Levoplant grows 5.5 million plants annually. And using an almost fully automated process. Co-owner Ron Fransen hopes to further innovate this Dutch company's processes with modern cultivation techniques. Together with Moore DRV, he discusses his plans, on business and personal level.
Levoplant is a Dutch potted plant nursery with two main products. "The main one is Phalaenopsis - orchids - of which we have 50 varieties. We also do Cordyline australis, a garden and patio plant. With these, we are by far Europe's market leader. The Cordyline australis accounts for 15% of our sales, and we serve 70% of the market," begins Ron.
'We're a true family business. My father-in-law, Leo van der Voort, founded the company in 1969. He started with a single 7,000 m² location, growing vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce. He very quickly switched to green plants, and in the late 1990s, he began with the Phalaenopsis that eventually ensured our success."
Automation and innovation leader
Levoplant has always been at the forefront of automation and innovation. "Leo always tried to find ways to simplify things, make them more efficient. Can we achieve the same result with less work? Our entire system's automated. All the plants have a code on their pot, so they're individually tracked throughout the process. We know exactly when the plant was potted, its variety, and who supplied it," Ron explains.
Later in the process, a camera helps assess the plants. "On color, variety, number of branches and buds, and height. Based on that data, the plants are sorted. For example, if someone orders a tray of white flowers and two trays of pink, our machines automatically prepare those. There are almost no people involved anymore."
Researching new cultivation methods
Ron and his partner want to innovate the company's future operational processes further. "Following Leo's example, we want to keep finding new cultivation techniques. For instance, we're seeing if there's a mechanical solution for pot worm, which we're no longer allowed to control with chemical pesticides," he says.
"These worms start as little flying bugs and lay their eggs in the pots, which produce larvae that feast on our plants' roots. We want to cover the pots with a kind of pantyhose to prevent the bugs from getting in. That may sound simple, but it's harder than you think. We'll soon be running a big pilot with some other growers to see if it works.'
Cooperation and expansion
Such collaborations could play an increasingly important role in future operations. "In our sector, more and more growers, suppliers, and customers are merging. I cannot say exactly how that will affect our business. But I dare say, in five to ten years, Levoplant will be much bigger than it is now. Whether that will come from organic growth or acquiring other companies remains to be seen," says Fransen.
The rest of the family has a say in matters too. After all, Ron does not run the company alone but with his brother-in-law. Leo and his wife Anneke are still shareholders, as are their son, who works at Levoplant, and the two daughters. "On Moore DRV's advice, we restructured Levoplant into an operating company, with me, my brothers-in-law, and father-in-law having personal holdings."
Clear mutual agreements
Here, Moore DRV advisor Edwin van Nieuwkerk played a crucial role. "He urged us to make clear agreements. About matters that you wouldn't readily discuss as a family because they're sensitive. What if someone isn't happy? What if you get into a fight? What if someone gets divorced? By discussing these things, the agreements are now clear to everyone and won't lead to disagreements. That's nice," Ron admits.
Moore DRV has been doing the company's annual audit and payroll and giving tax advice and guidance to Levoplant for over 25 years. "The advisors know our personal situation and how things work within our family. So, half a word is often enough for them. That's great because sometimes we know what we want, but we don't know the financial implications or how we can best go about doing something from a fiscal perspective."
Business succession rule for donation
That happened a few years ago when Leo wanted to donate part of the business to his children. "To do that in a tax-friendly way, we wanted to use the business succession scheme. But to do that, several things had to change within the company. For example, the cumulative preference shares had to be converted into subordinated loans, and all the children had to be put on the payroll," Ron recalls.
"Moore DRV advisor Wim Zandvliet guided us through that entire process. He accompanied my father-in-law and our money man to the Tax Office several times so we could be sure what we were doing was correct and permitted. And yes, of course, such advice costs money. But in the end, the donation was made to save us plenty of taxes. And that's what it was all about."
Ron is generally well-pleased with Moore DRV's service. "The communication lines are short, and I can reach our advisor fairly quickly. And If I want to ask about doing something from my own limited company, I'm immediately given the best advice," he adds. "Also, their local branch's door is always open. And since that's located between our sites, it's ideal."
For Ron, the decisive factor is the personal contact they have with their accountants and relationship manager. "Levoplant is a family business. Everything that happens here is, by definition, also personal. You want to discuss that personally with someone who understands the relationships. It's not just about the numbers, but also about the story behind them," Ron concludes. The folks at Moore DRV get that.
Source: Moore DRV