You are co-owner of a beautiful company, renowned, widely respected and 100% focused on… meat.
For more than 130 years, you have been providing quality meat for the catering industry. Suddenly, on 20 December 2006, you receive an alarming phone call at 4:45 in the morning, 10 seconds later you jump in your car wearing nothing but pyjama bottoms and, worried sick, rush to your business in “no time”. What you find there is a giant blaze. Next door to your premises, your neighbour, a Mexican taco factory, is on fire. The fire threatens to spill over. We shout at the fire services: flood our premises!
This is Herman Gorter’s experience. Together with Wim Fontijn, he has owned one of the finest family businesses in the Netherlands since 2006: Fontijn. Wim is the son of Cees Fontijn and Cees made the choice to take Herman on in December 1999.
Herman had earned his spurs in the meat industry and soon got involved in everything at Fontijn, and he was successful. Fontijn grew steadily. The team of motivated employees was clearly partly responsible for this. As a family business, they were known for their high-quality products and optimal service.
There wasn’t a great focus on administrative work; much work was outsourced to external companies. The focus was on the customer and, as mentioned, quality.
Herman remembers the night of the fire like it was yesterday: “We always start early at Fontijn. At 5.00 am. I was there within 15 minutes of that phone call and a number of colleagues were already trying to save what could be saved. A hamburger machine was being dragged out of the fire as best as it could be. I grabbed everything I could get hold of and ran back out of the building through the smoke with paperwork and files under my arm. A colleague had ripped our server out of the filing cabinet; in those days these were simple and not mega-heavy cabinets. 24 hours later, heat, smoke and extinguishing water had rendered much of it broken or unusable. Afterwards, the server’s network card also turned out to be damaged.”
Herman continues: “Fortunately, there were no personal accidents at either our or our neighbours’ house. But I can tell you that I had never known so much adrenaline racing through my body. Everything is fighting to take precedence in your head. It was just before Christmas. Naturally, it was very busy at Fontijn. Fortunately, I had the phone numbers of all our clients and suppliers in my phone. My friend organised a telephone team of 10 people, so we were able to inform all our customers very quickly. Wim and I really got the most bizarre responses. From threats like “I don’t care what happened, you fix it” to complete understanding. Colleagues and especially our suppliers offered help. That was really wonderful.”
“Once the initial stress was behind us, we started thinking a little more calmly about things like ‘how do we proceed now?’, ‘are we properly insured?’, ‘can we continue with our business?’
I knew one thing for sure: we had a thorough, good valuation report (in accordance with Section 7:960 of the Dutch Civil Code; ed.). About 2.5 years before the fire, I had had a valuation done by Lengkeek on the recommendation of our insurer.”
The valuation report turned out to be worth its weight in gold. Because of some of the stories you hear about other people’s experiences with fire, you are still uncertain about how things will turn out with the insurance claim. The contra-loss adjuster we engaged immediately asked if there were any valuation reports. Thanks to Lengkeek’s report, they were able to prove and refute everything. Everything was compensated. Thinking back on how much effort it had taken a few years earlier to convince the big boss Cees Fontijn to have everything properly valued, I still have to laugh sometimes. “All those high insurance premiums, a waste of money” and “you shouldn’t value your inventory at new value, there’s no point” are arguments many business owners will exclaim. Including Cees. Fortunately, he changed his mind and agreed to Lengkeek visiting the company. Of course, our insurance premiums would go up, but after the fire, we were all only too happy that we had followed Lengkeek’s advice and all its tips.”
Fontijn was paid everything lost at the replacement value. A large sum that allowed them to rebuild and continue the family business. Because the loss of profits was also insured, Fontijn was able to move into a large rental building within a week, with refrigeration and freezer space and new equipment to boost production.
“After the fire, by the way, we continued to grow: in turnover and in staff. We are struggling at the moment due to the pandemic. Naturally we do a lot of business with and for the catering industry. They are having a tough time. It sucks, but fortunately there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Wim and Herman have no immediate successors as yet. It would be nice if the business stayed in the family, but that’s not set in stone for them. “We like to stick to our core values, our identity. A horizontal organisation with the intention to continue to innovate and remain competitive. Every day we put in 100 per cent. We all take on multiple jobs. I do the purchasing, sales and bookkeeping, among other things. If we are short of hands, I just muck in. There are no positions here. We do it all together, for the customer. If the customer is happy, we are happy – that’s what it’s all about.”
Before we know it, 1.5 hours have passed. Herman needs to get on. A lot of phone calls came in during the interview and even though it is Friday, they have to be dealt with before the weekend.
Actually, we could have kept it very short, he concludes, “Make sure you always have a valuer determine the value of your assets and inventory in detail, the correct value. In February, we had another valuation done by Lengkeek. As far as I am concerned, this is essential for any serious organisation. If Fontijn hadn’t had Lengkeek’s valuation report after that fire, we would never be where we are now. Thanks to Lengkeek, we were able to quickly move. Very quickly!”