Marco Groot (US / Netherlands)

How an optimistic mindset helps your business to cope with Corona

By: THURSD. | 26-05-2020 | 8 min read
Marco Groot

With a huge floral list from countries such as Colombia, Italy and the Netherlands, Hilverda de Boer USA mainly supplies high-end flower stores and wedding & event planners throughout the whole US. Their business workflow, with most colleagues already working from home, has helped the company collect the first hits of COVID-19 and has helped them to focus on providing their clients' flowers. CEO Marco Groot, an optimist by nature,  proudly talks about the achievements of their team during the first challenges of collecting flowers from all over the world. He also opens up about the current uncertainty in the world and how listening to your clients and colleague professionals helps us to together rebuild what there's lost right from where we left off.

Quote "We are here for you, we are open, we will get you the flowers you need"
An interview with Marco Groot, CEO of Hilverda de Boer USA
Where is your business located? In which region/city/neighborhood?
Well, Hilverda de Boer has an office in a little town in Connecticut, Ridgefield, US. However, most of our colleagues work throughout the country from home. We have a computer system that every colleague can access, this makes things a lot easier. During COVID-19, this has helped us tremendously as everyone was already used to perform their work from home.
Can you describe your customers in general? What do they buy generally?
We have a variety of client types. We supply some wholesalers throughout the country, we mainly supply high-end flower stores and wedding & event planners throughout the whole US. They buy from us all their floral needs; roses from Ecuador, hydrangeas from Colombia, ranunculus and anemones from Italy, sweet peas and gloriosas from Japan, hydrangeas and peonies from New Zealand, Alaskan peonies. We also supply a huge floral list from the Netherlands such as delphiniums, hydrangeas, peonies, hyacinths, tulips, garden roses, lisianthus, etc., too much to list! We ship daily to the US to multiple ports, from where we distribute to our clients.
Have you been open or closed since the (partial) lockdown in your country?
Since March 16 there was a person travel ban and different States were going into a lockdown situation. We then decided not to close but hold on as long as we possibly could, supplying the clients that still had floral needs. Our message from COVID-19 day 1 has been "We are here for you, we are open, we will get you the flowers you need". That message was pretty strong for our clients, but also for our colleagues working with us. Now we see other wholesalers and importers open up again and things start happening again, slowly of course. I am very proud of our company, our whole team, in the US and in the Netherlands, that we have been able to get our clients the flowers they needed. We got them from Holland and from South America. From Italy even, while airspace was just an enormous challenge! It still is, but we hope that more passenger plane routes will open up again, to relieve space issues. The growers we work with, worldwide, have done an excellent job of communicating what was possible to cut and what wasn't. We were therefore able to keep our webshop offers very up to date, and our clients as well. Some deliveries came in with a small delay, but overall everyone got what they needed at the time they needed. It was a huge achievement for our team!
How do you get information these days about the floral industry?
I talk to so many people within our industry every day. From customers of course to growers from all over the world, truckers, handlers, colleague importers. I have a whole network of people that keep me up to date. Important, because things change so quickly, especially now.
Quote  “It’s very inspiring to see that some entrepreneurs refuse to stop, but find ways to make things happen.”
What barriers do you face at the moment of running a successful business?
Uncertainty. That more than anything. Our clients don't know what to expect for the next few months. Normally, we are after Mother's Day very busy with weddings and events till the 4th of July weekend. This year there's none of that. The first floral holiday is Thanksgiving, let that sink in when we don't have weddings and events in between. However, I am by nature an optimist. By talking with clients, I hear that a lot of their canceled events are postponed, not canceled. So either fall 2020 or 2021 will be booming! Maybe both! But no-one knows, that's the uncertainty.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
Listening, to clients, to colleagues, other people in the industry. We are trying to find other ways to sell our flowers while there are no weddings and events. Find new flower shops as clients, making sure our online offers are improved, up op date, and more extensive. Be visible for (potential) clients. In general; we are as proactive as we possibly can.
Which inspiring new initiatives have you seen in the industry - or are started by you - since COVID-19?
With our clients we have seen a cool development of "when the client can't come to us, we'll come to them"; sending mini boxes of flowers, pre-packed, direct to the end-consumer. Consumers will be educated via a YouTube link on how to create an arrangement with that specific box. Very cool. We have seen a spike in sales with these clients who offer this to their clients. Very inspiring to see that some entrepreneurs refuse to stop, but find ways to make things happen.
How important is it for you to lift each other up in these times and what does that mean for you and the bond with your colleague-professionals and business relations?
It is important. I try to speak to my colleagues as often as I can, and also as constructive and positive as I can. That's not always as easy, because overall, most phone calls I am on these days, are negative of tone. I speak most of my day to clients, truckers, vendors, growers, industry colleagues, etc. They are concerned and afraid. Then it's very easy to feel down as well because I am only human. I am a born optimist, but those calls are draining, because it also feeds your own fear of the situation of course. So, honestly, some days are easier than others. "Who motivates the motivator" is a phrase I read the other day somewhere, and it's true. Now, I do feel it is important to lift people up in general, not only now in this situation. However, I also feel it is important to be honest with people in our team. I also let them in on how I feel when I am worried or not in the best mood because of what is going on. Overall, we have a beautiful and strong company, great loyal clients, wonderful people that work on our team here in the US and in the Netherlands, we work with great partners all over the world, we have so much to be grateful for.
What do you think is the biggest issue in your segment of our sector at the moment, from your perspective?
The biggest issue by far is that we have no weddings and events yet. What has also been a big issue was an unclearness as far as shops were being allowed to be open. Some states or cities were very unclear as to whether flower stores were deemed as an essential business. Some stores got big fines, some did not open because they were afraid of being open. The other issue for our industry is also the timing of COVID-19. This goes to everyone in our industry; importer, retailer, wholesaler, etc. In April, May, and June we make money to support months like January, March, July, and August. The timing of COVID-19 couldn't be worse for our industry. With that being said, I answer this out of a business perspective, and the question was asked out of a business perspective. If you lost someone due to COVID-19, timing is a word that has no meaning and when lives are being lost, and your world falls apart, everything else becomes irrelevant.
What is the story behind your business and how will COVID-19 affect your future storyline?
We want to be a reliable and excellent partner for our clients, where they can find their complete, worldwide sourced flowers. Reliability and quality are our two biggest assets if you will. Our message to be open and available during the most difficult times fits completely with reliability. The quality of the flowers have remained excellent, which has been unchanged. I do think we proved to our customers that we are there when they need us. Our storyline will not change due to COVID-19. We were having a pretty good run and then COVID-19 happened which turned out to be a huge situation, but it won't change our view nor our long term flower vision in the States. We will rebuild what we lost right from where we left off!


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