"Special projects, but also just a good canvas."

October 1, 2021
min leestijd

Every day, an hour and fifteen minutes back and forth from Zaltbommel to Zwolle. Since July 2nd, that's been Jos Stoit's daily reality as the new owner of Guillaume Janssen. 'I step into the car every day with a big smile. I feel right at home here and I'm very happy that I made this move.'

We're talking to Stoit, who, retroactively from January 1st of this year, has been the owner of the Zwolle canvas manufacturing company, as he reflects on the first few months in his new role. 'A very fine production company, a great name, wonderful people. That's something I can work with,' describes Stoit the feeling he's had since day one at Guillaume Janssen. Several years ago, after a career at companies like Hunter Douglas and Schellekens project sunshades, he decided he preferred to be his own boss. Owning a company in the horticulture sector didn't provide the satisfaction he had hoped for, and even the venture into Wonnink Sunshades, with the intention of taking over the company eventually, didn't bring the expected fulfillment. 'I was disappointed it didn't work out, and then I took some time to reflect on what I wanted to do. One thing was clear to me: sunshades are my profession, I find this industry fascinating, so I knew one thing for sure: I wanted to do something for myself in this field.

He had previously discussed a possible takeover with Guillaume's owner, André Janssen, but back then, in 2015, they couldn't come to an agreement. Why did it work six years later? Stoit believes it's a combination of factors. "Five years ago, André might not have been mentally ready to sell his company. Now it was different. Age, no succession plan, health becoming a factor. Additionally, for someone not from this industry, it might be difficult to understand the potential of this business and its people. On paper, it's not immediately apparent. That's where knowing the market, like I do, helps. André and I didn't need much explanation on that front. We quickly had a good conversation about the market.

Taking the initiative and having a cup of coffee at André's home led to positive results this time. Officially since January 1st, 2021, Jos Stoit has been the owner of Guillaume Janssen in Zwolle, with André bidding farewell this summer. With Stoit's arrival, there will certainly be some changes. The first noticeable thing is the tagline on his business card. Guillaume Janssen, Visionary Fabrics & Blinds. "We are one of the last independent canvas manufacturing companies. André always focused a lot on the large systems, which we naturally also produce, but an equally beautiful part of the company is our canvas manufacturing. The emphasis has long been on the special blinds, not on the fabrics. There needs to be more balance in that. That's why I changed our tagline. It used to say 'since 1967' under the name, but that's gone. It's not so much about how long Guillaume Janssen has been around; it's mainly about the future.

Stoit wants to emphasize what Guillaume Janssen does: "We offer a solution where others with standard systems have no solution, and besides, we are a very good canvas manufacturer who gladly supplies all new and replacement canvases to anyone producing sunshades." His arrival also brings about internal changes. "The focus here has long been on the idea: as long as the customer is satisfied. I want to move more towards: if employees are satisfied, customers will naturally be satisfied. That also requires a different image. For example, the building is a bit dated, that needs to change. People should be proud to work here. I want to work on the complete branding of Guillaume Janssen."

For those who think Stoit suddenly wants to change everything: that is certainly not the case. "I think the name is great. Guillaume sounds international, Janssen is truly Dutch. A beautiful combination of what we stand for. It's a wonderful, small production company, with a nice customer base and beautiful products. I want to further expand that. For example, I see a big market in replacements, that's something we're going to focus more on. The most important thing is that there's more balance. We excel in both: you should come here for the special projects, but also for 'just a good canvas'."

Geographical Spread
He certainly has ambitions. "In fifty years, we'll have the 'royal' designation. The intention is to build the business for the long term. I want to do that in line with what we're already doing. Niche players like us definitely have a place, and I believe we always will. But it's important to determine exactly where our market lies. In Asia or America, in Africa, or mainly in Europe? I want to carefully consider geographical spread. Will we derive our returns from Tokyo or from Berlin? Personally, I believe more in the latter: closer to home, a culture we understand better. Guillaume Janssen may have sometimes focused too much on bigger is better in the past, projects had to be especially remarkable. Sometimes projects can be a bit smaller, more fitting to the scale of our company. We are already remarkable because of our unique products.

For now, Stoit's focus is not so much on large international projects, but more local ones. Such as the professionalization of the internal company. "I'm a different person from André, but where we're absolutely the same: we both have a big heart for sunshades. I'm very grateful that he allowed me to continue here.

Before the acquisition was finalized, someone once told him: you shouldn't buy the company because Guillaume Janssen is André Janssen, without him, it's nothing. "Fortunately, that's certainly not the case. Of course, he was important, but the knowledge resides with the people in this company. However, a lot of knowledge exists in the minds of the craftsmen here. It needs to be documented so that the knowledge can be transferred to future generations. So, documentation is key. The organization's learning ability needs to improve.

The first investments in the canvas department have been made. There are now two new cutting tables, and once the expansion is completed, the sewing department will be three times larger than it is now. "Acrylic canvases and screens are currently divided over two floors, but soon we'll bring everything together to improve efficiency in machine and human utilization. Throughout my career, I've had the opportunity to peek into the kitchens of many different companies. This brings a different set of experiences than if you only know your own shop. Guillaume Janssen was a company that always said yes. I don't believe in that. I've learned that it's important to sometimes say no. I believe that this company can still experience significant growth, particularly in terms of professionalization, communication, and work structure. While some changes may take some getting used to for the 24 employees at Guillaume Janssen, they are mainly pleased that the takeover has been completed after a period of uncertainty and that there is new future perspective." Stoit concludes: "I'm very happy to call myself the owner of Guillaume Janssen. The fact that it's a production company where our knowledge adds value to the products is fantastic. If it had been possible, I would have liked to have done this takeover earlier, then I would have been further along in building, but I'm incredibly happy and grateful that I now have the opportunity and am very excited to continue here.

Published in Zonvak Magazine October 2021 ©Zonvak Magazine