It's a nice hot July day as I cycle from Antwerp to visit Chocoladewerken
Gudrun's head office/factory on the outskirts of Lier. The town
lies about a dozen miles southeast of Antwerp with Gudrun located
in an industrial park about three miles from Lier's city center.
You enter the building and to the immediate right is a counter
with a glass partition where visitors check in. To the immediate
left is a glassed-in office in which I see a man working at a
desk. The waiting area is very tiny and sparsely furnished with
a couple of chairs. No glass displays of company products or
samples for visitors. Talking through the glass I explain to
the receptionist who I am and how I mailed a letter of introduction
a month earlier to CEO Johrn Verhovert. I then ask if she could
call Mr. Verhovert's secretary to find out who ended up with
the letter. The receptionist points to the man sitting in the
glassed-in room right behind me and announces, "that's Mr.
Verhovert". So, I give the receptionist a copy of the postcard/letter
sent to Mr. Verhovert and watch as she enters his office. He
checks out the postcard, says something to her and she's out
of his office in 30 seconds with Verhovert never even looking-up
to acknowledge my presence or existence. The receptionist returns
with a brochure and hands it to me in a manner that suggests
the visit is over. "What, this is it?", I ask in disbelief.
She nods. I continue, "You've got to be kidding, I travel
all the way from California to visit your company and all you
do is hand me a brochure? Didn't he read the letter?" The
woman nods and says she was told to just hand out a brochure.
I ask if there's someone around who would have a few minutes
to answer my questions. She agrees to do it. As it turns out
this woman is not the receptionist but Christel Uytdewilgen,
who's in charge of customer service in the USA.
About 50-60 people work in the one-story structure. The company
has been on this site for 20 years with employee parking free
and plentiful. Therere no onsite recreational facilities,
no formal dress code, it's six miles to the nearest freeway,
about 25 miles to Brussels airport and there's no cafeteria though
there's a break room. Any employee perks? A miserly 10% off company
I've never heard of Gudrun chocolate and ask if it's sold in
the USA. Yes, and in a big time way as it's sold in Costco, the
warehouse-style grocer with revenues of $48 billion. When you
go into a grocery store and buy chocolate or cookies and it has
the store's name or brand on the package, you don't actually
think grocers have their own chocolate and cookie factories do
you? No, they contract it out to companies like Gudrun.
I'm not offered any goodies upon leaving Gudrun but it's no surprise
considering the dismissive manner in which the CEO Verhovert
dealt with me. I have a feeling Verhovert received the advance
material mailed a month earlier but promptly tossed in the trash.
Verhovert seems to be clueless when it comes to public relations.
Riding back to Antwerp I figured out a way to highlight the crummy
reception CEO Verhovert extended to me. I'm going to send a copy
of this story to the CEO of Costco and other grocers like Carrefour
and Sam's Club (revenues $34 billion). Now who knows, maybe they'll
come a time in the future when Costco is stuck having to pick
between two evenly matched suppliers with one of those being
Gudrun. Who knows, maybe the executives will remember the story
of the crummy reception given to a California visitor by Gudrun
and it'll tip the scales in favor of the other supplier. You
know what they say: what goes around comes around.