become more serious. That is different from the beginning when everything was new. The trick now is to find a continuous way to keep growing. Because as an entrepreneur, you always want more..."
SB Supply Europe BV is located in the IQONIC incubator of Tilburg University. “It's great that we can use the university's facilities,” says Sander Berendsen. “At the time, they helped us on our way, through Starterslift - the predecessor of Braventure (the start-up program of Tilburg University, among others) - with housing, among other things. Thanks to them, we are now in a new, large building. Now with about 10 employees. But the 'starting' phase is over. The business is on. For example, investors have joined. ''
From the start, Berendsen kept in touch with some members of the community. "It's fun and inspiring to still see each other. We started in the same life phase and all of us as starters have had our own experiences and have built our own qualities. We still regularly serve as each other’s sounding boards. Sometimes here, but also in the pub. That's how we keep the community alive."
The road to more stability
Over the years, a lot has changed according to Berendsen: "Of course, I have grown a bit older. But the company is also in a different phase. Initially, it was still a lot of trial and error, but now we have a steady business. In the beginning, some things went wrong, but at a certain point you enter into calmer waters, a business case arises, and you start making a profit. We are now much more in that process. With other questions: what should we focus on, for example. On which KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). In other words, how do we ensure that we are doing well from a business point of view. Purchasing, sales, marketing costs, what do we spend on personnel? For this, we have actually expressed everything in measurable statistics. Four years ago, we also used analysis software, but now my daily routine is really based on our KPIs—and there are dozens of them. That could be gross margin, the number of returns, returns per brand, per category..."
When asked whether Berendsen—so far—has achieved what he wanted with SB Supply, he is clear: "Sure! Especially if you look at where we are now." Yet again, he looks ahead: "And that, I think, is inherent to entrepreneurship. You want more and more. More turnover, growth... And you have to, because as your business grows, so do the profits. After all, you have to have a certain equity in your company to keep everything valid. Money in itself is not a goal, but it is a means for further growth. And you also want to improve. Compare it to an athlete, who is never satisfied with the result. You should never sit back."
Growth through acquisitions
In 2019, Berendsen stepped into “a new adventure”: "We then took over baby shop Von Va Voom. That shop went bankrupt and I was looking for further diversification. It may be a completely different product, but it is an online product, and online, we know how to sell products. The same processes play a role here. And it was a specialist as well, namely in baby slings.
I have confidence in those niches. That has not changed at all compared to five years ago. Then we wanted to be experts and we still do. So it's not like we're going to be a shop where you can buy anything. Von Va Voom will really become a separate part of the company. However, that part does use the same logistics network, the same economies of scale, and the same purchasing organization. ”
Three years earlier, in 2016, Mobile Mango was acquired. That competitor came up for sale. In addition to more business, it provided SB Supply with new insights: "It really was the same kind of company. However, after we acquired it, it took a while for it to become successful. At first, I thought I could integrate the systems immediately and add up the conversions. But, as an entrepreneur, especially in the beginning, you also spend a lot of time on changes. Processes were fundamentally different. For example, they did drop shipping. We were less interested in that.
According to Berendsen Mogile Mango was very good in cooperating with other platforms: "We soon noticed that e-commerce these days is something you can't work without. And I mean, for example, Bol.com in the Netherlands, Cdiscount in France, and Amazon of course. I always thought: I'm not going to work with a competitor. Why should I? But with the takeover of Mobile Mango, we saw its possibilities and started to focus on it. Nowadays, we are well represented on these trading platforms.
So in the end, we chose not to say 'That's the enemy', but we started to work together where we can and optimize trade, where we can optimize it'.
The growth of SB Supply is reflected by the company's presence in various European markets. According to Sander Berendsen, this has always been the intention, but in recent years, it has gained more ground: "It has been good that we have sought this internationalization. The Netherlands is only a relatively small part of our turnover. Abroad has become a much larger share. In addition to the Netherlands, we are now also active in Belgium, Germany, Austria, France, a part of the United Kingdom, and Spain and Italy. We do not work in Spain, Italy, and the UK with our own shops yet, but we are active through Amazon's partner network".
That name again... Amazon
"You can't get around it," says Berendsen. "Amazon has pockets of money, not comparable to anyone else. Of course, Bol.com was taken over by Ahold a couple of years ago. They gave it full throttle then... Full speed on the platforming. That was also the salvation of Bol.com. After all, they still exist. But look at Amazon at the same time, they've already done the trick in many countries, based on a number of pillars: delivering to the customer as quickly as possible, for a competitive price, and with excellent service. They have the money for it. And if they really want to achieve that in the Netherlands, they will get it under control. The competition then becomes murderous. In addition to the slashing that already prevails offline, it will also strike online".
SB Supply cooperates with the trading platforms of both Amazon and Bol.com. Berendsen takes a critical, but also down-to-earth look at them: "Compared to us Bol.com is big and Amazon very big. Where Bol earned 2 billion in 2018, Amazon was then, worldwide, worth 200 billion. That's huge! And compared to that, what am I...?"
At the same time, he states that you also have to be careful what you do with Amazon: "Of course it's a giant, but you don't want to be dependent on one player. That is dangerous. We are therefore looking for a good balance between selling through both our own shops and trading platforms. That's key to us! ”
Vertical integration with its own products
That is why SB Supply also uses its own line of products: "We have no competition there. The production is outsourced in China. At the moment, we mainly produce sleeves, bags, and protection glasses. Especially accessories for tablets. In fact, I want to expand this year. That gives me the advantage, among other things, that I will no longer have to compete on price and be less dependent...
We will then have control over the entire chain. Vertical integration, that's what I believe in and that's where we're going to make a difference. Whether it's for Bol.com, for Amazon, or for our own shop, I control the price and what the content looks like. I can only have that if it's my own product!
With that image in mind, Sander Berendsen—cautiously— also speaks out about his own future at SB Supply: "In five years' time I want SB Supply to be where I want it to be. And—perhaps—I will then take a step back and look forward to a new adventure... For the time being, however, there is only one thing and we need to work hard on: see where we can make a difference with SB Supply; where we as a company can achieve a competitive edge. That is not easy, but we are going to make it."