Thursday, February 25, 2010

Meet Ruud Steenvoorden, Newest Floor Covering Institute Consultant

I’m pleased to introduce Ruud Steenvoorden, the newest consultant to join the Floor Covering Institute consulting team.  Ruud was born in The Netherlands but now lives in South Africa after a 35 year career with Fetim. B.V.  Fetim is one of the largest wood flooring providers in Europe with channels to retail, commercial and DIY chains.

Ruud began with Fetim in 1975 and actually grew up in the business, starting as a trainee and eventually becoming the Director of Corporate Buying responsible primarily for Fetim’s hardwood flooring products. He has conducted business in China, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and across Europe and has been responsible for wood flooring production from logs to showrooms. His business experience includes mergers and acquisitions, international product sourcing, channel distribution, marketing and much more. He speaks four languages: Dutch, English, German and French.

From 2005 to 2009, Ruud was also vice-president of the European Federation of Parquet Importers (EFPI), a Brussels based association of European importers of engineered and solid wood flooring.

In 2006, after more than 30 years with Fetim, Ruud and his wife “retired” to their summer home in South Africa.  There he continued to manage the strategic side of Fetim’s wood flooring business and began to transition into independent consulting with, Steenvoorden Consultancy. We are thrilled to have him on the team at the Floor Covering Institute. In this interview I think you will find his experience not only impressive but interesting.

SN: Ruud, how did you and Jim Gould become acquainted?

RS: Although we have many common acquaintances, Jim and I did not meet until the SINO US EUROPE Wood Flooring Summit in Shanghai last year. Thomas Baert of China Floors suggested that I would make a good addition to the Institute. I was very delighted with this idea and immediately accepted Jim's invitation. I have the feeling I have entered a completely new world that is very challenging. Now I am part of this prestigious group at the Floor Covering Institute, and like my peers there, I am passionate about the floor covering industry.

SN: What do you like most about this industry?

RS: It is an incredibly big market, worldwide, and the changing trends are very challenging. If you look back ten years you see the changes and I can only say you have to stay awake in order to be able to follow it. I am not only talking about the products but also the facts around it like changing laws and the environment.

SN: You spent over 30 years at Fetim, tell me how you got started in this long career.

RS: Believe it or not, I started at Fetim as a trainee before the company included flooring in their product line. The company was an importer/distributor of wood construction materials mainly in the Dutch area which is where I was born (the Netherlands). I studied wood technology in the early years then learned to design products, find the raw materials and suppliers, get the products manufactured to specification, marketed and distributed.

We learned that commodity products were popular with the customers but didn’t provide enough profit to grow a business so we invested in innovation. Fetim actually was one of the first companies in our industry to have a separate division dedicated to creating new products and product groups. We then split Fetim into two divisions; retail and commercial, and I sourced and marketed for both.

SN: What part did you play in getting Fetim into flooring, specifically laminate?

RS: This is a great story of how relationships and ideas can combine to make great things happen.  In 1986, when we entered the flooring business, carpet was 85% of the market. By 1988 Pergo was just introducing laminate in Europe. Fetim was keen to have a laminate product so I visited my counterpart at Kaindl, who at the time produced particle board and HPL shelving, among other things, but not laminate flooring. They were also looking to diversify and he showed me a Pergo panel. I asked him whether he would be interested to make such products and he said that he was considering it but did not have the courage as yet. I asked him, “if I gave you an order for 100,000 m2 would you consider purchasing the necessary machinery?”  He answered “yes!”.  It was one of my best deals ever and it took only a few minutes. Kaindl, who belongs to the huge Kronospan Group, was the pioneer in their group and later all their factories started to produce laminated flooring. The product became a big success in the Fetim Group and still today Fetim is the main player in this field in the Benelux area (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg).

SN: It’s an interesting coincidence that you sparked the growth of laminate in Europe and Jim did the same in the U.S. when he introduced Pergo. Do you find you have other things in common?  

RS: I think that Jim and I both look further than just the product itself; in fact both of us have a high level view of the total product groups in general. We try to focus more on continuity and the long term strategic approach. I think on a long term basis and take the necessary steps for achieving that.  I say it’s “the continuous drop that finally makes the hole in the stone!”

SN:  What was your experience in the early years doing business in China?

RS: When China became the low cost provider to the world during the 1990's they had a policy to create work in the rural areas and wood flooring factories were set up in the highly forested North east sections of China. It was the business of many Chinese delegations, arriving in groups of 10-15 each time, to ensure that workers were working. By the end of the 1990’s those factories were producing 3-ply engineered flooring and also solid white oak flooring.

But it was not simple. I saw beautiful factories with absolutely top machinery from Germany and Italy, capable of producing a very nice product. However,  just having the machines is no guarantee of success. Management, raw material and staff training were needed to build up a steady product and even after that was realized, a lot of personal guidance from the buyer was needed to keep the quality on a stable level. In fact, buyers like me had to control the production process from the log to the final product. But is was worth going through the process although it was not always well understood by my management. It was the hard way.

After successfully surviving the early challenges, we started marketing solid wood flooring, branded SOLIDFLOOR (r), for the whole European market. We developed our own products, manufactured them in China and became the market leader for imported wood floors in Europe. Fetim is still the market leader today

SN: Did you play a part in the marketing as well as the sourcing and distribution?

RS: Yes. You cannot only be partly active in either purchasing or marketing. you should be able to overlook the whole field of the product line between factory and final consumer, only then you can translate opportunities to both sales' and purchasing sides.

SN: You are co-moderating China’s wood flooring summit with Jim next month.  Why do you think this is important?

RS: It is an initiative to bring parties involved in wood flooring together to discuss topics and general points of improvement required by the global industry. This greatly appealed to my approach to the industry.  My slogan has always been: better to talk with each other than talk about each other. Both EFPI and the summit have proven that it can work when competitors sit at the same table, because at the end of the day, nobody can do it alone.

SN: It sounds like you are very happy to begin a new adventure.

RS: Yes! Now I am going to concentrate my activities on The Floor Covering Institute. I will go to Shanghai in March as moderator of the US-SINO-EU summit together with Jim, with only one goal: bring a long life to the flooring business!

Welcome to the team Ruud!  If you would like to send Ruud a welcome comment, place a post below or send him an email,


1 comment:

  1. Ruud,
    I am thrilled to make your membership official and public! Congratulations and Welcome.