Confessions from the board room: Marion Van Zon’s three levers of added value
When Gradje Van Zon from Hamont-Achel had to give up butter smuggling in the early 1960s, he began selling meat croquettes, obtained with his Vauxhall in the Netherlands, to Belgian snack bars. Today, his granddaughter Marion Van Zon heads a catering business that in 2022 approached €100 million in turnover and supplies 30,000 different types of catering items to restaurants, bistros and fast-food outlets.
The three levers of Marion Van Zon:
- Implementation of new digital technologies in the production process
- Knowledge sharing with other companies
- Healthy working environment for employees
Smiling broadly, Marion Van Zon welcomes us to the brand-new, energy-neutral Van Zon building in a provisional corner of Lommel’s Kristalpark. “Coffee, a cold drink, soup?” she asks with the typical concern of a Flemish mater familias. Already slurping, we ask our first question.
That first lever, the implementation of new digital technologies, did not come without a hitch for Van Zon?
“Look, we trade 30,000 different products today, 70 per cent of which are perishable. Simply put, stock management is crucial to us. Until the mid-2000s, our stock system consisted of my uncle Giel. He would walk through our warehouse with pen and paper, counting what was in stock and then passing on the order. My uncle knew where every product was and where to order it. And we already had a huge assortment back then, too. This approach worked fine for my dad and Giel’s successor was also in place in the form of my nephew. However, I insisted on digital data-driven stock management. This was also my first considerable investment, although it took two years to be operational and did not always go without a hitch. When the tills at our Beringen shop froze on Christmas Eve, a huge queue developed and our cashiers started to panic. I walked among them with hot chocolate and chocolates to keep everyone calm. My dad entered while this was happening, saw a hundred people lined up there with full trolleys and shouted: “You are destroying my whole business with your ideas.” However, today our sales have doubled and my dad is the biggest fan of the digital stock system. We now have full control of our stock and automatically predict what we need to order. Our customers also know perfectly well what is in stock via the website. All this allows us to clock off at a picking error rate of barely 0.03 per cent. After all, stock is money!”
‘Don’t underestimate Greasy Friday.’
Do you share this knowledge with other companies?
“Certainly, we ourselves started looking at every possible logistics system in the food sector and picked the one that best suited us. Other companies are therefore certainly more than welcome here too. A great many of our digital applications, for example, can also be adopted by smaller companies. Colleges too, for that matter. For instance, Horeca Van Zon’s logistics system is subject matter in several schools and we also get regular visits from students.”
You also opted for the ‘Healthy working environment for employees’ lever.
“Atmosphere and group spirit are very important at Van Zon. We continue to want to be a ray of sunshine and proud ambassadors with a love for the outdoors. As such, we are putting a lot of work into that. On the last day of every week, we organise Greasy Friday. Everyone gets to prepare whatever deep-fried snack they like from our range in our industrial kitchen, while the bar opens after working hours. We have been doing this since the 1960s, and it remains very important today. No birthday is forgotten. Furthermore, every employee, be it a frozen food worker or a telesales employee, gets a Volkswagen Caddy Golf from us after a successful six-month trial period. It’s not a gift because we charge a small fee for it and no, they can’t take it to the south of France. But for many, this is still a well-appreciated perk, and we find that there is little staff turnover while all our vacancies get filled with motivated workers. Something that, with the current labour shortage, not every company can say.”