Bags of creativity: Ramon van Dongen – CEO at Vadobag – on the growth of the company, e-commerce and more

Vadobag’s CEO, Ramon van Dongen, discusses licensing at one of Europe’s oldest bag wholesalers

Ramon van Dongen, for those new to Vadobag, can you give us an introduction?
Vadobag develops and sells bags within the European Union. In fact, it’s now one of the oldest bag wholesale companies in Europe. The company was started over 135 years ago by our ancestor, Cees van Dongen, as a leather tannery…

“We’re the fifth generation of the van Dongen family to run the business…”

A tannery! Lovely word! And a tannery would be – correct me if I’m wrong – a place that processes animal skins? In other words, tanning is the process that produces leather…
That’s exactly right. Back then, tanning was mainly a winter activity of farmers, but many tanneries were started especially in the area around Rijen. The presence of water and a forest ensured the growth of this industry in that region – water and ground oak bark were important components of the tanning process.

So it’s always been a family business?
Right. It’s now run by me and my brother Serge. We’re the fifth generation of the van Dongen family to run it. At first, the business mainly produced leather for shoes but – in the early 1950s – it switched over almost entirely to bags.

Looking at your ranges, I can see you have a wide range of licensed products. When did the company go in that direction?
We signed our first licence over 30 years ago, and have been working with licensing ever since… It’s become part of our DNA. Our staff know every character; we have a dedicated in-house design and product development team, and our people live and breathe the brands we work with.

Ramon van Dongen, Vadobag
And how important is creativity in what you do?

Very. In fact, combining smart creativity with great design is essential. Over the years, we’ve found numerous creative ways to translate style guides and artworks into unique collections. We’re proud to say our team’s won some awards and praise for their work. In the end, though, consumers decide what to buy – and they’ve managed to find their way to our products for years. We call this the ‘Consumer Award’, and we’re most proud of this!

You sound very passionate about this…
Absolutely! If I didn’t love it, I couldn’t do it. In life, I think, it’s a very important thing: to love what you do, and keep investing in something you believe in – one day it will pay off.

“It’s a very important thing: to love what you do, and keep investing in something you believe in.”

Passion aside, what is it, do you think, that makes your partners want to work with you?
It’s partly to do with the creativity and design, and the way we work… But we also have extensive experience in the field of accessories with on-trend collections. Meanwhile, we’ve invested heavily in our after-sales by providing our partners with top-notch service, an inclusive media kit per product – and by holding stock… We dare to buy on our account and place full collections on stock. This is our preferred way to invest in licenses and brands; it’s helped us grow both our licensing and retailer portfolio over the years.

It seems increasingly rare for licensees hold quantities of stock. How does that help you grow?
We’ve always served a tight-knit network of independent retailers; one that thrives on quick service. Holding stock is a way to service clients quickly, and help grow a brand organically. To service our clients even better, we’ve developed a robust digital B2B portal. And with e-commerce analytics, we’ve been able to learn and improve stock management.

Ramon van Dongen, Vadobag
Over the years, we’ve put this knowledge to use and gained experience working with all relevant international e-commerce partners within the EU. The growth we’ve seen in this market is immense, and these clients have contributed a lot to the growth of Vadobag.

Obviously, if people want to see the kind of thing you do, they can visit your website here, and check out the video at the bottom of the page… Do you have any upcoming trade shows, though?
Yes, Vadobag is exhibiting at the 2023 Spielwarenmesse Toy Fair in Nuremberg, February 1st-5th. We’ll be at stand I-23 in Hall 12.

You’re in Nuremberg? Brilliant! We may well see you there! And in terms of working throughout Europe, is that a challenge in itself? By which I mean there are so many different countries, languages and cultures…
Yes – the European market is one market, but not one country. And yes, every market has their own retailers, cultures and trends. We investigate and adapt to the local market’s culture, which allows us to work locally within the international market. This is a challenge sometimes, but we’re now well represented in key territories like Benelux, Nordics, GSA and France – and we’re already working on expanding further.
Thank you, Ramon. I’ve enjoyed speaking to you about this – not an area I know anything about! Let’s wrap it up with one last question: what’s the one thing I should’ve asked you today but didn’t?

Looking towards the future, where will Vadobag be in five years?

Good question! What’s the answer?
The current challenges in the world have us somewhat cautious, but optimistic. We’ve been investing in production closer to home; nearshoring. Within the next five years, we expect this to become an asset. Sustainability will also become increasingly important. However, sustainable collections are relatively expensive… To enter the market successfully, everyone has to accept a little less margin to maintain the same price levels. We’re already seeing licensors lowering royalty rates when collections are sustainable. We expect big changes in the industry in the coming years.

Interesting! I’m curious to see it develop. Thanks again, Ramon

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