When he drives through Dutch villages and towns, he regularly sees cyclists carrying a bag of groceries and a bouquet on top. “Dutch people often buy flowers for themselves, while Belgians give them to each other as a present,” says Geert Vandekerckhove, who has recently started purchasing online from Plantion.
“This buying online is a huge improvement! Previously, I used to drive 260 kilometres to Ede every week. I would leave here at quarter to 3 in the morning, not getting home until 5 in the afternoon, meaning I’d miss a whole day at the company – and the day after I wasn’t much good to anyone either! Now, I just get behind my laptop at 05.45, start pressing buttons at 06.00 and get back to the shop at 08.30. So, I’ve gained a whole day! Remote buying has thus brought about a lot of positive change in Lendelede in Belgium. “Absolutely, and Plantion also arranges delivery. All their stuff arrives here quickly – and in perfect condition – on Danish containers.” Occasionally, Vandekerckhove still drives to Ede himself ‘so as not to lose touch’.
From near and far
What makes the journey from Plantion to Lendelede? A lot of accessories, flower arrangements and indoor and outdoor pottery. Tuincentrum Omniflor is known in this part of West Flanders for its wide range of products. Next to the 3,000 m2 of greenhouses and sales areas is a large car park. “In the Netherlands, you have flower kiosks on every street corner. You don’t see that here, with people from Kortrijk, Roeselare and other places coming here by car.” Belgians mainly buy flowers for someone else, as Vandekerckhove knows only too well. “I don’t see any cyclists with a bouquet on top of their full shopping bag here like in the Netherlands.”
In addition to bouquets, Vandekerckhove also sells many garden products. That’s because although Belgians have landscapers design and lay out their gardens, they then like to buy the items to decorate their garden themselves. “They always ask questions,” says Vandekerckhove. “How many plants per metre should I expect, which fertilisers and sprays should I use, which plant would be the best etc. Even if they’ve already consulted Doctor Google, they still have questions! My customers want to be sure. I really enjoy that part of the job: giving good advice, that’s what it’s all about after all.”
With heart and soul
His phone rings, and he apologises: “I have to pick this up.” A little later, he says with a laugh: “They need me quite a lot, I hear ‘Geert, Geert, Geert’ all day long.” So Vandekerckhove possesses a great deal of knowledge, and has been involved in the business from an early age. After completing horticultural school, he went into it full time, and his mother can also still be found here every day. “My parents first started the company as a nursery, growing begonias, cyclamen and indoor plants. Little by little, we have replaced the earth with stones. We started off with a small ‘private sales’ corner – which was quite innovative at the time – and we soon noticed that it was a success, and step by step, we have built it up to what it is today. We’re proud of the company that we run with heart and soul to this day.”
Simple but great
Vandekerckhove employs four people and works with a number of freelancers. The company in Lendelede is open every day except Tuesday and Sunday afternoon. In the little spare time he has, he sometimes sits in his own garden. “It’s simple but great. There’s lots of grass and large trees. On a Sunday afternoon when the weather is fine, I like to relax there with a drink and a snack.”