15 Minutes with Belron's Group Sales and Marketing Director
There's been a lot of talk about the lack of branding in the domestic AGRR market and Jeff Boekstein is acutely aware of it. Boekstein is Belron's group sales and marketing director and has worked for the company in various capacities for 23 years. He is responsible for helping Belron build its brand worldwide. Boekstein sat down with glassbtyes.com™/AGRR magazine® for an exclusive interview last week:
Q-Tell me a bit about your career.
A-I started in South Africa at Belron 23 years ago. I was an advertising manager and did advertising for our chain of auto glass shops. I performed various marketing duties there. In 1989, I went to London and got an MBA in 1991. Gary [Lubner, Belron chief executive officer and president] was already there. That same year, we set up a strategic unit.
Q-John Mason was still there?
A-Yes. We had just started to acquire companies and [had] rolled out our strategy across Europe. We built our insurance and consumer brands that way. Before that, we had been subcontractors to the trade. Then I became general manager of Glass Medic.
Q-But you didn't stay in London?
A-No, then I went back to South Africa to be the managing director of PG Glass. It is not part of Belron now but was part of the same group then. Three years later I was named vice president of sales and marketing for auto glass. I left for a while and started an Internet company, which was a joint venture with Belron. We said to ourselves "the Internet has hit Europe. Let's start our own business to try and understand it." And it helped us to [do] that. Eventually we closed the business and it's [now] lying dormant.
Q-What did that business teach you?
A-It taught us to see the Internet as an online booking service. We bring potential customers in via the Internet and validate their insurance coverage for them. At this point we don't allow them to validate that coverage online themselves. Eventually we will. We can do it technically already. We just have to [get] insurance companies to agree to it.
Q-But you eventually came back to sales and marketing?
A-Yes, two years ago I started on this road. I had no trepidation whatsoever, only excitement. It's a dream job. We do business in 28 countries. We find where best practices exist and share them with other locations. We find where it is done best, and we find that out by measurement. We measure everything. Once you find out by measurement what your best practices are, it is usually not too difficult to convince others to use those practices.
Q-I would suspect you had a bit of a learning curve, though, on the new job?
A-Yes, I spent a year listening, getting views from colleagues around the world.
Q-I would imagine that it isn't always easy to get people who have done something one way for a long time to change to a new way of doing things.
A-No, it's not always, but setting up a measurement system takes the emotion out of it. I have done all these jobs in most of the countries. I am sensitive to what people go through. I take a lot of time to make sure people know I am not insensitive to their experiences. But it has always amazed me how much of what we do transfers from country to country.
Q-Like what? Can you give me some examples of things that have been very successful?
A-Like advertising. We get our best results from radio advertising. We started using radio extensively in Belgium, then we moved on to France. Now nine countries use it. The advertising is unique because it's a long ad-it's 60 seconds when most ads are 30 seconds. It stands out. We also use our own people in the ad and this helps build an image of those with whom the customer will be dealing. Ninety percent of our advertising is on the radio, so we know radio works.
Q-What doesn't work? Can you give me an example of something that hasn't worked well across various countries?
A-[Pause] The design of our vans [trucks]. A few years ago we had our vans redesigned by a design agency. We had them redesigned centrally without involving our countries in the process and that is why we did not get buy-in. We are now six months away from redesigning them again. We now have a multi-country team working on the new design. We spent a good deal of time trying to understand, to answer the question, "What is the van?" We came to the conclusion that the van is actually a moving billboard.
Q-Has anything surprised you about the U.S. market?
A-Yes, that strong consumer brands have not emerged. You would think there would be some national brand strength, but there is not.
Q-The U.S. is certainly a larger country than you are used to working in ...
A-It's not that different here than how we do it in Europe. We haven't tried to develop a European brand, but we do have strong country brands. The differences across the states are the same as those in Europe. We will have strong regional brands in the U.S. in much the same way we have strong country brands in Europe.
Q-Has anyone done a good job of branding here?
A-[Laughs] Elite and Little Red Truck. [Belron owns both brands, as the recent acquisition Auto Glass Specialists is marketed as "Little Red Truck."]
Q-So how do you create a brand for the AGRR industry?
A-First, we spend a lot of time trying to understand the customer. We know the types of questions to ask. There's not much difference in what people want. Some differences exist, but there are far more similarities than differences.
Q-Are you going to buy media for the United States from Europe? How do you plan on doing so?
A-We're not sure yet. I expect each company here will be like a country in Europe. Each has a person in charge of buying media. We need to have a person who understands the local media. They must understand our business and who we want to target. We don't use any global ad agencies for such things.
Q-Some observers have suggested that Belron does not yet have their insurance program fully in place. There are no national call centers, for example. Do you expect to have them?
A-We are not quite sure what we want to be. We are working through insurance challenges. At the moment, we do not have a call center here, but that is the way we have done it successfully in other countries. Call centers have been highly successful for us. We prefer to have someone at a desk take calls. The local managers are busy with customers and don't always have the time to handle calls. Call centers have worked everywhere we use them.
Q-On a personal note, you must travel a tremendous amount. Isn't that difficult for your family?
A-I do a lot of traveling, but I am often home at night. I have two girls, 14 and 12, so I do try to keep a work/life balance. You can get to and from most places in Europe in one day so that's what I do, and I never work on the weekends.
Q-Is there anything you would like our readers to know about you or your company?
A-That we are a company that enjoys what it does. We thrive on doing things professionally. We enjoy doing things well. Our company still operates as a true family business. It feels like a family business even though it is much more. Our goal is success and we take our goal very seriously.
Q-Thank you for your time.
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