From Scandinavia to the UK to Saudi Arabia, normally Arjen Spek flies across the globe and is received as a welcome guest with his products. Even the most prestigious golf courses in Scotland send him an invitation. “I think this is a result of my personal, enthusiastic and honest approach.”
Covid-19 however, has curbed the travelmansship of Arjen Spek, owner of Milati Grass Machines in Papendrecht, the Netherlands. For weeks now, he has been working from his office back home. “Normally around this time, I’m constantly traveling and looking for new inquiries”, he says. What consequences will this have on him and his company? “It will for sure influence the second half of this year as well as next year. Contractors are renovating the sports fields, but most budgets for investing in new equipment and machinery are cut in half this year. Some are even reduced to 0. Sales to golf courses and sports fields are therefore very rare. Golf courses expect that they won’t be able to invest even into next year. I haven’t, for instance, sold so much as a liter of paint. It makes sense. Hopefully the ball will start rolling again soon.”
So, thus far it has been, also for you, a very quiet period?
“Certainly, sales are however not nonexistent. I have, for instance, sold multiple grinders, to Qatar to be used in preparation of the WK 2022 as well as to multiple golf courses in Saudi Arabia. Last year, I also gave a demonstration at Carnoustie Golf Course in Scotland, from which we have received an order to deliver a Foley reel- and bedknife grinder. This means that I will have to go to both Saudi Arabia and Scotland, when travelling will be possible. Until then I hope I will be able to travel safely again.”
“Besides, by being stuck at home, the domestic market have started gardening on a large scale. I have never sold as many reel mowers as I have done in the last 3 or 4 months. These sales however don’t add up to my normal turnover, but it is a welcome side effect.”
How come golf clubs from Qatar to Scotland invite you to give a presentation?
“Just because of who I am, I guess. Because of my personal and enthusiastic approach. In addition, I always try and make sure to take in regard the values, practices and beliefs of the culture of the country I am in. This prevents me from starting out with an automatic disadvantage. Thereby, I stand behind my products, which people can tell. They have a person in front of them who knows what he is talking about. And I am honest. I also express my doubts about a product, or whether or not the equipment fits the goal the customer wants to reach. I will express this very honestly, which is greatly valued by people. They often will come back later for a product which does has my full support.
In Arabic countries for instance golf and football are growing at an astounding rate. Often this means that the people operating the machines don’t have a lot of experience with it, since they come from different area of expertise. They still have to learn about grass and the equipment, which is something I offer them through individual or group trainings.’’
Your expertise is almost world renowned. How do you make this happen?
“By Physical aftersales. This results in a snowball effect. If someone has bought something from me or my dealers, I prefer to visit them after the sale. Not to do the install, but just to ask how everything is going. This is greatly appreciated. Let me give an example. I have a great dealer in Scandinavia, particularly Norway and Sweden are doing very well. Together with my dealer I have given dozens of presentations. Every time reaching about 30 to 40 people. To me that is investing in new inquiries. But for me the work is not done yet, because I would like to go see the buyer afterwards. Buyers talk about this with each other: ‘You have to buy your equipment at HAKO, because someone from the factory will make a visit with whom you can speak your mind.'”
The fact that they can do that with me is not only great for the customer, but also the factory. With all this information I can now go back to the engineers who can dot the i’s for these machines.’’
This type of aftersales don’t happen very often. How did you come up with the idea for using this strategy?
“Honestly? I cannot personally take credit for the idea. The manufacturer Foley Company in the US has been working like this for years now. They told me: ‘Do it this way and you’ll notice what it will bring you.’ And they were right. Now I regularly push my dealers to organize a one or two day event every year. The first time I tried this was in Denmark. I told my dealer: ‘Invite some people and I will give a presentation. Believe me, you’ll see your sales go up.’ During this seminar day as we call them, 15 potential customers were present. That year, he had reached an annual turnover he had never reached before.
In Scandinavia they have since embraced this concept and organize these seminar day on a regular basis. Lots of people are present: from field managers to greenkeepers. This way of selling gives me great satisfaction. I’m there as a Dutch importer, but also as factory representative. The visitors find this special. Sometimes I also ask one of the sales reps to come join me. I did this for instance during my visit to the prestigious Carnoustie in Scotland. This adds some weight, because ‘even someone from America is coming over’.’’
