'True confreres by mutual trust'

25 april 2011


Fetching and bringing. That, in short, is the basic principle governing the ‘VAIJ Entrepreneurs’ Club (VEC, VOC in Dutch). Approximately ten ice cream makers who are part of this club meet three times a year to share knowledge and gain inspiration. One of the main items on the agenda during such a day is simply catching up – “After all, we learn the most from each other”, Willy Rooswinkel explains.

Meeting point: Torino

confreres2This time, it is the turn of ice cream Parlour Torino, located at the Voorstraat in Woerden, to welcome the fellow VEC members. The club has been here before about two years ago, and whilst the interior of the parlour has not changed, its look and feel is remarkably different. “We now use purple and silver as our house colours”, co-owner Marianne den Engelsman explains. “This gives a whole different look.” The VEC members respond favourably to their daring choice. Throughout the day, they offer a few tips to the entrepreneurial couple. “They suggested we place wider trays in our display case. They show more than the seven-litre trays we use now and you can also beautifully decorate them. An added advantage is that you can place a wider display card along the trays, and when we are obliged to mention more product information in the new season, that might not be such a bad idea”, Den Engelsman agrees. In addition, the VEC members feel that the overview of the various flavours offered by the ice cream can have a more prominent presence in the ice cream parlour rather than only being presented on the blackboard on top of the metre cupboard; this, too, is something the entrepreneurial couple can give some more thought.


“Sometimes you get little tips, whilst others are a bit more drastic”, Den Engelsman explains. “And every now and then, someone remarks about something you consciously chose to do in that specific way or simply don’t find it worth the trouble. For example, someone suggested placing a sliding door between the workplace and the shop. We consciously chose not to do that because we feel the work place is part of the ice cream parlour - it forces us to keep things clean and hygienic—but, like any other workplace, we have our occasional spills! For us, this is actually the charm of a small artisanal company. Each entrepreneur makes their own choices and it is fun and very helpful to exchange ideas about these kinds of things during a day like this. It is not about being right or wrong, but rather about helping one another by gaining and exchanging new ideas.” So most of all, she finds a day like this with the VEC very enjoyable. “I wouldn't call it cosy”, the hostess laughs, “but the atmosphere is definitely pleasant and constructive.”

A relationship of trust

confreres3In September 2007, the Association for Artisanal Ice cream Makers (VAIJ) took the initiative for the VEC. Ever since, ten ice cream makers meet three times a year: twice in the fall and once in the spring, just before the season starts again. The meetings take place at a different location each time but are always in the company of one of the participants. All the members of the VEC have their own ice cream parlour, and membership applies for the entire company. The associated companies are spread widely throughout the Netherlands, and so there is no direct competition amongst members. “Mutual trust and openness are important conditions for the VEC”, says Willy Rooswinkel, Chairman and Secretary of the entrepreneurs’ club. “Once a year, the profit and loss account of each ice cream parlour is presented and turned into a matrix. This way, we have a clear overview of everyone’s numbers, and these numbers are even publicly discussed. At such instances, it is very important that everyone has full faith in one another and can trust that no one - except those present at the meeting - will ever know about them.”

The composition of the VEC is preferably mixed and has a wide variety of ages - both of the present members and of the associated companies. A great deal of knowledge and experience is exchanged, with the most important aim of the VEC being to learn from and with each other. “Often, entrepreneurs’ think they are the best of their region”, Rooswinkel laughs. “Within the VEC they can really see how they perform and what their position is compared to colleagues. Sometimes that can be quite an eye-opener.”

Menu show-and-tell

confreres4Each meeting starts around eleven o’clock in the morning with an official agenda, which includes catching-up with each other. Next, the Chairman leads the group into a lively discussion about recent developments and issues. In addition, the host company offers a tour, which leads to many questions and answers. One question that arises in ice cream parlour Torino in Woerden is how employees can be motivated to stay available, especially after a rainy season. “I always schedule my leading freelancers for a fixed number of hours per week, even when I do not really need them”, one of the members explains. “There’s always something that can be done, and this keeps them connected to your company.” The use of various ice cream coupes is also a hot topic. Upon request of the chairman, everyone brought a menu and offers feedback on the coupes used. “One of the things we look at is how the participants structured their menu”, Rooswinkel explains. The well thought-out organisation of the selection, with special attention to its location on the menu and the arrangement of the assortment, can have quite a stimulating effect on the sales of coupes. This is followed by a discussion of the results of the participants. The final point discussed is the evaluation of their own company.

As chairman of the VEC, Willy Rooswinkel, together with the members, determines the agenda for each meeting and frequently gets special requests. “Many people have questions about insurances, a payroll system, switch card payments, or recipes. Everything suggested by the members will be discussed eventually. For the meeting of last February at Crusio (ice cream parlour) in Bergen op Zoom, we invited a barista, who enlightened us about the different aspects of coffee. She showed the members a whole different side of ‘serving a cup of joe’.” Rooswinkel would like to start a second VEC group. “A group like that always has to get used to each other and grow before having full trust and daring to vouch for secrecy. There should be a mutual click. But when you can achieve that with one another, an entrepreneurs’ club is extremely valuable - we have become true confreres.”

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