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A friendly face for ships in port


Oliehandel – Klaas de Boer was founded in the Netherlands in 1914 and can look back on a long and successful history based on its reliable and flexible service.

“Flexibility is a key advantage that we can offer our customers,” says Manager Lubricants Jan Slok. “Thanks to our relatively modest size, we have short lines of communication, allowing decisions to be taken quickly and customer requests dealt with promptly.”

As most fishing boats have only a four-hour window between arriving in port and returning to sea, a lot has to happen within a short time, including taking on fuel. Klaas de Boer has locations all along the Dutch North Sea coast and inland in IJmuiden, Groningen, Urk, Amsterdam, Den Helder, Harlingen, Lauwersoog and Delfzijl/Eems-haven. Through this network it is able to provide fast and reliable deliveries when and where they are needed.

“Our main physical operation takes place in the Amsterdam and IJmuiden region, where we have ample storage available and can deliver products using our own fleet of nine barges,” explains Mr. Slok. “We can also load fuel and lubricants onto our own fleet of trucks at our storage facility in Amsterdam for delivery to clients across the Netherlands.”

Over the years, Klaas de Boer has developed into the preferred partner for the fishing fleet, supplying a full range of fuel, lubricants and even cleaning and maintenance chemicals and other materials that may be needed on board. The largest part of its business in terms of volume is fuel, which accounts for 90% of sales.

Around 80% of sales are to the marine sector, comprising the fishing industry and offshore and dredging operators. The remaining 20% of sales are to inland customers in agriculture or industry.

“Every customer is important to us and treated the same, no matter how big or small,” insists Mr. Slok. “We have very high quality standards and a reputation for quality and service.”

It is a demanding field in which to work, with deliveries often having to be made at unsociable hours and at short notice. “You have to be very customer oriented in your approach,” says Mr. Slok. “If a ship comes in on a Sunday morning, we have to ensure that someone is available to make the delivery in the limited time that they will be in port. That means that our staff cannot afford to party all night on a Saturday night.”

This level of commitment can make it hard to find suitable employees, and with the physical nature of the job, working with heavy fuel drums and materials, it is a job better suited to younger people.

“We are always looking for good people who will fit in with the culture of the company and who are prepared to work hard for commensurate rewards,” says Mr. Slok. “We have to motivate young people, which isn’t always easy, but we have two advantages in our favour. The pay is good, and the work is hard but fun. For people who like being on ships, it is ideal.”

Last year, Klaas de Boer celebrated its centenary. The formerly family-owned company is now a subsidiary of the SBI Group. “Other entities in the group trade in the commodities, and we do the actual physical fuel deliveries,” explains Mr. Slok. “It suits us, as well, as we are free to work in our own way. Within the holding company, we are free to define our own margins and make strategic choices. The holding company has a say in and supports major investments such as new ship acquisitions but gives us free reign in most other things.”

The company’s strategy for the future is to reduce its dependence on the fishing industry by exploring options in the areas of dredging and offshore activities.

“We do not want to lose our current clientele, but we anticipate that economic developments will dictate that we look to other areas to ensure our continued growth,” says Mr. Slok. “We have still to return to the same turnover levels that we enjoyed in 2008 before the financial crisis hit and believe that broader diversification is the answer.”

More efficient engines that require less fuel are also having an effect on Klaas de Boer’s business, as is cut-price competition from other countries. The company’s response is to raise its profile via a number of channels.

“We intend to modernize our website as the start of an online networking strategy that will also encompass social media such as Twitter,” outlines Mr. Slok. “We already advertise in regional and national media but still need to decide on an online strategy to complement our current networking efforts within entrepreneurial associations. We recently sent out a direct mail campaign and will be taking part in this year’s Europort trade fair in Rotterdam, together with our sister company SBI (Sea Bunker International).”

Through these measures, Oliehandel – Klaas de Boer hopes to increase turnover by 30% in the coming three years.

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