Nico de Ruiter - Merzario's CEO

31 May 2017
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'We continue to ask questions and check how we can further assist our customers.'

Personal contact is of great importance especially in a strongly digitised world. Individual attention for the customer, taking a constructive approach and arriving at the best solution together. This is what makes the difference: now and in the future. This is the firm conviction of Nico de Ruiter, Merzario's CEO since 2005.

Where are Merzario's roots?

'Merzario has been a company for a long time. We have Italian roots. The company has been operating on the Dutch market since the 1960s. I myself became major shareholder and owner through a management buyout in 2005. Currently, 60 people work at Merzario in the Netherlands. I believe we will grow significantly during the coming years.'

Which position does Merzario hold on the market of forwarding agents.

‘We are known as a local forwarder on the Dutch market. We are what you call a medium-sized player. We are not a large network forwarding agent with hundreds of sites worldwide, but we do have twelve sites. In the Netherlands in Ridderkerk and at Schiphol Airport and also in Hong Kong and various other large Chinese cities. The step we took to penetrate the market in China has been an important one. In contrast to very many other forwarding agents, we have all licences to perform our activities there. This is added value for a specific group of customers. You simply don't want to know how many papers I've had to sign at the time to be registered as a director everywhere.

In addition to our own sites, we use an international network of reliable agents.' 

How is Merzario different when compared to many competitors?

'We continue to ask questions and check how we can further assist customers. This is supported by competitive rates and an up-to-date IT system. Large organisations mainly have difficulties with the first aspect, the personal attention for the customer. An example: if someone is our customer for the import of goods from the Far East, he will have a dedicated salesperson and contact for all operational issues. A dedicated point of contact above anything else. We do not work with account managers and a range of other people. I believe that many customers are searching for personal contact and a face they recognise.'

What makes Merzario special?

'We are at home in the sea and air cargo business while shipments by sea or air are both very different worlds that have their own characteristics. It is this combination in particular that gives us a special position in the market as a Dutch forwarding agent. There are not many comparable companies with both areas of expertise in their package of services.'

What is the next step in Merzario's development?

'We took a large step forward a few years ago by implementing Cargo Wise as our ERP system. This has turned out to be a good choice. We will be refining this further now. The step that we will take now is that vendors themselves will be providing the input on our booking platform. Next, we will get started with this information. A condition, however, that must be met is that everybody must be on the same page IT wise.

The combination of digitisation and personal contact ensures that Merzario is staring to be in the lead in the Netherlands. Through word-of-mouth advertising, we do get quite some new customers. Knowledge and information provision are important when determining the choice with which party you want to work with. We are, moreover, reliable and sound. You must, naturally, also offer a competitive price, but the price is not the only element in the overall decision-taking process.'

What is the pricing like in the current market?

'Rates have been under pressure during the past few years and are still fluctuating. Currently, there is even a shortage in container shipment options because of the bankruptcy of Hanjin, a large Korean shipping company. This has meant that 1 million own containers and 1 million leased containers were removed from the market and this has an impact on pricing. Customers mainly benefit from stability. A lower price is, of course, great, but many companies want certainty including about shipping costs. Their profits are linked to a timely delivery and not in shipping their containers for 50 dollars less.

The current shortage is temporary, but I do expect a new concentration wave. Including through mergers. The cowboys in this market will disappear, as will many small forwarding agents.'

Where can we find Merzario's future?

'Offering a total package that is based on personal contact and good IT systems. Our customers want a stable and reliable party to do business with. We are aiming at growth, and certainly in the export segment. We can make a difference because of our good service and mainly pinch a slice of the market share form the large network forwarding agents.

It is important that we continue to invest: in our digital systems and people. We are continuously looking for good people who are prepared to learn and invest in themselves. You must take a constructive approach in the entire process, from A to Z. This is different when compared to the large organisations where you are often only responsible for a section of the process as an individual.

Our market will continue to be on the move, always. Some say that forwarding agents will no longer exist by 2020. I do not personally believe this. Our world has become considerably digitised already and this development will only continue. In addition, the personal attention you give customers will be the aspect that will become ever more important. And that is exactly what makes us different and distinguishes us.'

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