The twin challenges of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic have not stopped Vandersanden, the Belgian-headquartered manufacturer of bricks, slips and pavers, from continuing its growth in the UK market. PBM speaks with UK Sales Director Darren White to discover more.
The Vandersanden Group was established in 1925 and is now said to be one of the largest family-owned brick manufacturers in Europe, with a total annual production capacity of approximately 500 million bricks. It operates from manufacturing sites in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany in addition to sales offices in France and the UK — via a newly-upgraded facility, purchased in 2019, in St. Ives, Cambridgeshire.
Now under the third generation of family ownership, the company employs more than 700 people and has an annual group turnover of more than €200 million.
Vandersanden has been active in the UK market for more than two decades. Until 2017, it had worked with specialist distributor Hoskins Brick however following the retirement of Alan Hoskins and the desire of Rob Hoskins to undertake new challenges and projects, the manufacturer and its UK partner entered into an acquisition agreement to ensure a ‘direct’ presence in the domestic market under its corporate name, allowing it to “improve communication and build long-term relationships with its customers.”
In the UK, having continued to supply through the existing merchant distributor network, Vandersanden committed to “invest in improving our levels of business with all our partners”. And to assert its reinvigorated presence, Sales Director Darren White states the company has pledged to deliver on its long term investment plan to give the market a “better, value-driven proposition… that offers quality, consistency and choice” to put real value back into what is all too often still seen as a commodity product.
For example, in-branch promotion and merchandising had previously received little consideration, however Darren — whose experience in the brick industry stretches back more than 20 years — says that this has changed significantly in the ensuing years now that customers are dealing with “the name above the door”. Accordingly, merchant customers are able to utilise a host of point of sale materials to support what is billed as “the widest range of bricks available from any manufacturer”.
As the business strives to cement its brand in the UK, messages on the Group’s commitment to innovation, craftsmanship and sustainability will form the centrepiece of its strategy to help drive business for merchants. Already, it deals with the national merchant chains, buying groups such as Fortis and NBG along with many other independent merchants, whilst Vandersanden UK is also a member of the BMF.
In a recent ‘Insight’ piece for the BMF, Darren explained that — despite the significant challenges facing the wider market with Covid and Brexit — Vandersanden UK was performing strongly. The “transformation” of its UK headquarters includes a “stunning showroom facility which we are looking forward to launching to all our customers when the restrictions allow” whilst the firm has also expanded its UK team in the areas of sales, technical support and customer service.
Darren said: “This will enable us to focus further on customer value, innovation, and sustainability. We plan to invest further with the development of digital tools and services to enhance the customer service and experience.”
As a European manufacturer, Darren also addressed the changes brought about by Brexit: “The burning question I am repeatedly asked is will there be any supply issues? Personally, for us I do not foresee this being the case. We have worked very closely with our partners and have all of the necessary procedures in place. We have also increased our core range stock holding at the docks and will continue to communicate closely with our customers to identify their needs to ensure we meet their requirements.”
He concluded: “Whilst it would be foolish of me to think that 2021/22 will not be challenging for us all, our industry is fundamental in keeping our economy going. This, coupled with the shortfall in housing and the government initiatives that are in place, puts Vandersanden in a strong position to face the challenges in front of us.”
For more information on Vandersanden UK, its products and support services for merchants, go to www.vandersanden.com