Piet Kuivenhoven, Kuivenhoven Potplanten

"Passion is the icing on the cake of the company"

According to Piet Kuivenhoven, passion and innovation are the distinctive values ​​of Kuivenhoven Potplanten in Poeldijk, The Netherlands. Although the pot plant grower has only just passed 50, he is already working hard to secure the future of his company and those core values. To realize this, Kuivenhoven has been building his organization in recent years, and he is now looking for an external successor. "In ten years' time I want to be on the sidelines, but at the same time still have a say."

"You can divide entrepreneurship into three phases. Between the ages of 25 to 35 you are young and ambitious and the sky is the limit. This is followed by a phase of stabilization and optimization. And in the third phase of entrepreneurship, the focus is on the future, on a succession or transfer. That means, among other things, that you need to have your organization in order", according to Piet Kuivenhoven (52), who says he's now reached the third stage.

Together with his wife Carolien he owns Kuivenhoven Potplanten. At first he didn't spend any time on setting up a stable organization. For many years Kuivenhoven invested as little as possible in permanent staff. “After all, permanent people brought risks with them, that was my idea. That's what my father taught me. But that also meant that as an entrepreneur I was always the first back-up. In holiday periods, for example, I worked double shifts for two months. But I was pretty cheap: my cost was low."

Putting out fires
Sixty, seventy hours - and sometimes even more - working hours a week, was no problem for Kuivenhoven for years. The entrepreneur is dedicated to his business with heart and soul, and the nursery is his life. "In reality I am a pretty insecure person. By focusing on distinctive products, I make a difference in the market and customers need me. This gives me stability and self-confidence."

The 'scouting' of special flowering and seasonal potted plants is therefore one of his main priorities. "The product always takes priority in our company. It has to be distinctive and everything is organized around it. This is how we make the difference in the market."

Kuivenhoven employed as few permanent staff as possible for years. This had a detrimental effect as no time and money was invested in innovation. "If employees were ill or had a holiday, there was so much work to do that I did not have time to invest in searching for novelties or the development of the company. I was mainly busy putting out fires."

A few years ago the entrepreneur realized that this had to be done differently and that he had to invest in managers." This was also a must to be able to transfer the company in the future. By investing in management, you as an entrepreneur are literally 'detached' from your company."

Passion as icing on the cake
In the meantime, Kuivenhoven formed a team of seven permanent staff around him. "When recruiting employees, it was especially important to me that people fit in the team. I am allergic to conflict on the work floor. That is why I attach great value on togetherness. There must be collegiality."

For the entrepreneur, it is also crucial that his employees have the same passion for the product as himself. "When someone does his work with passion, he automatically enjoys it and works faster for your company. Employees are also less likely to leave you. In addition: when people do their work with enthusiasm, the role of the entrepreneur is automatically reduced while you ensure the continuity of your company. In fact, passion is the icing on the cake of the company!"

The crucial question is of course how you convey the passion that you as an entrepreneur have to your employees. Kuivenhoven has a ready answer to that: "By being who you are! When people feel your enthusiasm, they automatically take it over. And I give my employees a lot of freedom; I want it to feel like the company is a part of them. Maybe in the long term I will go a step further by giving my management staff shares in my company."

No 'For Sale' sign in the garden
By forming the management team - and the fact that for all tasks two different people are responsible - the company can run on its own. This gives the entrepreneur the space to focus on spotting novelties. "The company is now ready for a possible future takeover", says the entrepreneur. "I have two sons, but at the moment it does not look like they want to take over the nursery. I won't pretend that it won't affect me if they don't join the company, but right now it's simply not on the agenda. That is why, two years ago, I also began looking at other options."

Kuivenhoven spoke with several advisers and colleagues about the future possibilities for his company. Various options were reviewed: transfer to an external successor, merging and a 'For Sale' sign in the garden.

Selling off his company soon was taken off the table by Kuivenhoven. "It didn't feel right. I think my company is too beautiful and unique to put up for sale. Another factor is that I want to keep my people at work. I have looked at the merge option, but it's not at the top. Especially because it will be difficult to find a company that matches our nursery in terms of character and passion. And these are things that I want to keep intact."

Young entrepreneurs
The entrepreneur is therefore currently focused on finding an external successor for his company. In concrete terms, he pictures young, agricultural entrepreneurs whose parents do not offer enough opportunities for realizing their ambitions. "Continuing the name Kuivenhoven is not the most important for me", the grower emphasizes. "I just want to continue what we built up!"

Kuivenhoven already has a few potential candidates who may be interested in joining the company. "Soon I will approach them, and their parents, and I will simply pose the question."

What makes the challenge extra big is that Kuivenhoven is not looking for one, but for two potential successors. "A company like this is too large and complex for one entrepreneur. Also, when you do it together, it is easier to create a good balance between work and private life."

The grower is convinced that he has a lot to offer young entrepreneurs, especially because he has an interesting product range. The various joint ventures with which Kuivenhoven is affiliated also offer plenty of opportunities for further development. "In addition, the step to a further expansion is too big for me - I want to increase production in the coming years, for example by renting greenhouses - but there are certainly opportunities for a future successor."

Step back

The goal of Kuivenhoven is to take a step back by the time he is 60, but to still be involved. "I realize that it sounds contradictory, but by this I mean that I can hopefully let go of the day to day issues. And I also want to take a step back to get more time for my private life. But at the same time I have a huge amount of knowledge that I can and want to contribute, especially in the field of product development and innovation. Chances are that I will only focus on that by then, since I can really add something in this area. I also want to stay involved to keep the company culture, the enthusiasm and the passion alive."

Collaboration makes stronger
Piet Kuivenhoven is a true 'co-worker': his conviction is that entrepreneurs go further together than alone. For this reason Kuivenhoven cooperates intensively with a few fellow growers and a breeder from Helleborus and is affiliated with grower association Addenda. "As Addenda we work closely with Schoneveld Breeding because you never succeed alone as an individual grower. Together we can take greater steps in the field of marketing and communication."

For Kuivenhoven, the cooperation within Addenda also forms a kind of 'guarantee' towards customers. "When you start with a new product and it catches on, the moment comes when you have to scale up. After all, you want to be able to offer your customers something. This is possible not only by expanding, but also by introducing the product into the growers' association."

"Learn from colleagues!"
What tips does Kuivenhoven want to offer other gardeners? "Talk to colleagues, for example through the Master Sessions that are organized through Coalitie HOT", emphasizes the entrepreneur. "Participating in this was very valuable to me. But you have to open yourself up and dare to be vulnerable and to show your weakness. That is a must in order to be able to take a next step."

Kuivenhoven learned a lot from the stories of fellow entrepreneurs. "Everyone discussed things that were valuable for my own development. An eye-opener for me was also that in certain areas I am much further along than colleagues than I thought. This gave me confidence."

Source: Coalitie HOT

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