The use of ice in Europe can be traced as far back to the days of ancient Rome. During winter, the Romans would bring it to Rome from the Alps, and then store it in underground ice houses until it was used in the summer. They even developed …Oh, you have heard this with every Freeze Frame interview, therefore… We, as modern day Icemen and Icewomen, are forging the way to making packaged ice an everyday commodity used by all. Below is the latest official Freeze Frame interview with Robin Roodhuyzen of Ice Age Ice in the Netherlands. Robin is one of our founding members of the EPIA and the first distributor member to be interviewed.
(Interviewer) Would you tell me about your background and how you got involved with the packaged ice industry?
(Robin) I lived in Holland, France and Brazil. In fact, I just returned from holiday at Carnaval in Brazil. My background was not in the production of ice, but rather as a supplier of products to preserve frozen food items.
My background is a corporate lawyer which seems a long way from frozen water. However I also earned an MBA from Insead, in Fontainebleau (France). This provides an excellent platform to get a well-rounded understanding of business in the civilized world.
The red line in my business activities is that it concerns niche markets. In the ice industry I found a niche in the convenience segment of daily deliveries: high service and high quality. The contact with this industry was sheer coincidence. Almost ten years ago, Matt Meredith of Ice Age Ice Germany contacted me at my other company that I am involved in to buy cooler bags. This other company (Kepco) is a specialised producer of Coolerbags, Thermobags and isolation solutions for food service.
Since 2007, Ice Age is an independent distributor of ice in the Netherlands working together with Ice Age Ice Germany as the sole supplier of the packaged ice that I distribute in my marketplace.
The ice industry in Holland has developed fairly recently as in many other European countries. Packaged ice is now available in most supermarkets, at fuel stations, and liquor stores. In the main cities there are many of such retailers ‘around the corner’ that sell ice cubes, and many of them sell Ice Age Ice bags. My desire is to get them to sell my packaged ice–not someone else’s or something they make themselves.
(Interviewer) What roles do you play now at IceAgeIce NL?
(Robin) In the daily operation my role is active, but restricted in the time that I must devote to the daily routine. I keep an eye on major issues like ordering and cash flow, and the logistics of getting product to market in a timely manner. Commercial contact with my main customers is very important since my product is service as much as bags of ice. The superior customer service that I provide allows me to keep in contact with my major customers only a few times per year. At the same time, I maintain contact with our clients by stopping over when nearby to keep feeling with the ‘floor’ and the market so they know I keep them in my thoughts between meetings.
(Interviewer) What is the company’s management style?
(Robin) Ice Age Ice NL unlike any other member of the EPIA that I know, does not employ any personnel; production takes place at Ice Age Ice in Germany and storage and distribution are sourced out locally through subcontractors to Ice Age Ice NL. We have invested a lot in IT and created a web portal for our clients to send in their orders. With the customer confidence we have nurtured, we then direct deliveries as needed to our customers. Our goal is for them to be confident that their needs are filled on time, every time.
(Interviewer) What is the typical work week? (number of hours/day and days/week start work at what time, normally end at what time, break during lunch for how long)
(Robin) Because there are no personnel besides myself, the company’s day-to-day business is run hands-on by a few people who are subcontractors. This correspondence is sometimes by phone but mainly through the internet using our portal. And of course the internet has its own time and place not regulated by a time clock. Therefore this typical workday or work week is not really applicable for Ice Age Ice NL. We receive orders day and night on our web portal or via email at our customers’ convenience.
(Interviewer) What is most enjoyable and least enjoyable about work during the year?
(Robin) The most enjoyable is when the sun starts shining in spring and the season takes off. The least enjoyable is when the busy season abruptly ends without notice sometime during the fall when the weather changes and people no longer require ice.
(Interviewer) What major challenges and problems did you face? How did you handle them?
(Robin) We have built a company specifically aimed at the niche of convenience products. The major challenge was to set up a distribution system that could guarantee the fine maze delivery system which is a definite requirement to make this work effectively. It has resulted in a business which is uncommon for the standard ice producers/distributors. Most companies are driven by sales volume, we look at margin. After all, you can sell a lot of product at very low margin and have a lot of cost and headaches for your troubles or sell a reasonable amount of product with great customer satisfaction with almost no headaches and end up with the same amount of Euros in your pocket at the end of the day.
Challenges are sometimes overcoming mistakes. Like other EPIA members, we have made many mistakes and have acquired many lessons learned. The biggest mistake is to think that one can predict sales volumes; demand is very much linked to the weather. And that is quite unpredictable in northern Europe!
(Interviewer) What was the biggest accomplishment this past year?
(Robin) The biggest accomplishment was to get confirmation from some major retail chains and chains of fuel stations that they wanted to be part of our high service concept. That accomplishment now means we will have more challenges. As our volume grows, we must ensure we do not compromise our superior customer service.
The biggest failure was the free distribution of freezers to anybody who wanted one at the start in 2007/2008. It has taken some years to find out the factors that determine in which areas our freezers will be successful and where we should not place them. We now have a better idea of where to place ice merchandisers for optimum sales and not cost profit dollars.
(Interviewer) What are things your company has done recently to show how it values its employees and/or customers?
(Robin) Not having any personnel, this concerns our clients only–although we do have a yearly “family party day” with the people who work for our company.
As to our clients, we try to focus on service and quality, as well as providing them with promotional materials, such as advertising posters and flyers. And all year round we are in touch with (potential) clients to learn their requirements and how to improve our business. But most importantly, we show our values by performing to our clients’ expectations. And in case there is a problem or mistake, we resolve it directly. That is the real essence of customer service, and customer service is our main product.
(Interviewer) What are the company’s strengths and weaknesses compared to its competition?
(Robin) We are a small and specialised company. Niche markets have an advantage that is difficult for competitors to get into: high cost and low volume are barriers to entry. The disadvantage is that it is a relative small market by definition so we must excel in what we do to prosper.
(Interviewer) What is the organization’s plan for the next five years?)
(Robin) The plans are to grow in certain areas of the market, where service and reliability are equally important as price.
(Interviewer) What are the various ways employees communicate with one another to carry out their work?
(Robin) Because we have outsourced most of the work, our company has strict control points to ensure a consistently high performance level. That includes ordering, picking and delivery. Most of the time this is done to perfection and communication comes when something disturbs this precision.
(Interviewer) Is there anything else you would like to add?
(Robin) All our partners are HACCP certified, and the complete chain is covered from production to storage to distribution.
Until 2005 Robin used to travel a lot, having clients for his other business in Asia, South America and Australia. Nowadays the travel is mainly restricted to Europe as internet offers great ways to be in touch all over the world. Robin lives in Amsterdam with his wife, Stefanie, and their two children, aged 7 and 9 years old. He devotes lot of time to the kids’ sporting activities, especially around the weekends. Robin enjoys playing golf, and has a nice run every week in the main central park of Amsterdam, the Vondelpark.