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Innovation and ambition oil the path to success

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Until 2012, Wolf Oil concentrated mainly on blending motor oils for private labels. “Until then, that was our core activity,” underlines Communications Specialist Julie Sterkens. “The family company then decided to introduce two brands of its own – Wolf, and Champion. That had a huge impact on the business; we achieved a massive growth in turnover and, as a result, our staff numbers increased dramatically. Although we are still based in the original headquarters in Antwerp, the premises are now too small and we have had to construct an additional building to accommodate all our employees.”

Wolf Oil is still privately owned, and it is now the second and third generation who lead the corporation: father Phillipe Verellen is the Managing Director and his son Nicolas is the General Manager. For the past five years, the emphasis was very much on developing the company’s own-brand products.

Now, in 2018, it is aiming to continuously enhance its key private label partnerships. “We have retained all of our original private-label clients – these are long-standing relationships,” notes Ms. Sterkens. “However, we are now looking to expand our privatelabel business, in particular in terms of securing more international clients.”

Wolf Oil is a specialist in the automotive oils sector, blending motor oils, transmission fluids, brake and steering lubricants, winter fluids, greases, and maintenance products for passenger cars, motorcycles, heavy duty, industrial and agricultural vehicles, and for the marine sector.

The company’s own brands encompass an extensive range of different lubricants. The trademark of the Wolf brand is innovation; it makes use of all the latest technologies and closely follows evolution within the industry. The brand is trusted by many renowned OEM partners. The Champion brand focuses on the here and now and helps customers face the challenges of today and achieve improved performance. This brand is valued by a large network of after-market workshop owners and is also sold in the DIY sector.

“After sales service is also important in our industry. If there is a problem, our partners send us samples of used oil for analysis; usually however, the issue is due to the engine and not our products,” Ms. Sterkens points out.

Wolf Oil sells its lubricants through a network of distributors in 90 countries across the globe. These distributors reach out to workshop owners, and some of them sell directly on the retail market. E-commerce features heavily. “It would be inconceivable for us not to have a presence in internet retailing,” says the Communications Specialist. “Although we don’t have a webshop of our own, we support our clients with marketing materials for their own online stores. We are currently looking at how we can support our partners more extensively in this area.”

Wolf Oil’s headquarters and production facilities are centered on one site in Antwerp. As well as the management functions, the end-to-end production process is undertaken at these premises, including blending, container filling, and transport and distribution.

“The Antwerp site consists of large buildings for production and blending; pipes take the oil to a different area where containers are filled,” says Ms. Sterkens, explaining the production process. “We have our own warehouse, and a laboratory which is used for checking product quality at various stages of production – after blending, before filling and after filling.”

The company employs a total of 230 staff, 40% of whom are engaged in production activities. Ms. Sterkens joined Wolf Oil a year ago from a completely unrelated sector. “What really attracted me is the international aspect and the fact that it is a family-owned company,” she says. “There is a pleasant family atmosphere mixed with an international culture.”

Ms. Sterkens believes it is this special culture which helps Wolf Oil differentiate itself from the competition. “From my experience here, I would say that what is really exceptional is the way that we approach things,” she says. “We set very ambitious goals, such as switching from private-label production to our own brands, and moving from a comfortable level of success to the introduction of a large marketing offensive for these brands. The fact that we not only pulled it off, but we achieved significant growth in the process, tells us that our approach is the right one.”

Innovation also plays an essential role. “We have a hands-on mentality,” Ms. Sterkens continues. “We meet challenges with innovative solutions. The staff work as a team, and we are very pragmatic. These characteristics are gradually woven into our psyche, and subconsciously determine the way we select new staff. We look for people who are willing to change their way of thinking to find solutions.”

Wolf Oil has an extensive onboarding process and immerses its new employees in its brands and the technical aspects of lubricants. New staff are assigned to multiple projects in different departments so that they get to know the team, and experience Wolf Oil’s way of working and its culture. Internal information events are held throughout the year to explain strategies and report on progress. This supportive approach does not end with the company’s own staff.

“Our distributors know their own market better than we do, so we support them with product training and marketing materials for exhibitions, websites, and social media,” explains Ms. Sterkens. The coming years will see Wolf Oil hiring new staff and strengthening its teams.

“We are anticipating further significant growth,” the Communications Specialist reveals. “We are stepping up our activities in Asia and the Middle East, and of course, we are also refocussing on, and investing in, private-label production for the international market. Our constant focus is the mobility of the future and finding our role in it. The major players are growing and the industry continues to develop. Our constant challenges are to evolve with it, take care of our people, and retain our own place in the market.”

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