Chocoladewerken Gudrun n.v.



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. There‘re 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 products.

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.