Since beginning of May this year, Rob Letcher took over the helm at De Ruiter East Africa as the company’s new Managing Director. Rob has an admirable wealth of experience in floriculture, with a career that was groomed back in the early 90s. We spoke to the new MD to find out more about his journey in Floriculture, personal aspirations, vision for De Ruiters East Africa and message to rose growers in East Africa.
Rob the manager
As a manager, team work, delegation of duties and work ethic are most important to Rob.
“Nothing comes easy so I expect all team members to perform well and then enjoy the success of their labour. We will aim for better open communications, transparency and consistency in all our dealings to ensure growers get what they seek. This we trust will allow relationships to flourish on the back of our effort.”
His Mission and Vision for De Ruiter East Africa
“My mission for De Ruiters East Africa Limited is to continue developing the good brand that De Ruiters is, in “Creating Flower Business”! That challenge includes further improvement of the farm facilities, staff development training and relationship building across the region. Team spirit is a vital ingredient for our future success. I will use my market and marketing knowledge, farm background and African and European network to achieve our mission objectives. Having worked for many years abroad I am excited by my return to Africa and the challenges we face. My vision for DREA is to be the most reliable breeder for choice of varieties across all market segments. We have work to do to achieve this goal.”
What Rob has to say to rose growers in East Africa.
“I invite all growers to meet with me to discuss your respective strategies. It is important to know what market you are selling into and the product those market segments demand. The market is constantly changing and evolving, at an alarming rate. Be aware of this and the pros and cons of all changes for your farm. Importers and unpackers face this challenge every year too, so test these relationships to be sure of getting the right advice and answers when selecting varieties. The market is much less forgiving than it was 15 years ago. I look forward to developing good relationships that assist in making this region more professional, competent and successful. De Ruiters has some exciting new variety options across many colours being fast-tracked through selection. The future looks exciting!”
Rob's Journey in the industry
Rob was initially introduced to the rose industry in the early 90s by his brother-in law who was a manager at a Zimbabwean Rose Farm. He didn’t immediately delve deep into roses since he was at the time involved in the Coffee Industry. He started learning more about roses and being directly involved in the industry when he was recruited by Suparose, a Zimbabwean Rose Grower Group, just befor the close of 1998.
“Later on, I was tasked with establishing a Sales and Marketing company, C.A.R.M.S., in The Netherlands. I relocated to the Netherlands where I dedicated time to developing their Marketing Strategy using the Bloemenveiling Naaldwijk as our base. Sales of sweetheart roses were split across Dutch Auctions and direct market clients initially,” he recalls.
In 2003 C.A.R.M.S. relocated to the Aalsmeer region for closer proximity to their primary clients and Schiphol airport.
“We changed strategy focusing only on the direct sales market. The Dutch Auctions no longer offered a cost effective sales platform for sweetheart roses. We included product sourced from Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa. This strategy reduced the risk of non-supply and further developed our reputation as a reliable supplier, come volcanic ash-flow scares, drought or cancelled flights. Despite losing most of our Zimbabwean farms to politics in 2004, we increased our annual sales of imported roses from 60 to 190 million stems (in 2010). Being close to the market allowed us to focus on the grower’s best interests. In the past decade our strategy further evolved focusing less on stem volume and more on quality and inclusion of Intermediate and Hybrid T roses supply from Kenyan and Ethiopian growers.”
The European market is very competitive. That competition, and the difficult economic period from 2008 through to recent years, focussed our attention on selection of the appropriate clients, transparency, improving supply and cold chains, and financial management. Low margins from the outset ensured our small team had to be cost effective and efficient. It was both a very challenging but rewarding experience.