When you think of a flower bulb, you probably don’t think “innovation.” But when Arend van Zanten decided to sell the family-cultivated bulbs outside of Holland in the late 1880s, he was the one of the first ever to do so. Sons and grandsons grew the family flower business across Europe and the U.S. and in 1975, Arthur van Zanten moved the business to the U.S. as Holland Beauty Flower & Bulb Corporation.
Nearly 40 years later, Holland Beauty Family of Companies sells more than 500 varieties of bulbs online, in major retail garden centers and directly to landscape professionals. Even that kind of growth wasn’t enough, however. They continue to diversify their product line to include all types of gardening products and most recently, purchased a physical therapy equipment company. What does physical therapy have to do with flowers? Nicholas Sideras, director of Technical Operations at Holland Beauty Family of Companies, explains how it’s all about capitalizing on your strengths.
Tell me about Holland Beauty Family of Companies and your role there.
Holland Bulb has been family owned for four generations. When the company began in the U.S., we worked with garden centers and big box stores. A few years ago, we decided to cut out the middleman and began the ecommerce side of the business. Since then, we’ve purchased Tulip World and two other ecommerce companies. I’m in charge of long-term planning and technical direction for our retail and wholesale companies. We are still family-owned and only have three people in IT, so I wear lots of hats.
What makes Holland Beauty different from other companies in the market?
We pride ourselves in the fact that we’re family owned with family values. While we want to keep those values intact, we also understand in order to stay relevant and a market leader, we must continue to diversify our product line to evolve and adapt with the changing market. Embracing technology allows us to do that.
Describe your typical customers.
In the past, our target market has been middle-aged women who enjoy gardening. However, we are increasingly focusing on a younger demographic, like couples buying their first home or a young adult getting their first apartment.
Our business customers range from big box stores to regional hardware and gardening centers. We enjoy working with local chains that appreciate our family-owned culture.
What has changed in the past 5-10 years in how you do business?
Inventory tracking and order fulfillment has changed significantly. Only three years ago, we had people manually walking down aisles of bulbs and checking orders off a list as they placed the bulbs in a basket. With our new Picktolight system, a person can scan an order at the front of an aisle and little lights illuminate in front of each item, making order fulfillment faster and less error-prone.
We also changed how we ship. We still work with national carriers but we use software that alerts us when we have a cheaper option with the postal service or regional carriers. This has reduced our costs and allowed us to keep our delivery promises.
Our phone system has changed as well. We were growing so fast, we had separate phone systems for each division and still couldn’t keep up. It became too complicated and unproductive so we switched to a VoIP system. Menus, call transfers, mobility options and easy scalability have given us the ability to do more than ever before without adding headcount to make it work. In fact, we’ve been able to add additional headcount in our customer service area because we are able to handle the workload so much more efficiently.
Has anything changed about your customers’ expectations about doing business with you?
Customers want to reach a live person immediately, so we added an online chat capability to our site. With call routing, people who prefer to call our customer service can immediately check their order status or other account information without being bounced from person to person. Our wholesale customers can look at pricing lists online instead of relying on faxes; something they couldn’t do 5-10 years ago.
One of the coolest things we’ve recently offered our customers is an iPhone app where they can take a picture of their house or yard and plan a virtual garden using plants from our product line. They can design it and go directly to our site from the app and place the order.
Has it been challenging to keep up with the technical demands?
Technology is a tool to make our lives easier, but not something that should be there just for the sake of being there. I believe if technology is more complicated than people simply using a pencil and pad of paper, something is wrong. Technology should simplify things.
How does Holland Beauty use social media?
We’ve done everything from product giveaways on Facebook to recipe and picture contests on Pintrest. We have fun with it and enjoy seeing how people are using our products. It gives us a national, and even international, audience. We interact with people in ways that would have been impossible even five years ago.
We send out a weekly newsletter and thinking of new promotions each week can be exhausting. We use social media to ask our customers what they are wanting and then design the promotion around their interests. We also read customer product reviews to find out user successes and tips on growing our plants and share those through social media.
Tell me about the role of collaboration in your business?
We try to make sure the technology is easy to use. One of the things we started a couple of years ago is an internal Wiki that organizes us so we’re all on the same page. We also us in-office Instant Messaging. Keeping us connected, working together and staying informed is critical to the business running as smoothly as it does.
What else should people know about Holland Beauty?
Technology has allowed us to not just come up with new ideas but make those ideas a reality in a reasonable amount of time. It enables us to respond to the market quickly and run our several family businesses concurrently.
One thing people probably don’t know is we just purchased a physical therapy equipment company. It may seem strange for a plant company, but it makes perfect business sense for us and keeps us diversified. We’ve been thinking of what we could sell that doesn’t require fast inventory turnover and could utilize our expertise in order fulfillment and shipping. We found an ecommerce company for sale and within a month, partitioned our warehouse, hired and trained new employees, put up a website and started selling. We even cross-promote our flower bulbs in the physical therapy catalogues! Technology and creative thinking make it possible for us to constantly reinvent ourselves.