Interview conducted by Susan Negley, February 23, 2010; a
version of this interview appears on the i
nstitute's blog site
Ruud Steenvorden
Ruud Steenvoorden

    Ruud Steenvoorden is president of Steenvoorden Consultancy located in South
    Africa.  Ruud is past Corporate Director of Purchasing at Fetim B.V. an
    international company that buys, markets and distributes wood and laminate
    floor covering, and other construction materials, to retailers, professionals and
    DIY chains across Europe.  At Fetim he was responsible for strategic purchases
    as well as for managing the wood flooring business.  He is past vice president of
    the European Federation of Parquet Importers (EFPI), a Brussels based
    association of European importers of engineered and solid wood flooring.  He has
    over 30 years experience in the international wood and laminate flooring
    markets.  Ruud was born in the Netherlands. He speaks Dutch, English, German
    and French and is now living and working in South Africa.

Meet Ruud Steenvoorden

    Meet Ruud Steenvoorden, the newest consultant to join the
    Floor Covering Institute.  Ruud was born in The Netherlands
    but now lives in South Africa after 35 year career with
    Fetim B.V., an international company that buys, markets
    and distributes construction materials, including floor
    covering, to professionals, retailers and DIY chains
    across Europe.  It is Europe's largest wood flooring provider.

    For the last two decades Ruud was responsible for corporate buying, primarily of Fetim’s hardwood flooring
    products. He directed their sourcing activities, raw materials, and strategic suppliers around the world and has
    conducted business in China, Indonesia, Honk Kong, and across Europe. Ruud was also vice-president of the
    European Federation of Parquet Importers (EFPI), a Brussels based association of European importers of
    engineered and solid wood flooring from 2005 to 2009.

    Ruud began with Fetim in 1975 and actually grew up in the business it seems, starting out as a trainee and over
    the years has been involved in many facets of business management, mergers and acquisitions, international
    product sourcing, channel distribution, marketing and much more. He speaks four languages: Dutch, English,
    German and French.
    In 2006, after more than 30 years with Fetim, Ruud and his wife “retired” to their summer home in South Africa
    where he continued to manage the strategic side of Fetim’s wood flooring business and transition into
    independent consulting with Steenvoorden Consultancy. We are thrilled to have him on the team at the Floor
    Covering Institute and I think you will find his experience not only impressive but interesting.

    SN: Ruud, how did you and Jim Gould become acquainted?

    RS: Although we have worked in the same industry and now realize we have many common acquaintances, Jim
    and I did not meet until the US-INO-UE Summit in Shanghai last year. Later, Thomas Baert of China Floors
    proposed to Jim that I would make a good addition to the institute. I was very delighted with this idea and
    immediately accepted his invitation. I have the feeling I have entered a completely new world and that is very
    challenging. Now I am part of this prestigious group of floor covering consultants at the Floor Covering Institute
    and like my peers at the Institute, and like the readers I am sure, I am passionate about the floor covering
    industry.

    SN: What do you like most about this industry?

    RS: It is an incredibly big market, worldwide, and the changing trends are very challenging. If you look back ten
    years you see the changes; I can only say you have to stay awake in order to be able to follow it. I am not only
    talking about the products but also the facts around it like changing laws and environment.

    SN: You spent over 30 years at Fetim. Tell me how you got started in this long career.

    RS: Believe it or not, I started at Fetim as a trainee before the company included flooring in their product line.
    The company was an importer/distributor of wood construction materials mainly in the Dutch area which is
    where I was born (the Netherlands). I studied wood technology in the early years there. I became familiar with
    the processes required to design products, find the raw materials and suppliers, get the products manufactured
    to specification, then marketed and distributed.

    We learned that commodity products were popular with the customers but didn’t provide enough profit to grow
    a business so we invested in innovation and Fetim actually was one of the first companies in our industry to
    have a separate division dedicated to creating new products and product groups.  The cost for this was high
    with no immediate results but we persisted and it paid off in the long run. We then split Fetim into two
    divisions; retail and commercial, each with its own market approach so I sourced and marketed products for
    both.

