The Dutch Market Ltd.
In 1987, Charles Huls purchased The Dutch Market Ltd. (Dutch Market). At the time, it was a single store located on St. Clair Street in Chatham, Ontario, operated by just three employees. Today, nearly three decades later, the Dutch Market employs 23 individuals, supporting the company’s extensive in-house bakery, café, in-store and online retail and wholesale operations.
“I entered the industry when I was in my early 20s, working for a small Dutch foods distributor in Ontario,” recounts Huls, now president of Dutch Market. “Because it was such a small company I was the truck driver, picker and packer. I was involved in a little bit of everything and that’s what sparked my interest in the business.”
Huls began to act on his interest in the food distribution business, purchasing the retail portion of the company from the original owners when he was 27 years old. “I ran the retail outlet for about six years,” he shares. “Our main supplier was going through a transition and it became difficult to get product so I started importing containers from Europe. At first it was to support our own needs, but then we started selling to other shops.”
In 2004, Huls purchased a store in Sarnia and the addition to the Dutch Market family allowed the company to share unique European goods with more Ontario and Michigan communities. In 2005, the company expanded again, adding a bakery which now produces more than 200 loaves of freshly-made, artisan breads as well as cakes, pastries and cookies using traditional Dutch recipes.
With the success of the bakery and constant addition of European goods, the company began to outgrow the St. Clair Street location. In May 2006, the market combined all of its Chatham facilities under a single roof on Indian Creek Road in east Chatham. “Our retail store, bakery and warehouse doubled in size along with our product range,” shares Lissa Van Rijn, controller of the Dutch Market.
Today, the company sells to close to 100 specialty shops in Ontario and also has an ever-expanding, consumer-direct online business. “We now supply bakeries, butcher shops, European specialty shops, farmers markets and grocery stores across North America,” adds Van Rijn.
The expansion has made room for a whole range of new products outside of the Dutch and European realm. “Dutch goods are obviously still our niche and specialty, but Dutch Market also covers German, Italian, Portuguese, Brazilian, Costa Rican goods and other products influenced from all-around the world,” adds Huls.
The five-year plan for the future
With additional product lines and now the room to grow, Huls says the Dutch Market is now in the midst of a five-year plan to carry the company toward further success. “We’re in year two or three now and in the next couple of years, we’re going to be expanding the bakery and trying to get into new retail outlets,” he reveals. “We’re also looking to expand our Internet presence and reach out to be more effective in dealing with online shoppers.”
“Last year, we upgraded our Internet operation with a brand-new website to better serve our customers,” adds Van Rijn. “We’ve put customers at the heart of our upgrade so that our new site really reflects how they want to browse and shop with us.”
Dirk van den Berg, the company’s Internet manager, says, “We now have the capability to respond quickly and efficiently in a world where customers, technology and trends are constantly evolving.”
Customers can even sign up to receive emails of specials and clearance items and look up previous order history. “Online cake ordering is on the docket,” adds Huls. “The goal is to make it so a customer can order and just pick up the next day. We also get a small lunch crowd and we’re looking to set up an online ordering or text-in order program so they don’t have to wait; the order will just be sitting here hot and ready and waiting.”
Huls says he’s already started to see the changes and increased online customer convenience impacting sales. “We try to base our business on service and selection and as a result, our sales are up 10 percent over 2013,” he notes.
However, getting there isn’t always easy Huls admits, but luckily, he enjoys a challenge. “I’ve always enjoyed the business organization part; expanding and solving problems and moving forward –that’s what it’s about,” he says.
Still today, there are few specialty shops quite like the Dutch Market where you can go to get everything from gourmet smoked cheese to Belgian truffles, Dutch salted licorice to English peppermints, Indonesian spices to jalapeno pepper jelly, all in one store. With a clear vision for sharing a smorgasbord board of international products, The Dutch Market Ltd. continues to offer a world of possibilities.