Plantanious: 'If we’re surprised, we can surprise our customers’
Three fantastic businesses, one prestigious prize. In a series of reports we get to know all three nominees for the Horticulture Entrepreneur Prize 2020. What did it take to get to where they are now? What challenges did they encounter? What is their vision for the future? This is the first report covering Plantanious, where we spoke to entrepreneurs Freek and Joost Jansen.
Plantanious’ building contains an array of hypermodern data servers. Not for the data that Plantanious use for their cultivation and sales, but in order to rent out online computing capacity for uses such as artificial intelligence and big data. Why is that data server in the grower’s building?
‘The servers have been modified with water cooling. We use the heat that comes from this server cabinet to heat the offices and the shed,’ explains Freek. ‘It’s a pilot by a consortium of which we are part. If it’s a success, we can use the central data servers to heat greenhouses sustainably in the future.’ That’s surprising. It’s not something you often see at pot plant nursery. Inventive. ‘Being surprising is in our DNA,’ says Joost. ‘Whether it’s this sort of innovation, or the range, or the way in which we market our brand - we think it’s important to differentiate ourselves by continuing to surprise.’
From learning to challenge
The business started as Kwekerij Loek Jansenand was run by the father of twins Joost and Freek. The brothers were never in the same class at school, because they have different interests. Freek has green fingers, whilst Joost is more focused on business. Ultimately they both ended up on the Small Business and Retail Management course at Haagse Hogeschool. Nowadays horticulture entrepreneurs are more involved in managing than actually growing. Businesses are becoming ever larger and more complex, and good personnel is thereby very important.
‘We finished our education at our father’s business,’ explains Joost. ‘That immersion helped us to see the opportunities offered by the business. At that time the nursery had to move to the current location in Kwintsheul, because the old site had to make way for a link road. It was a big challenge for us to join the business at that point.’
Cuttings in a shoebox
‘We were still in the midst of the financial crisis in 2011,’ continues Freek. ‘So it certainly wasn’t easy. We really had to fight. I think that the surprise element entered our DNA during that period.’
‘That’s right,’ confirms Joost. ‘We learnt that you could differentiate yourself by surprising, for example with the range. Freek has a great story about a shoebox.”
‘We were in touch with a grower in Costa Rica who was looking for new crops,’ says Freek. ‘So I sent him a shoebox with five cuttings of some new varieties that might be of interest to us. He got to work on those.’
‘He then informed us that the product that we had the most confidence in didn’t live up to expectations. Under the Costa Rican system, it had to be ploughed up in order to prepare the land for another product. But months later this hadn’t happened due to lack of time, and the product was found to have developed incredibly cool roots.’
‘That is now our Ficus Elastica Petit Melanie Mangrove, which is a great success thanks to the mangrove effect of the roots,’ recounts Freek enthusiastically. We still send him one of those shoeboxes every two years,’ says Joost with a smile. ‘It may be that two out of the twenty trials that you carry out like that are interesting for our range. And then it still takes another five years before you can market it. But it’s still essential, because that way you can keep surprising your customers.’
‘Plantanious is a B2B brand,’ continues Freek. ‘We want surprise - we are known for it. By surprising we also make things easier for our customers.’
‘The growth that the business has enjoyed in recent years meant that at one point we had six brands. That meant that there was no coherence in our strategy. We have now fixed that. Plantanious stands for sustainably grown quality with a surprising range. That’s how you retain customers.’
Joost nods in agreement. ‘We're very market-oriented, so we keep an eye on trends, carry out market research and opt for strategic long-term selling,’ he says. ‘We also use data for that, just as we use data from the greenhouse to check whether reality matches the plan that we have drawn up. That all comes together on a dashboard that we are currently developing in a pilot with Flynth and the company Data Resultz.’
The Plant Box
‘Because we’re always engaged with trends and our customers’ needs, we’re constantly looking for new ways to market our products,’ says Joost. ‘That led to the Plant Box.’ The men place a large box on the table with a design that fits well with the brand. They place the aforementioned Mangroves Ficus next to it. ‘This could be one of the surprising products that we will market in this,’ explains Joost.‘The Plant Box is thereby a good tool to tell our sustainable story in a focused way.’
‘The Plant Box is aimed at companies that are looking for a surprising corporate gift or want an eye-catching present for their employees. You give them an original, sustainably grown plant in an attractively designed box, straight from the grower. It’s a new market concept that we think has potential. It fits perfectly with the times.’
‘We believe that growing plants is about more than just hard work and producing a good product,’ concludes Freek. ‘If you want to be futureproof, you need to offer excellent service, have a distinctive product choice and create an experience around your business.’
This is the first part of the report on Plantanious. In part 2 and part 3 Freek and Joost talk about aspects including sustainability and smart forms of collaboration.