Respect for Our Four-Legged Friends
From dogs and cats to rabbits, guinea pigs and all manner of other four- and two-legged friends - we simply adore our pets. We also like to show our love for our pets by spending our hard-earned money on them, buying them food and accessories – products which are part of Laroy Group’s range. This family business likes to refer to itself as a ‘house of brands’ and the business has become increasingly popular with customers abroad, too. Els Laroy and Peter Moyaert’s expansion policy is certainly paying off.
There have always been pets in the Laroy family. Grandfather André was an animal feed manufacturer and father Carlos was in the grain and seed business. The business still sells these products today, alongside many other basic and luxury animal feed products and accessories. Els Laroy grew up surrounded by this and from a young age she was determined to follow in her father’s footsteps..
Els Laroy: “VEvery now and again, my parents would lose me; I was usually to be found somewhere in a corner of the factory. That’s probably why they sent me to boarding school (laughs). But seriously, I always knew that the family business would be my future. It was the same for my brother, Guy. The difference was that Guy did not want to be in a management position; he runs our ‘crisis centre’ and is the driving force behind the operational transport department."
"Peter Moyaert is our corporate CFO. Together with our COO, Peter and I form a close-knit trio which enables us – backed by the support of our team leaders – to carry out our strategic plan of action. We each have our own set of skills, complementing each other perfectly - my own area of expertise is commercial – but we always make strategic decisions together. For me, that was one of the conditions of my becoming CEO. I would never have done it without the backup of a great, reliable team of people – people who really know the ropes, do not have any kind of hidden agenda and want to work together to move forwards.”
A Close-Knit Trio
“STERCK: How challenging was the path to becoming CEO”
Laroy: “Dad has always - quite rightly - been very cautious. I earned the opportunity to do this job by working in all areas of the business over a number of years, including the bookkeeping department. So essentially, I grew into my current role; but it couldn’t have happened without the support of the right people. I never took a specific management course when I was training, but if you spend every day immersed in the flow of a fast-growing business, you keep learning all the time. And that learning was given a whole new dimension thanks to our major expansion policy."
“STERCK. The expansion was chiefly possible due to a number of acquisitions. What made you choose to take that course?”
Peter Moyaert: “If you want to move forwards in this market, you have no choice. There is scope for organic growth, but it is limited. In our country, the market is almost completely saturated, so for the past few years we have increasingly been looking to other countries, chiefly the Netherlands, France and Germany, where our sales teams have a strong presence. But we are also active in over 70 countries around the world. Exports now account for around 40% of our turnover (100 million euros).”
Laroy: “After acquiring Dutch egg food specialist CéDé in 1986 we got another boost in 1989 when we got the distribution rights for premium dog and cat food brands Eukanuba and Iams. After that, there was no stopping us: we acquired Deckx in 2009 (accessories), Witte Molen in 2013 (Dutch mix-feed producers) and Europnet Bernina in 2015 (luxury accessories). Our most recent expansion was the creation of Flamingo Pet Products at the end of 2016, a collaboration with Erwin Van Tendeloo.”
No Ivory Towers
"STERCK. What kind of impact did that have on the organisation”
Laroy: “You always need to pay close attention to the human aspect of a process like this. We learned that you should have a timeline for integrating a new business into your organisation, but that you shouldn’t become too fixated by it. It takes time to grow together and you have to listen to the aspirations of the personnel, reassure people and communicate in an honest, open way. You often find that staff have spent a few years feeling uncertain about their role and they want some perspective for the future. They soon realise that their new boss has the business’s best interests at heart.”
Moyaert : “They are processes which enrich your personal and professional experience. We don’t actually have a dedicated team for making acquisitions run smoothly. It is more a matter of common sense and simply being there so that people don’t feel as though decisions are being taken from an ivory tower. After all, we are a family business – it’s important to make that clear to our employees. Usually people realise that quite quickly and they adapt fairly fast. But still, integrating a new business into your organisation is definitely a big deal. You may think that you are well-prepared, but there will always be certain aspects which you had not bargained for and which will take you by surprise.”
"STERCK. How would you say the world of pet product sales has evolved?”
Laroy: “People used to have dogs which were simply guard dogs; those days are long gone. Nowadays, pets are part of the family and people want to give them the best possible care. This is not only the case in Belgium, it is also true of neighbouring countries. We are responding to these changes both in terms of our marketing and our product range. It’s all about the whole experience: pet-owners want to buy products in shops where they will be offered good advice and where they feel that the sales people really want to help them. That’s why small-scale, independent pet shops can still have an impact, especially if they have the creativity to respond to new trends. Of course, it can’t be denied: there is an increasing concentration of chain stores on the market. But with the right attitude and a well-thought-out product range, small businesses can definitely still make it, too.”
"STERCK. How do you support them?”
Moyaert: “We use marketing tools such as displays, but we also offer structural support – for example, we help to design the layout of shops. Obviously, it’s a case of give and take, but we are realistic enough to realise that shops have to offer products from other brands, too.”
"STERCK. Initially, you offered a range of basic products, but over the years you have added luxury products to your range –why is that?”
Moyaert: “Due to the enormous amount of competition on the market, our margins are constantly under pressure. One approach to dealing with this is by differentiating. Just as we were about to put together a team to develop our own products, Europet-Bernina (EBI) came our way. EBI produces luxury lifestyle accessories, often made from special materials. Thanks to this acquisition, we didn’t have to find our way in a whole new area – the acquisition offered us a foothold in a new sector. In 2009 we were already focusing on accessories with the creation of our own brand, Duvo+, a brand dedicated to more mainstream products.”
Laroy: “Witte Molen and CéDé are our own brands, too. This is a way for us to ensure that we are safe in the future and that we are not solely dependent upon our suppliers.”
"STERCK. How involved is your father in the business these days?”
Laroy: “He knows exactly what is going on and he is still active within the (production) businesses. The grain department, in particular, is still close to his heart. We always value his advice, but he never imposes his will upon the business. On the contrary: even though he comes from a culture where it was very much the done thing to be quite dominant as a company boss - that was simply the way business used to be - I was happy to see that he moved on from this attitude without much difficulty. You can see that he still has business running through his veins. When we asked his opinion on certain acquisitions, he was often the first one to say “Go for it!”.”
"STERCK. The second generation has many fruitful years ahead, but is there anyone waiting in the wings?"
Laroy: “We’re certainly not planning to retire any time soon (laughs). My brother’s daughter is a criminologist and I have two daughters who are studying commercial sciences. Of course, that would be an excellent background should they ever choose to step in - and they have worked for us during the holidays - but it’s much too early to say whether or not they will follow in my footsteps. It all depends which direction they take in life. If it works out, they would be very welcome here, but the decision would have to come from them.”
Text: Bart Vancauwenberghe iov Sterck Magazine
Foto's: De Brie Jerry