Karsten International is a successful full-service partner in non-food products, products in personal care, household, stationery, hobby, travel, first aid, audiovisual and gadgets. Twelve years ago Peter Karsten started the company during his studies small business and retail management. “For my thesis I was allowed to set up a trading company. I decided to focus on customers and added value and to outsource as many activities as possible”.
In 2017, Karsten International sold 5.5 million products in the Netherlands, Germany and France. With this, a turnover of 11.5 million euros was achieved. Peter talks enthusiastically about the very first successes: with soap in the private label market. In addition to the private labels, the company now also has 14 of its own brands. “We quickly became profitable. The biggest challenge was to get the stock financed. It’s about four weeks on the road and we also have to deal with a payment term of around 60 days. Sometimes I worked all night long to be able to present the bank with a continuous business plan”.
Cool, cheap products
“We are always looking for cool products. It’s a lot of fun to come into the picture with a striking large price range with regular products. We buy a lot in China, Poland, Spain and India, but also organic cleaning products in the Netherlands. Our added value also lies in the appearance; we want to make cheap products as beautiful as possible. Our customer determines the branding, for some this is their own private label. We also ensure that supply and demand come together and that products meet the legal requirements. We take care of the planning, packaging, quality control and all logistics, so that the product reaches the shops quickly. Furthermore, from a service point of view, we are increasingly putting a consumer website behind products.
Platform for wholesalers
Processes such as order processing should not depend on people. “That is why we have introduced the Dynamics 365 Commerce platform together with Broad Horizon [former Abecon]. This platform is perfect for wholesale companies; many things such as booking groups have already been set up for you. If everything is set up right, it will continue to run no matter how many products you sell. You set up your business automation well and then you can continue to grow. We keep the system up to date at all times and make sure that we keep up to date with all the new possibilities. In this way, you avoid having to organise things at the wrong time, thereby putting a brake on your growth”. In addition to standard Microsoft Dynamics and Dynamics CRM for customer contact, Karsten International makes smart use of add-ons. “For integrated e-commerce, we use Sana. With this we have realised a business-to-business webshop and standalone running consumer webshops. We have also revamped our own website.
IT as a hobby
“There is as much as possible with IT, so you always have to ask yourself in advance what you want to achieve. In my experience, the bes-te approach works on individual projects. You also have to avoid workarounds as much as possible and actually ensure that Excel is not needed. We have a good relationship with the Broad Horizon consultants. They are nice guests and they know us well. This creates synergy. You could say that IT is my hobby. Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve I set up my own Power BI, with a little help from Broad Horizon. They also help me to keep up with important developments, including customer events and speed dates with specialists”.
Listening to the customer
Peter tells us to work more and more cross-media. “That gives a lot of added value. A good example is the film about a 3D printer that we once made and placed on a Facebook page that only had 70 followers. Via bloggers, this page received 200,000 views in one day. The product sold out in a week and a half and then appeared in the Sinterklaas leaflet. Now we make a lot of product videos of, for example, 30 seconds that can also be shown in shops”.
Because the market quickly becomes saturated, it is important that products are unique. “We do a lot of product development, take a good look at what’s happening in the market and go to fairs a lot. And we listen to the consumer. We have our own customer service and are open to questions and ideas. You don’t often see that in this segment. Currently, the top products are 3D printer pens, ink cartridges and toothbrush heads. I also expect a lot from smart home products. They will become interesting to us if they can be made much cheaper and become mainstream. Then we can put it in the shop with a good concept with a large retailer. Just be aware: we will soon have some nice new products coming soon”.
High degree of automation
“We want to be the fastest product development company in the market. Shake up the establishment. Growth is not an end in itself, but we do want to become better at what we do. This requires a high degree of automation. It ensures that things run smoothly and that we can continue to do business. If everyone gets on well with the system, we will be able to achieve a great deal with very few people. In this way, we can find nice products and market them at an astonishingly low price and with good quality. That’s great fun to do and ensures that we stay top of mind with retailers”.