Transforming a traditional ready-to-wear studio into an innovative producer and distributor of tailor-made clothing and safety shoes is what Filip Lietaer and Christ Segers successfully did together after they took over the Avelgem clothing studio Derycke in 2006. They prefer to be involved with their products, the sales and the human aspects of business. "Bel-Confect doesn't have its own financial department or CFO. Our office manager sends all financial documents electronically to Vandelanotte. There they handle all the accounting processing, from the accountancy of our companies to the management of our private assets. You feel like they're involved in your company and think along with you proactively. But it's always in a no-nonsense way, "say Filip Lietaer and Christ Segers.
Filip Lietaer was agent for Arbesko, a Swedish brand of safety shoes, and had a friendly bond with Christ Segers, who worked as a key account manager at a clothing store that also sold safety shoes. When a multinational company took over that business, they set up Bel-Pro together, purchasing safety shoes and selling them to retailers and end users. Large companies then asked them to produce corporate clothing for them. In search of a supplier, they contacted the Avelgem clothing studio Derycke, which has focused on classic workwear since 1938: blue overalls, vests or pants. Right away they were asked if they didn't fancy taking over the studio ...
"That was also the moment when Vandelanotte came on board," says Filip Lietaer. "My father-in-law was already a customer and he told me: "If you're a start-up, you're better off with them than with the 'big four'." We might already have commercial experience, but we had no understanding of takeovers, finances and bank loans. Jacques Cappelle - a senior accountant - then supervised the discussions with the banks. Not in the typical suit-and-tie way, but as a doer who goes the extra mile for his customers. Vandelanotte also did a thorough inspection of the studio that was going to be taken over, which assured us that the foundation was good and that it had a leverage effect. That was demonstrated quickly, because in 2009 it burst out of its seams and we moved to Dottignies (Mouscron). At that time, too, we sat around the table with our banker and Vandelanotte to see what the optimum structure was for that real estate operation."
"We didn't take over a business just to be entrepreneurs," continues Christ Segers. "We had a vision and strategy to navigate the market, and that’s still the same today. On the one hand, we make customised workwear for clients like Unilin, Proximus, ArcelorMittal, Jan De Nul, the Dutch and Belgian railways and cities, municipalities and municipal associations. These are often large organisations with long decision-making processes. Our strength lies in being able to respond quickly to their request once the decision is made. We're the flexible speedboat between the cargo ships. This is also necessary, because work clothing is very trade-sensitive, as it concerns the safety and working comfort of the employees. That’s why delivering on time is important, to avoid jeopardising the operations of these companies and governments. In 2011, we established our own hub in Tunisia, with 3 workshops where a total of 180 people work in production for us. By having the entire chain, from raw materials through to the final product, in our own hands, our flexibility was given an extra boost. We are also one of the few clothing companies that still has a studio in Belgium. In Dottignies we make samples and specials, for example for people who need extra large sizes. This also ensures fast delivery." "When it comes to safety shoes - our other activity - the focus is more on retailers such as hardware shops, DIY stores and resellers," adds Filip Lietaer. "In addition to Arbesko we have 6 other brands, including Puma safety shoes but also our own brand D-Force. That now adds up to 11 models that we design, which are then produced by suppliers in countries like China, Italy and the Netherlands."
Bel-Confect nv relies on Vandelanotte for its financial affairsFilip Lietaer , manager
"In 2013, on the advice of Vandelanotte, we set up an Advisory Board," Filip Lietaer continues. "As business managers, Christ and I share the same vision and always decide in the interests of the matter, but sometimes we could also do with external advice. The Advisory Board consists of people with a commercial, financial and strategic profile. They were the ones who demanded reports from us. We used to do that in Excel, but if everyone drafts their own reports, it's not accurate.
Vandelanotte has become highly digitised in recent years, which also means a lot less administrative work for us. We've been working with My Vandelanotte from the start and were the first to test and use the monthly reporting from that platform.
At the beginning of this year, we were able to present the final layout to our Advisory Board. In addition to ease of use, it's very advantageous that you can use 'slots' to determine who has access to which data and who doesn't, because you can even click through to the invoice level. "
"We also meet quarterly with Iris De Groote and her colleague at Vandelanotte. At these meetings, we don't just discuss the figures, but also, for example, how our staff and customers are doing and what our growth prospects are. Lots of questions get asked. That's good, because as a manager you're too involved in your company. An external partner who knows our company through and through thus provides a helicopter view that doesn't let us lose sight of the bigger picture.
We also discuss how we can manage our private assets. But although Vandelanotte offers a lot of services, we never feel that something is being forced upon us. The most important thing in doing business? People speak people, and that's something that we find over and over at Vandelanotte," concludes Christ Segers.
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