"It is hard work on the German market, you really have to follow the customers. If you lose one, you don't automatically get a new one," says Dutch flower exporter Frans van den Berg from ABE Flowers. He is active on the German market, particularly in the Cologne-Bonn-Koblenz region, and supplies the high end florist. And that is not an easy market. "Old-timers want to sell their business, but nobody wants to start in the flower business anymore. Slowly the supermarkets and the DIY stores take over, which is at the expense of that florist and of the quality he can deliver."
Source: ABE Flowers
Frans has time for a chat now. It is summer time and not much is happening in his industry. "During this time of the year, we are not very busy, simply because our customers are on vacation. It's just a time you have to get through. In September everyone comes back from holiday, at the end of September people have some money left and business picks up as usual again."
More worrisome are other developments, which may make this year more difficult than the previous one. "In the spring you have to sell the most, but we had to deal with an early Easter. Then you miss a lot of tulip turnover - two weeks earlier means thousands of stems less. Germany is very traditional in that respect. After Easter, tulip time is over. The same applies to daffodils, and after Pentecost you don't sell any more peonies. While in France they sell amaryllises all year round, in Germany that is actually only from November."
German toll roads
In addition, ABE and the logistics sector as a whole have to deal with tolls, or Maut, aimed at non-Germans. Since July 1 they also apply to smaller roads and as of January 1 next year those rates will increase by 60%. "In that respect, our costs are increasing drastically. We have to respond to this. Perhaps we open a hall and from there deliver with German cars from us or from another party.
That is easier said than done, you have to consider a lot of things. We haven't decided yet. There is also the so-called driving times law and the growing congestion problem, so every distributor in Germany will scratch their heads. "
ABE Flower has competition in Rhein-Maas that approach the same market. The region also has some of their own production, which makes some species a lot cheaper according to Frans. "Dahlias, for example, are expensive in the Netherlands but there cost 25 cents. Or take sunflowers: on average the Dutch grower supplies a high-quality product, but must also have a proportional price for it. Therefore you see very little of them here."
Quality remains paramount
But ABE will never compromise its focus on quality. There will always be demand for quality, Frans believes. Despite lots of cheap flowers being sold in supermarkets, there will be always remain a segment where quality is paramount. That can take a long time, but nobody wants junk. You're better off being five cents too expensive, the customer doesn't remember this after a year. But if you sell bad flowers once, he won't forget that. Moreover, the market is not that bad. Occasionally a customer contacts us who is aware that we are not the cheapest, but that we always ensure quality. He goes along in that, and that is why they often stay too."
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