From a production,
to a marketing driven company.
Loes van der Woude transforms one of the oldest local manufacturers
Loes van der Woude started at Curaçao Laboratories and Senior & Co around ten years ago. Like many local production companies on Curaçao the company was going through a rough period, relied on manual production and used relatively outdated technology.
The company’s main assets were its world-famous Blue Curaçao Liqueur brand and its monumental and strategic Chobolobo estate location. The challenge was to transform the company into a competitive player in the liqueur market. After a thorough analysis Van der Woude decided to give it a shot, with great result. Under her management, the company moved from a production driven company, to a marketing driven organization.
Building on the company’s strengths
On her arrival, the company consisted of a small outdated factory of 10 workers and a mansion where they organized tastings of
the liqueur and sold these through their inhouse store.
In terms of technology the company was still very traditional and depended on an outdated however precise production process. Senior & Co is a 100% owned subsidiary of Curaçao Laboratories, which handles the production, while Senior & Co takes care of everything that has to do with the marketing, including the sales, tours, events and general management of the building. Curaçao Laboratories/Senior & Co is the oldest existing local liqueur factory on the island, the first liqueur order was shipped out in 1896.
Its historic background is also tied to one of its strengths, its signature product the Blue Curaçao Liqueur. In fact, the Blue Curaçao brand is internationally more well-known than the island. Besides the liqueur, the company also offers some cosmetic products including the popular Glacial cooling spray, soap and mentholated cream. These so-called refreshing products have been traditionally popular among young and old in Curaçao since 1948. Both brands, Blue Curaçao and Glacial have experienced a remarkable life cycle, and are still growing in their respective categories.
The decision to take up this challenge in 2009 was not an easy one. As Van der Woude explains, “the company was very traditional and facing some business continuance issues. We had to catch up around 40 years in a few years, with relatively small budgets”. Cash flow was, priority number one. The question was how to improve that, considering the backlog in technology. She decided to build on the company’s strengths and divide the transformation process in three phases.
Phase 1: Improve the cash flow and catch up with technology
Van der Woude decided to capitalize on the popularity of Landhuis / Mansion Chobolobo among tourists and facilitated tours from local social groups, senior citizens and schools. The management decided to exploit the potential of the location and the brand name of the liqueur. The attractive Landhuis was further developed and Chobolobo became a touristic hot spot where tourists would get tours in the factory where they could feel, see and literally taste the world-famous Curaçao Liqueur. This became a huge success. From a total of 10.000 to 20.000 visitors per year in 2009, Chobolobo now receives more than 300.000 tourists per year. The first period focused on improving the cash flow and improving the technological deficit. Landhuis Chobolobo was instrumental in that.
The distillery at Chobolobo was opened for everyone to visit, with free entrance. During the opening hours, visitors received a tour through the factory as well as free tasting of the liqueurs. The tourists took both products, the liqueur and the Glacial brand products back home in turn became ambassadors for Curaçao and these products.
Phase 2: Renovation and Export Development
The second phase included renovation of the Mansion, production facilities, storage and display area. This is also the period when the company started to increase its exports. “After the first years, we reinvested the earnings to improve the company and further develop exports of our products” according to Van der Woude. They were already selling to Surinam and Barbados, and through the recent improvements they started to target the Dominican Republic and Colombia.
In that sense Van der Woude applauds the trade agreement that the government is now negotiating with Colombia. Van der Woude explains that in the first years she had to practically manage every process in the company herself, from production to packaging to sales and marketing. She now has an operations manager and a commercial manager to support the company’s ambitious growth plans. Currently the company is selling Glacial in 40 different countries including USA and the Netherlands.
This requires a marketing plan and marketing strategy for each target country and has become one of the challenges also for the Senior brand portfolio. The liquor is a typical touristic product, but in the USA, it is considered the original, authentic, Curaçao liqueur. “The USA market is very positive about this product” says Van der Woude. “Our main importer is in California. They take care of the redistribution and sales throughout the USA”.
Phase 3: Becoming a marketing driven company
To be able to keep up with these developments, three years ago the company added a marketing department to the organization. This started the third phase of further professionalization to lift the company to higher level. Based on deliberations with the minister of economic development, the company considered how it could tap into and support the economic development of the island. One of the developments that caused the most preoccupation in Curaçao’s local development was the decline in activities in downtown side Punda.
The company realized it could extend its operations to Punda, and after a long search the company decided to use the old Ackerman building at the Handelskade for a ‘Blue Curaçao Experience’ site. Next to a bar and terrace, visitors plunge into the world of Senior’s Liqueur through an interactive journey. The Blue Curaçao Experience is an energetic location with appeals to consumers young and old. “With this we also consider the needs of our younger visitors”. Van der Woude is very excited about this project. Visitors that do not come to the Chobolobo estate by tour bus, will visit the Blue Curaçao Experience in Punda that lies in walking distance from the cruise ships.
Positive expectations for the future
Curaçao Laboratories and Senior & Co are positive about the future. Tourism will continue to grow in the coming years, the government is supporting export developments and the company will continue to gain more export experience and open more markets for their products. The company has grown to 40 full time staff and 15 freelancers who aid mainly with the hospitality aspects of the business.
The management and employees are very proud of their products. Looking back at the transformation process of the company gives Van der Woude a feeling of satisfaction and positive expectations for the years ahead. From a local company which sold some products outside the island, Curaçao Laboratories and Senior & Co has become an International Brand Owner with production and distribution throughout the world.