How does all this traveling and flying affect you?
“It is quite intensive, physically as well as mentally. Still, I am able to do it fairly easy. Of course, I also have those days that I am done with it. Once, to go to seminars and fairs, I visited three countries in one week: Denmark, Austria and the Czech Republic. All the important seminars and fairs often take place in the beginning of the year. I want to go to as many as I can to show my expertise on the relationship between grass and machines as possible. On paper, my schedule was very efficient. Well, I will never use that schedule ever again!”
Since your 12,5th anniversary 2,5 years ago, you have managed to add 3 innovative products to your product range. Which are they?
“The Green Go, de Violette and the Turf Tank One. All three are unique, but function in a completely different way. By now the Turf Tank One has become a fairly well known product among the target audience. I have gotten a lot of media attention fort his robotic line marker. Social media, magazines, newspapers and even Dutch national television has made an item about it. During this Corona pandemic, I’m using the Turf Tank One to create social distancing circles in public spaces.”
“The Green Go in turn, is also a unique machine. It is a computerized weather station. Of course there are more of these weather stations on the market. The thing that makes the Green Go unique is the fact that it determines the values on the exact spot it’s standing. Most weather stations are placed on a building, wind gauge or temperature sensor. This way, you won’t measure the values from the field itself. The outcome is not as accurate as you would want it to be. When you place the Green go on a specific part of the field, it will measure for instance the hours of sunshine on that specific spot. When putting the Green Go on the other side of the field, it could be the case that the data shows many more, or less hours of sunshine for that particular spot. With the knowledge the Green co provides about a field, makes maintaining it a much more precise job.”
“Then there is the Violette. This is a weed extractor robot. In The Netherlands it is forbidden to use herbicides on sports fields, which means a lot of extra work for the field managers. As a result a number of machines entered the market to remove weeds, like plantain and dandelion. Last year I was contacted by Natuition, manufacturer of the Violette. They were looking for an importer for the Dutch and Belgian market and were told to get in contact with Milati’s Arjen Spek. He is always interested in innovative products. The manufacturer sent me an email with a video link explaining the mechanics of this machine. I wanted to see this machine in action! I went to France, was immediately on board and negotiated exclusivity fort his product in The Netherlands and Belgium.”
What makes this Violette unique?
“It is a GPS coordinated simple robot on four wheels, equipped with a camera. The robot drives on the field while the camera constantly makes pictures of the grass. As soon as the camera has photographed a plantain or dandelion, the software recognizes it, the robot will stop and removes the weed along with its roots with a small drill attached to the camera arm of the robot. The fact that it also removes the root, is what sets this machine apart from many other machines on the market. It takes the Violette about eight to ten hours to scan a complete football field. This of course depends on the amount of weed present. If the field is in a closed area, the Violette could even be scanning the field at night. Just before the outbreak of the Corona pandemic I have presented the Violette in Houten. It was a great success, and the first order came from the city of Amsterdam. After that sales stopped. After the summer I’m going to start promoting it again. A lot of field have been renovated in these last few months, which means there will not be many weed to remove. But they will definitely return.”
Which product are you most proud of?
“Both the Intelligent One and the Violette. Both are unique, sustainable and means of saving labor. I expect the Violette to be a success quicker than the intelligent one has become. With the Turf Tank One there are still the volunteers who love to line marking themselves. Sometimes this is a matter of status. Removing weed however, is not a job that will give you tons of energy.”
This year is special, because you will be celebrating your 15th anniversary. Are you looking back at those years, or do you prefer to look at the future?
“Looking at the future. I am busy preparing the company for the next 15 years to come. I want to expand by buying a bigger company building. I was already busy with it, but because of the pandemic I have put in on hold for now. But this is a step I will definitely take. Then I will have space to grow, to receive more people and to create a separate space for giving instructions. After 8 years, the first 4 of which I worked from home, it is time to make the company building as professional as the company itself. A lot to be excited about and to look forward to in the years to come.”