Nedlin is celebrating its 65th anniversary in 2017. The De Win family has been at the helm of this family-owned business for three generations. Following in the footsteps of their grandfather Jeu and their father Erik, the De Win brothers Stef and Luuk have been running the laundry company since 2001. Erik still works for the company behind the scenes, acting as a sounding board. What does Nedlin’s 65th anniversary mean to the father and sons? And is the drive to succeed really in their genes?
'I'm afraid the men in our family bear the terrible burden of ambition,' admits Erik de Win straight away. 'It really is a family trait, although everyone expresses it in his own way.' The father of the family sums it up as follows: 'Stef and I head straight for our target and we love details. Luuk thinks about things more but is better than anyone at striking at the right time.'
Luuk believes that this provides a natural balance in their joint role as directors. 'Stef is more about structure, which is needed inside the business. I focus on the outside world and I'm involved in the commercial side of things. In my role, sometimes you need to navigate. We both have the same goal. The only difference is our approach to things.'
The very beginning
The brothers took over from their father in 2001. For a long time, however, there was no guarantee that would happen. 'I left it up to them,' explains Erik. 'They both went to study in Rotterdam and started their careers off elsewhere. It was different in my day. My father set up the company in Hoensbroek in 1952 under the name Wasserij AWÉ. It was not an easy time, so soon after the Second World War, and the company experienced a lot of initial setbacks. However, my father persevered and continued looking for new opportunities.’
Erik can be found in the laundry from the age of twelve. 'I loved tinkering with the machinery. I was fascinated by the technology.' On his eighteenth birthday Erik officially starts working at the laundry. Five years later, in 1968, he takes over the company. 'I always set myself new goals. I started focusing more and more on the bigger companies and I wanted to give clients something new every year. For example, at the start of the computer era in the 1980s, we had the EDI system. This is a network that was used to accept orders and replenish stock. That made us a cutting-edge company.'
In the 1970s and the 1980s, society is undergoing a lot of changes and Erik responds to these changes. 'The market was growing and clients wanted more and more services. It was an interesting time because automation presented lots of new opportunities. Together with Philips, who were also a client of ours, we developed DOT codes for items of clothing. That enabled us to scan all of the laundry that was submitted for washing as it came in and out. This was revolutionary.' The DOT codes were the precursor to barcodes and, later, chip technology. Thanks to this track & trace system, Nedlin is still at the top of its game today. Thirty years later, it still develops its own software.
Under Erik’s leadership, the company starts to expand and his wife Miek joins the administration team. In 1988 he launches the Rentex franchise, whereby Wasserij AWÉ collaborates with over sixteen laundry companies operating in the area of linen rental for the health-care industry. Each of these laundry companies incorporates the name ‘Rentex’ into their own company name. Wasserij AWÉ is renamed Rentex AWÉ. 'Rentex had a good reputation in the Netherlands and was a market leader in the health-care industry. We needed this commercial clout and Rentex provided a safety net in the event of an emergency,' explains Erik.
The company is already a well-known player in the industrial and health-care sectors in 1997, when Erik is given the chance to enter the hospitality sector. He is given the opportunity to purchase the Nedlin laundry company in Elsloo, a major name in the hospitality sector. 'For me, this was the right time to ask Stef and Luuk whether they were interested in taking over the company. Otherwise I would not have bought Nedlin.'
Spirit of entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship beckons for both brothers. Stef joins the company in 1998 and he is followed by Luuk over a year later. 'In the environment where I was working at the time, I missed the spirit of entrepreneurship,' recalls Luuk. 'And since the company was growing, there was room for both of us.' Stef likes the challenge of running his own company. 'You need to enjoy looking for opportunities because other people won’t come up with them for you.'
In 2001, Stef and Luuk take over the entire company from their father. However, Erik continues to play a role in the business. The brothers continue to professionalize the company, and under their leadership it grows seven times bigger. The number of employees increases from seventy to almost four hundred. As Stef puts it, 'under our leadership, the company is in an even stronger position in terms of production and commerce.'
This upscaling requires new buildings. In 2008, a new laundry is built for the hospitality industry. In 2012, a brand new hall is built for the health-care industry. The company continues to grow steadily, and in 2014 the laundry facilities in Elsloo are expanded once again. According to Erik, the biggest difference between today and the old days is the speed. 'The basis of our services and products hasn’t changed but everything is a lot faster now. The internet has made everything a lot more transparent. If you come up with an innovative concept today, your competitors can copy you in the morning.'
All about family
Despite this, Luuk still sees opportunities to innovate. 'As a family-owned company, we are concerned with the long term. We don’t need to worry about shareholders. We can make our own decisions.' Stef nods. 'It's true,' he adds. 'We have the courage to invest in developments that have not been finalized. A lot of companies don’t have that freedom.'
With regard to the future, the brothers are keen to stress that they are running a family-owned business. 'Our strength has always been that we are reliable and committed,' remarks Luuk. 'We might work in three segments but we are still one family, so it made sense to pick one name. That’s why we will be called Nedlin as from April 2017.'
Erik is happy to see how comfortable his two sons are in their roles. 'I know I can retire with peace of mind. Plus I think it’s important to be able to let go. That said, some things still interest me, especially in the area of innovation. I’m still working on a few projects that I want to wrap up.’
The next generation
For the time being, Stef and Luuk haven’t thought about what will happen when they leave the company. 'It remains to be seen whether a fourth generation of De Win's will work at the company,' says Luuk with a laugh. 'Both of us have children but mine are still at primary school so we haven’t given it any thought yet. We don’t discuss work at home as much as we used to when we were young. Since both of our parents worked at the company, business simply continued at the kitchen table. The fact that my wife and I have two different careers makes for a completely different dynamic.
Stef agrees with this. He believes the most important thing is for his children to forge their own path. 'I want them to have complete freedom, just like we always had. The world is changing quickly. Who knows what the next generation will bring? The most important thing is for us to ensure a healthy future for Nedlin.'