It is Sebrechts Groenten en Fruit's 65th anniversary this year. In celebration, the Antwerp wholesaler's building was transformed into a banquet hall on Saturday, June 3. Under a beaming sun, some 200 family members, customers, and other relations were thanked for their support and trust over the past decades.
The family business' new logo was also presented. "It was wonderful to welcome so many people. Some had to get up as early as 3 a.m., but they were the last to leave. I think we can consider it a successful party," begins Ellen Sebrechts.
The party took some doing, though, as it was organized almost entirely by the family itself. "The problem was: Friday was one of our busiest days because of the beautiful weather, but we also had to clear the hall and get everything ready. All the side activities made things a bit hectic. We had to clean up everything on Sunday, too."
"That was so we could get back to work on Monday. Arranging that was a lot of work but also very satisfying. We could really personalize it. Two of my nieces did the catering and photography, and my sister-in-law took care of the dessert. Everything stayed within the family, the way we like it," says Ellen.
And that family was at the center of the festivities. Walking down the halls, the Sebrechts' history was represented by old photographs framed by the trade they specialize in, fruits and vegetables. That is how the company was founded in 1958. "My grandfather and his brother set up the first market stall."
"Pictures took guests down memory lane via all the past locations and generations. We're now in our fourth location with a third generation of four business owners; my sister Nathalie, my husband, my father, and me. Our company has always prized familiarity, which I think is also our strength," Ellen explains.
A stroll through time
According to her, that led to a successful party. "After people strolled through time, they arrived in the hall, where we had several stands with delicious snacks, like a Hoogstraten stall with strawberries and chocolate fountain. It was wonderful to see everyone chatting and enjoying themselves."
"It was also nice for us to look many clients, whom we'd normally only talk to via phone or email, in the eye and hear their experiences with our company in recent years. Some buyers are already in their fourth generation and have been coming to us all along. It means so much to share such a moment with them," Ellen continues.
In her speech, Ellen expressed her, her husband, and her sister's gratitude. "I wanted to thank everyone for trusting us, our team, and our offer. We always want to provide the best quality. However, I also thanked our family and friends because we're very grateful that they understand how things work."
"And they aren't tired of us yet. After all, this work never stops. It's a sector we're highly passionate about, so it never feels like work. But it also means you must be constantly available and sometimes glued to the phone. Our nearest and dearest understand this is something that makes us happy," says Sebrechts.
"Lastly, I thanked our team that always pitches in when the days get long. That's our strength. My parents, too, are still a helpline and still come when we are short-staffed for a while. And our uncle always jumps in when that happens. That's what strengthens a family business."
Beings clients' eyes
What is a family business' secret? The fruit and vegetable trade sometimes faces hard times these days, making one wonder if it is all still worth it. "I think familiarity sets us apart. It doesn't feel like work for us because we love what we do and have nice contact with customers. That helps us to truly know them too. It was wonderful when during Saturday's discussions, our buyers called us their eyes," Ellen admits.
"Each client has specific demands: promotions, big or small. Only when you know whom you're selling to do you know what you should offer them. We talk to most of our buyers mainly by phone or email. If it goes well this way, they prefer to be in their store rather than walking around with us picking out their purchases, proving they trust us. We certainly don't want to sabotage that. It was great to hear that and pleasing to see everything going to plan. If not, we obviously fix that."
"Staying sharp is also always vital. Good customer relationships mean nothing if the quality or the offer is disappointing; they'll choose someone else. That's it. Everything's expensive these days, and fruit's, obviously, weather sensitive. Look at Spanish stone fruit at the moment. You have to look for enough supply and good quality. So you have to ensure that if people must pay more, they still get that good quality. You stay alert, you stay in business, and people keep coming. Otherwise, you're done," Ellen continues.
Eager fourth generation
With that in mind, the family business expects to celebrate many more anniversaries in the coming years. When asked if they are looking toward heading to 75 years, Ellen answers firmly, "You mean 85 years?" That shows the mindset of the people running Sebrechts Groenten en Fruit. "We learned everything from our (grand)parents, and it's wonderful that they now trust us in the steps we want to take with the company."
"Our father had a bit of a hard time with the new logo. It meant letting go of something his father and uncle started. However, they let us have our way in the end because they know we have the company's best interests at heart. That trust, and my sister, husband, and the whole team's hard work are the prelude to the future. Until the fourth generation decides to take over," Ellen concludes.