    SN: What part did you play in getting Fetim into flooring, specifically laminate?

    RS: This is a great story of how relationships and ideas can combine to make great things happen.  In 1986,
    when we entered the flooring business, carpet was 85% of the market. European wood manufactures existed
    for sure and by 1988 Pergo was just introducing laminate in Europe. Fetim was keen to have a laminate product
    so I visited my counterpart at Kaindl, who at the time produced particle board and HPL shelving, among other
    things, but not laminate flooring. They were also looking to diversify and he showed me a Pergo panel. I asked
    him whether he would be interested to make such products and he said that he was considering it but did not
    have the courage as yet. I asked him 'if I gave him an order for 100,000 m2 would he consider purchasing the
    necessary machinery, and he answered yes! It was one of my best deals ever and it took only a few minutes.
    Kaindl, who belongs to the huge Kronospan Group, was the pioneer in their group and later all their factories
    started to produce laminated flooring. The product became a big success in the Fetim Group and still today
    Fetim is the main player in this field in the Benelux area (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg).

    SN: It’s an interesting coincidence that you sparked the growth of laminate in Europe and Jim did the same in
    the U.S. when he introduced Pergo. Do you find you have other things in common?   

    RS: I think that Jim and I both look further than just the product itself, in fact both of us have a high level view
    of the total product groups in general. We try to focus more on continuity and the long term strategic approach
    which means that we are not afraid to go to even governmental bodies to find interest and cooperation. I think
    on a long term basis and take the necessary steps for achieving that.  I say it’s “the continuous drop that finally
    makes the hole in the stone!”

    SN:  What was your experience in the early years doing business in China?

    RS: When China became the low cost provider to the world during the 1990s China had a policy to create work
    in the rural areas and wood flooring factories were set up in the highly forested North east sections of China. It
    was the business of many Chinese delegations arriving in groups of 10-15 each time to ensure that workers
    were working. By the end of the 1990s those factories were producing 3-ply engineered flooring and also solid
    white oak flooring.

    But it was not simple. I saw beautiful factories with absolutely top machinery from Germany and Italy, capable
    of producing a very nice product. However, just having the machines is no guarantee of success. Management,
    raw material and staff training were needed to build up a steady product and even after that was realized, a lot
    of personal guidance from the buyer was needed to keep the quality on a stable level. In fact buyers like myself
    had to control the production process from the log to the final product. But is was worth going through the
    process although it was not always well understood by my management. It was the hard way.

    After successfully surviving the early challenges, we started marketing solid wood flooring, branded
    SOLIDFLOOR (r), for the whole European market. We developed our own products, manufactured them in China
    and became the market leader for imported wood floors in Europe. Fetim is still the market leader today

    SN: Did you play a part in the marketing as well as the sourcing and distribution?

    RS: Yes. You cannot only be partly active in either purchasing or marketing. You should be able to overlook the
    whole field of the product line between factory and final consumer, only then you can translate opportunities to
    both sales' and purchasing sides

    SN:You are co-moderating China's wood flooring summit next month.  Why do you think this is important?

    RS: It is an  initiative to bring parties together to discuss main topics and general points of improvement
    required for the whole industry. This greatly appeals to my approach to the industry. My slogan has always
    been: "better to talk with each other than talk about each other."  Both EFPI and the summit have proven
    that it can work when competitors sit at the same table, because at the end of the day, nobody can do it alone.

    SN: It sounds like you are very happy to begin a new adventure.

    RS: Yes! Now I am going to concentrate my activities on The Floor Covering Institute. I will go to Shanghai in
    March as moderator of the Wood Flooring Summit together with Jim Gould, with only one goal: bring a long life
    to the flooring business!

    Welcome Ruud Steenvoorden!

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