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Netherlands: Zeeman isnot interested in expanding the collection, but in making it more sustainable

Textile Discount Retail Chain Zeeman (privately owned) is growing in the field of e-commerce. We are opening stores and we allow existing stores to perform better because we now also appeal to other customers, for example through our CSR policy. "It makes Erik-Jan Mares (52) a satisfied Zeeman CEO. And, he says:" I am not so much interested in expanding the collection, but more in making it more sustainable."

Zeeman is a typically Dutch company with offices in seven countries including Belgium, Spain and France. The turnover has increased by 15 percent in recent years, totally 770 million euro (US$ 940million).

Is there still a Zeeman working within the company?

“Above Zeeman hangs a foundation that houses Jan's three sons. They have a supervisory role. There are grandchildren who help out in the shops as a weekend help. But there is no family anymore in the management positions. "

Does it still feel like a family business?

,,Yes. In fact, that's why I wanted to work here. We don't need to make short-term profits like a corporate company to satisfy shareholders. We do not lose the leg if things go less for a while. Long-term vision is what counts. Our philosophy is based on economy. Being thrifty doesn't just mean being cheap for the consumer; it also means that we are careful with our people, our resources and society. "

What is your leadership style?

“I am a connector, seek contact. When I first started at Zeeman, I often went to the stores incognito. At one point they realized that and everyone started addressing me as 'you'. When they know you are the CEO, they become neat, courteous and personable. I think that's a shame sometimes. "

“I am someone who gives people space. At the same time, I also learned that people like having someone to say what needs to be done. During the corona crisis I literally said: 'In the coming period I will be making many more decisions myself and possibly also be a bit short.' That way I could operate more directly. The team handled this professionally. It was later recognized that they actually liked this approach. "

"Good and cheap go together very well with us. Our shops are simple, without fitting rooms, often in inexpensive locations. 90% of the products we design ourselves"

Zeeman is known as a cheap textile super. At the same time, you are doing well in the field of corporate social responsibility. Your manager who deals with this became manager of the year last year. How do sustainability and discount go together?

“Good and cheap go together very well with us. Our stores are simple, without fitting rooms, often at inexpensive locations. We design ninety percent of the products ourselves. There are few intermediaries in our production process. Our collection is basic and therefore cheap to produce. We pay our suppliers within two weeks. A supplier in Bangladesh does not have to go to the bank to purchase his raw materials. That is why they do not charge us much for the products. That works differently at other retailers. Then they have to borrow and pre-finance and sometimes payment terms of ninety days are used. We also have low marketing costs. We are just frugal. "

Your marketing strategy is also striking: a real perfume (LUCHT) for 4.99 euros, Stan Smith lookalike sneakers for 12.99 euros. A wedding dress for 29.99 euros. It feels like an indictment of the lavish marketing costs of luxury brands ...

“We want to show that good does not necessarily mean expensive. The money that you pay more, you do indeed pay for the marketing. We can produce a bottle of perfume with the same perfumers for much less. Because we ask for less margin. There have been blind tests where our perfume scores better than a perfume ten or fifteen times more expensive. We want to project a down-to-earth and reliable image. "

“Zeeman used to be seen as a dirty shop where you would go if you had no money. That is no longer the case. In Spain we have a completely different image. For Spain, the Netherlands is quality. They also don't know the concept of a textile super. If you need to buy baby or kids clothes there, go to the Zara or the H&M in the mall. Our store is literally around the corner. We now have eighty cases in Spain, but I think we will have three hundred in five years. ”

How do you resist the temptation to keep expanding the collection?

“We know what we are good at: underpants, vests, T-shirts. Everything simple. The only thing where we deviate a bit from our philosophy is in baby and children's clothing, we are now the largest in the Netherlands. I am not so much interested in expanding the collection as in making it more sustainable. We have beautiful organic cotton products. 25 percent of our cotton is produced sustainably. We will never sell expensive shirts or jeans. We also hardly discount anything because we have the same low price every day. "

Does corona have a big effect on your grades?

“The golden rule in fashion retail is that December is the best month of the entire year. There are companies that need December to turn positive. Despite the complicated month of December, we closed 2020 well. In fact, we are growing enormously, that is also our strategy. In the discount world, the only way to survive is to grow faster than increase costs."

How is growth possible if the range has to remain the same?

“We are growing in the field of e-commerce. We are opening stores and making existing stores perform better because we now also appeal to other customers, for example through our CSR policy (corporate social responsibility). The 'new customer' is someone who does not have to buy from us because of his wallet, but who does not want to pay more than is necessary. It also appeals to them that we are doing well in the field of sustainable production. In this way, going to Zeeman becomes a conscious choice."

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