Grower René van der Arend: "Whatever you do, follow your heart”25 July 2017
René van der Arend (51) has the largest nursery of hardy palm trees in Europe, covering an area of 57 ha. He imports 60 per cent of his goods directly from Asia.
The nursery has a greenhouse with tropical palm trees and plants that can reach heights of up to 13 metres. These are grown for Center Parcs, among others. René: "Whatever you do, follow your heart."
Demand for exotic plants
René was 18 years old and had barely finished agricultural college when he joined his father's company. After growing subtropical plants for many years, he was 35 by then, René decided to start importing hardy tropical plants. These were real niche products in the Netherlands back then. "People were beginning to travel to southern Europe more. The demand for exotic plants grew, and I wanted to get a piece of the action." At first, he bought his plants in Spain and Italy, but the quality was not to his liking. "I accompanied importers on their travels, and concluded the quality was lacking. So I decided I would do it myself. The trips into southern Europe helped me see how I should go about things."
First he thoroughly researched thirty growers in southern Europe, and later on he bought land in the south of France where he could grow his trees. "It takes years to grow a palm tree. A year after sowing, you can plant them out. But it takes five years before the first lot has grown enough to sell. It was a good idea to start importing palm trees though, for trade has increased considerably since then. More and more clients were interested."
Keep it niche
René is a grower with a vision, and that shows in his range of tropical plants, to which he keeps adding new varieties and types. What's the secret of his success? "I'm constantly looking for new products. I see growth as adapting to the demands of the market. I'm always focused on that. I look at the outside world, identify the trends, and respond accordingly. You should ensure you never have quite enough units of a variety, in order to keep it 'special'. Keep it niche, that's important. Especially now the number of growers in the Netherlands is dwindling, it's vital that we continue to produce beautiful and special products."
Growth is the guiding principle
What does the future have in store for his company, according to René? "Well, I bought a neighbouring business, 2 hectares big, and I'll take that into production this year. Growth is the guiding principle if you want to be future-proof. I want to expand the range of non-flowering plants, mainly. At the other hand, orders keep getting smaller and smaller, and you have to adjust your stock accordingly."
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