Secrid CEO René van Geer: “Producing in your own country will become the most normal thing in the world in ten years’ time”
12 Nov 2020
Reshoring is currently the ultimate trend. The Dutch brand Secrid, inventor of the Cardprotector, is an expert in that field. ‘We have had almost all the parts produced in the Netherlands right from the very start”, says co-founder René van Geer. He predicts that producing in your own country will become the most normal thing in the world during this interview.
Secrid was founded by René and Marianne van Geer. They developed their unique and, above all, super safe Cardprotector in 2009, which can be used both loosely or form part of a wallet. Nowadays, Secrid’s cardholders and wallets can be found in more than 7,500 selected (web) shops across the world. René and Marianne work on improving and further developing the Cardprotector and their company every single day, together with their three children and almost a hundred colleagues.
Can you tell me about Secrid’s journey so far?
One thing’s for sure: it has certainly been a bumpy ride. Our first cardholder, the Bodycard, was an activity in addition to our design agency Spirid from 1995 to 2008. We learned that it makes good business sense to focus on one activity during those twelve years. That’s why we decided to take stock of things and say goodbye to our design agency during the crisis of 2008. Instead of designing for third parties, we decided we’d prefer to develop and produce products under our own management. So from that moment on, we were completely focussed on a new cardholder, allowing us to remain much closer to our own vision and objectives. One of the things at the top of our list of priorities is good, clean and socially responsible production. We therefore have almost all the parts produced in the Netherlands. We only obtain a few parts from Belgium, Germany and Italy, simply because they are not available in the Netherlands. Plus we stand for excellent quality. Only the best is good enough. In the unlikely event that products suffer a defect, we make sure this is repaired.
Why did you decide to keep the production in your own country?
Let’s turn the question around: “Why produce so far away when it can also be carried out close to home?” It’s interesting to note that producing in China is the standard and that producing in the Netherlands is something you have to explain. We don’t think that’s right. At the time, we simply didn’t see a need to go abroad. In fact, we identified many disadvantages where producing in China was concerned. We also noticed that many companies chose to produce abroad in order to save on environmental costs. We didn’t want to be part of that. We believe production based on the strictest environmental requirements is an important responsibility for every manufacturer. And guess what: you can easily make competitive wallets in the Netherlands with a smart design and pleasant partners.
How did you approach this?
Classic billfolds are labour-intensive and therefore expensive too. Producing in the Netherlands became an option for Secrid because we had thought up a totally new concept and had subsequently developed the production processes and tools ourselves. Our production time is therefore shorter than for classic billfolds. However, this doesn’t mean our production is fully automated. We provided work for about three hundred people at various production locations in the Netherlands in 2019. The staffing levels for our wallets is temporarily much lower during this 2020 ‘Covid year’, but fortunately many of our suppliers still have plenty of work.
You contributed to the development of face coverings for the Reinier de Graaf Hospital in South Holland last spring. How did that happen?
Our sewing workshops were at a standstill and a colleague of ours lives very near the hospital. We heard about the urgent shortages and the link was quickly made. We had converted our production line and it was fully productive within a matter of weeks. It was a nice project which gave us a great deal of satisfaction. Four of our suppliers are currently still busy making face coverings and face masks. And one factory is using a large part of its capacity for the production of respiratory equipment.
What is the greatest advantage of producing in your own country?
I can’t single out one specific advantage, simply because there are so many. The high quality and simple quality controls, clean processes, simple communication, everything in the same time zone, short travelling times, (almost all within 150 km), minimal CO2 emissions, quick switching of collections, small series, small stocks, less capital requirement, simply being able to deliver from stock up to the week before Christmas, stable prices (regardless of dollar exchange rates), political stability, no import duties, lower import duties for export to the US and so on. Another important point is that almost all our counterfeiters are located in China. If we were to produce there ourselves, we would be training the counterfeiters to obtain our level of quality. There is currently still a major difference in quality between our products and the Chinese counterfeit products. It’s amusing to see that a number of very expensive wallet brands are now also working with counterfeit card protectors. And even these expensive brands aren’t producing good quality. No one appears to understand the true complexity of the production process. This is why we like to keep this nice and close to home. And finally, the increasing political unrest in China and the US is another reason to be happy with our production in the Netherlands.
Many companies were suddenly having to deal with products or parts which could no longer be supplied during the corona crisis. Did you feel that, compared to other brands, it was an advantage to have the production in the Netherlands?
We weren’t without products or parts for a single day. I haven’t had a great deal of feedback from the market about the situation at companies which obtain copies or look-a-likes from China. They probably had to deal with delivery problems. One specific bit of feedback I did receive from the market is that there is now an increasing conscious demand for responsible production, so towards ‘not made in China’.
“There is now an increasing conscious demand for responsible production. ‘Not made in China’: that’s what more and more consumers want”
Given your experience with reshoring: how would you advise other brands in relation to this?
As previously indicated, we can only see advantages for Secrid. Overall, I think producing in the Netherlands and in the EU is only going to become more important during the next few years. Everyone thought we had gone mad when we first started production in the Netherlands. Nowadays, many people are interested in, or are already, doing the same. It will be the most normal thing in the world in ten years’ time.
How are you dealing with the current crisis?
It goes without saying a crisis is both profound and intensive, especially for the sick people within our network. Our turnover has gone down too. Sales at tourist locations, airports and on board aircraft has suddenly slumped to zero and will certainly not be returning to the old levels any time soon. Not all the shops within our network are going to survive this. Our brand store in Rotterdam had only been open for a few months when the Covid crisis first began. That definitely wasn’t great timing from a financial point of view, but we had specifically opened this shop as a ‘laboratory’, in order to experiment and experience what it’s like to have a shop, allowing us to gain a better understanding of the 7,500 retailers we supply. In that sense, the shop was also very educational during this period and certainly something we would advise every brand to do. Yet at the same time, this crisis feels like a period of reflection too. We have identified numerous new opportunities, as a result of which our company can come out of the crisis stronger. We were in a much deeper depression in 2008 and we came out of that stronger too. Looking back, the 2008 crisis was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to us (from a business perspective). It certainly didn’t feel like that in 2008, but in retrospect this is a clear conclusion. We expect to be able to look back at 2020 in the exact same way.
What are the plans for the future?
We have plenty of plans for the future, but the Covid crisis is currently making us critically review everything. The changing world has led to a revision of our plans. And as Covid is by no means done yet, those new plans have not yet been crystallised. The planning will continue to be a dynamic process during the forthcoming winter months. We hope to be able to concretise our new strategy in the spring of 2021. We are certainly looking at new collaborations, as we did with the Freitag brand. We are regularly approached and various discussions are currently ongoing. However, a collaboration is far more complicated than it may appear at first sight. You simply don’t start that within a few months. But once a good foundation has been laid, as we did with Freitag, then you can keep going together for years.
For us, the collaboration with Freitag has become exceptionally good and inspiring, especially because we are very similar where our philosophy, character and strategy are concerned. In addition to working together at product level, we can also exchange a great deal in the areas of operational management, strategic vision, etc. We have been able to inspire them in the reshoring area and they have inspired us to start working with holacracy: a natural way to give our flat and open organisation a clear structure. Secrid is naturally working on new products too, but we can’t tell you anything about that just yet.