These are exciting hours for the 670 Belgian employees of the Dutch retail chain Blokker. On Tuesday at 10.30 a.m. the management is organizing a special works council. An announcement for the staff follows around 1 p.m. Michiel Witteveen – the CEO and owner of the Dutch parent company Mirage Retail – is coming to Belgium specifically.
Belgium is a problem.
Blokker Belgium has been making a loss since 2014. Sales fall year after year. Last year, sales shrank by 31 percent to 60 million euros. That is half as much as in 2011. The trade unions say that only a handful of the 123 Belgian stores – two to eight – make a profit.
“Belgium is a problem,” said Witteveen at the end of last year. “We will evaluate that.” Blokker carried out a screening to determine what potential the Belgian stores still have and what measures are needed.
The company didn’t want to say anything on Monday, but observers and trade unions fear the worst. “We expect jobs to be lost again and stores to close,” says unionist Inge De Beule (BBTK). “It’s not even unthinkable that Blokker will close all its Belgian stores.”
It is probably not going that fast, says her ACV colleague Marc Jacobs. “The management has always told us that Blokker will remain in the Netherlands and Belgium anyway. Mr. Witteveen took over the chain from the founder family Blokker last year. The transfer took place with a few conditions. Possibly also the provision that Blokker must remain active in Belgium, although we do not know that for sure. ”
Afterwards the situation did not improve. The chain launched various test stores with new store concepts. The intention was to find a concept that was successful and to implement it in all stores. But it didn’t come to a major rollout.
In the meantime, the majority of the Blokker stores in Belgium have been looking the same for twenty years, while the retail sector has changed radically. Blokker saw the innovations come too slowly and was misled by the rise of e-commerce.
In our industry, the physical stores will at all times retain their added value over the virtual ones.
While web stores such as Bol.com started their online growth story, then top man Jaap Blokker penned in the annual report for 2009: “As might be expected, the role of the internet in selling retail items increased considerably in 2009. For our type of stores, this development is less of a threat than for many others, such as record stores and book stores. Many of our articles still want to be viewed, felt and sniffed before they can be taken to the consumer’s home. As a result, the physical stores in our branches will at all times retain their added value over the virtual ones.
In 2018, revenue from the Belgian and Dutch Blokker stores halved to 817 million euros. Just like the year before, there was a loss of 344 million euros.