CURAÇAO ECOCITY PROJECT SHOWS THAT IT IS POSSIBLE TO EXPORT LOCAL MANUFACTURED GOODS FROM CURAÇAO
Curaçao Ecocity Project N.V. is a locally established producer of aloe products located at its plantation in St. Joris.The General Director Sebastiaan van der Veer joined the team in 2014. He thinks that Ecocity project is the living proof that with good planning and organization it is possible to set up a successful export business in Curaçao.
For that purpose, he had to transform the business and change it into a lean, transparent and ecologically responsible business. The positive health effects of the aloe plant are well known and have been used for ages. Curaçao Ecocity Project is not the first aloe plantation on the island. In the past, there were more, but with the establishment of the oil refinery in Curaçao in the 20th century that business sector disappeared. The new Curaloe company, reintroduced cultivation of aloe in a modern set-up. At first the production line consisted of a few cosmetic products such as soaps, gels, lotions and an aloe vera juice. A small amount of these products were exported, mainly through the internet.
The other part of exports consisted of the sale of the raw material to a factory in the Netherlands that used this in the production of its own end products.
In 2014 the owners asked Van der Veer to lead the company. Van der Veer is born in Curaçao from Dutch parents, but was living in Bali at that moment. Before that he had lived several years in South America and thus speaks fluent, Spanish and Portuguese aside from English, Dutch and Papiamentu. This made it easy for him to integrate in the local society, which enabled him to start immediately at full speed. This was really necessary in view of the enormous challenges that the company was facing at that moment, including a major financial crisis.
There were numerous debts at suppliers. Production was slow and there was no cash flow. The final product quality was excellent, but the presentation, promotion and distribution were very poor. The personnel were demotivated, just to name a few of the challenges. Van der Veer’s task was to handle this crisis and turn the company into a sound profitable business that could compete on the global market.
Restructuring the company
One of his first actions was to introduce a code of conduct to lead the desired business culture. “Our slogan became ‘adapt or die’. We improved the conditions for the employees, but we also explained to them that their focus should be a lot more results oriented”. The company has a flat and simple hierarchical structure. “We are very transparent. All the relevant information is on Google Drive and everybody has access to it all the time”. The code of conduct was instrumental in realizing the necessary culture change. “Now everybody knows what is being expected of him or her. This change became one of the important elements of the company’s success. From 23 employees, the company is now down to 15 with higher productivity. “Our example shows that a relatively small company in a relatively small country in the Caribbean can also compete on the global market”, Van der Veer says. He introduced a Business plan for 5 years that includes the transformation of the company into a global competitor of Aloe products. Continuous improvement is another important element of the plan. Curaloe introduced several quality-improvement systems such as ISO 9000 production standards that incorporate care for the environment. As a consequence, the company recently received a sustainable production award. Four years after introduction of the transformation plan, Van der Veer looks back with satisfaction. The restructuring consisted of 3 parts, change the business culture, continue professionalization of the internal organization and innovation to be able to compete in Europe, USA and China. After having improved the internal structure, increased the sales, improved the finances and pay off all the debts, the company continued with innovation of the products.
At first the company improved the presentation of the cosmetic products. They introduced a packaging that complies more with the demands of international markets. The design is more elegant and glass packaging is used for the more expensive products. The company stopped selling its raw material on which it was not making much profit. The company then established a warehouse in the Netherlands and one in Miami to supply these markets. After hard work and perseverance, it has been able to succeed and now serves as an example for other factories that want to develop exports. The company recently launched a new line of health juices to target export the new markets. This was an ambitious project considering the rigorous quality requirements imposed on ‘health’ products in Europe and USA. The complicated acceptance procedure included 4 years of research and development and testing before receiving the necessary permits. The health juice is an extract that besides all the health effects of the aloe is supplemented with other ingredients, to improve the immunity system, digestion, to prevent cardiovascular issues and diabetes. Curaçao Ecocity Project shows that exporting companies established in small island economies can also be successful in exporting. It is crucial that they embrace sound business practices
and focus on a niche market.