From the click on a webshop to the package at your door. The Genk-based company BME handles all your e-commerce transactions logistically. With a sustainable personnel policy! Discover the path we took in the interview below from Groeiwaarts.
As soon as you buy something in a webshop a whole process starts behind the scenes. Orders are placed, the chosen product is taken off the shelves and adjusted in stock, a supplier picks it up and delivers it to your home. These are the most common actions, but there is much more behind it. E-fulfilment embraces the complete handling of orders from webshops. From receiving the goods in the warehouse to arriving at the end customers.
We specialize in e-fulfilment tailored to customers and for each sales channel. It all started when Chris Pietermans and Daniel Ciccodemarco, two best friends from Tongeren (they also organise the famous Les Jardins-parties there) were asked to take care of the logistics of the webshop they had built for someone. They rented a warehouse and had some space left.
Soon they received orders from large companies to stock and distribute their merchandising. “We knew of the existence of such activities abroad, but in Belgium nobody was really involved, except large companies,” says Chris, Sales Director and co-owner of BME. “In the SME market it was non-existent. We saw the hole and jumped in. In the beginning, we worked from our gut feeling, we made a proposal and put it online, to our amazement there was a quick response”.
Make a parcel
“When the logistics company Daniel worked for moved, they decided to go for it. For me it was a little less obvious because I just had a chance to get promoted. My boss nearly fell off his chair. “What, you are going to make packages in a warehouse?” Actually, he was right, at first it came down to that. He gave it to me wholeheartedly. Even though I was very happy in my job, I took the plunge. Entrepreneurship is in my blood, not only pay counts but also what you like.”
“Suddenly you’re standing there in a 200m2 warehouse with no logistical experience but still everyone was looking at me. I was in charge of sales, Daniel of operations, development and IT. Fortunately, we both believe in “Take it and get started”. That is how BME came into being. Soon we realised that if we wanted to professionalise, we needed money. Not only to invest in an IT platform, but also in a larger warehouse.”
“At the end of 2014 we got to know Koen Vanderweyden through networking. After a good conversation, about our story, our view of the Belgian market, e-commerce, we jumped on the e-fulfilment train together. We immediately felt – after a few Duvels – the click between us, our collaboration was sealed on a beer mat. Isn’t that how all good collaborations come about,“ Chris laughs.
“For me, that’s a prerequisite for doing business together: friendship. It doesn’t work for me without it. And I can now say that Daniel and Chris have become real friends. But that alone isn’t enough,” adds Koen, Finance Director and co-owner of BME.
“Then there were three of us in our little boat that was still bobbing,” Chris continues, “that strategically still had to get the wind in the sails. The focus was on the financial planning and that was Koen’s job. “I had two conditions, LRM and KBC had to step into the story and I wanted a 5000m2 warehouse instead of the 2000m2 that had been planned. Knowing that this only increased the losses in the first few years, but moving each time is also an investment”. Meanwhile, they are with six partners, three active and three silent. “They’re not that quiet, we can always go there for advice. We appreciate them very much.”
In 2016, we realised that we would not got there with only doing B2C and expanded into the B2B market. Retail space is expensive, retailers want to make useful use of their shelf space, that’s where we come in. We are going to omnichannel-wise, another fancy term to see it very broadly, provide the appropriate solution for every customer who comes our way. Our strengths are, fast deliveries, digital and the delivery can contain smaller volumes. Today, BME is an IT company doing e-fulfilment. IT is important, if we master it we can be fully at the service of a customer and its business model. Tell us what your plan is and where you want to go and we’ll support you in that”.
“A successful company is not alone, a good network is very important,” Koen explains. “You first have to get your network firmly rooted locally, not only financially but also with knowledge and advice. Networking is so important, it ranges from the VDAB, which helps us to find the right workers , to the educational institutions, where we are asked to talk about e-commerce, to Flanders Investment Trade, FIT. First we build local brand awareness, then we go international.”
Fragmented subsidy landscape
“Eric Dieussart from FIT heard our story and put us in contact with Hans Versmissen, business advisor at VLAIO. Hans helped us with the innovation dossier of the Province of Limburg. We financed our research with the subsidy and now we are looking at what the possibilities are in the future,” says Koen. “Hans’ guidance was fantastic and very accessible. To be very honest, you wouldn’t expect that from a government agency. It’s a very valuable connection.
The subsidy landscape is enormously fragmented. It’s constantly evolving. It is very difficult to follow it and put it in the right context. I’ve given up on the ambition to investigate it myself, so I’m in regular contact with Hans to see what’s possible. I don’t go with the approach of “I want that subsidy or need help with it”. I tell him what our plans are and he gives me advice on how to go about it, what support, but also knowledge or partner could help us achieve that goal. That approach really pays off for us.”
Sustainable personnel policy
“Naast de innovatiesubsidie van de provincie Limburg hebben we steun van het Europees Sociaal Fonds (ESF) gekregen rond ons personeelsbeleid. Wij willen niet te veel met interim werken, we willen snel een duurzame thuisbasis bieden. De steun geeft ons de mogelijkheid om naar onze visie op personeel te kijken, competentieprofielen maken en daar het loonbeleid aan koppelen.”
3D printing competition
De toekomst zien de vrienden ambitieus tegemoet: “Binnen 5 jaar moeten ze niet om ons heen kunnen”, zegt Chris. “Onlangs werden we op een event aangekondigd als de proven talkleader in e-commerce. Dàt zijn credits.”
“We willen mee denken met onze klanten en altijd twee stappen vooruit zijn.” “En groter worden,” vult Koen aan. “Al is het nog even de evolutie van de 3D-printers afwachten. Dat is eigenlijk onze grootste concurrent, “Als ik zie wat ze allemaal kunnen printen en wat er in ons magazijn ligt … Maar wij gaan prat op flexibiliteit, efficiëntie en transparantie!”
Are you curious how our flexibility, efficiency and transparency can help you? We are happy to talk about it!