Rudy Van den Berg
famous motivational author Ben Sweetland once wrote, “Success is a
journey, not a destination.” Rudy Van den Berg knows all about successful
journeys. He is the managing director of Horeca, a food and non-food
distributor, which has gained great importance in Chiang Mai over the last
Rudy was born and educated in Holland and at the age of 18 went into
business with his brother. They set up their own company in Paris exporting
flowers. Not long after they became established, they opened a second branch
of the business in the south of France. They supplied their flowers to the
giant French supermarket, Carrefour, and after 17 years were bought out by a
leading fruit and veg company who were looking for a way to break into the
Carrefour market. He agreed to stay with the company for two years, helping
them to get on their feet and signed a three year agreement not to set up a
similar business – he would have been far too much competition!
Rudy and his brother were at a complete loss as what to do, so they did what
any sensible person would do and packed up shop and took their families to
Thailand. The original intention was to pass the three year ban while they
were unable to trade in France, but 12 years later, Rudy and his family are
still living in Chiang Mai!
Initially, the family travelled and enjoyed the fruits of his labours but
after two years of travel, Rudy got itchy feet and decided to look for
possible business ventures in the city. He began by investing in a computer
school, the first of its kind in Chiang Mai. It was over 10 years ago, when
few people travelled and few had computers of their own. He then entered the
property market before really finding his niche in the food business.
Together with four business partners, he set up a food production company
for good quality ‘farang food’ such as pate and sausages. One of their
biggest customers was Siam Food Services, the largest food importer in
Thailand. Siam Foods were very impressed with Rudy and offered him the
chance to set up on his own to become their sole distributor, so in the year
2000, Horeca was launched.
Rudy along with his business partner Patinya Srisuk was determined to
establish a professional business with highly trained staff dedicated to the
highest quality service. Rudy was confident that Chiang Mai was a city on
the up and he wanted to be a part of that development.
“I have firm rules for my staff,” Rudy told me. “No one is allowed to
say no, I don’t know or we don’t have it. If we didn’t have it in
stock, I wanted my staff to tell the customers where they could get it.”
This approach was revolutionary for Chiang Mai and slowly he built up his
business based on the straight forward professionalism and a customer first
Six years later, Rudy and his company Horeca stock over 10 thousand products
and are the exclusive distributors throughout northern Thailand including
Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lamphun and Lampang, of many major brands such as
Nestle dairy, Lucky Brand products and Dilmah Tea.
One of the ways in which Horeca is breaking new ground is in offering
training sessions to its customers. Rudy sees training as an exciting part
of the company’s future and it is a service he is keen to expand. He wants
to help the smaller establishments compete with the larger ones. He believes
that the increasing number of tourists to Chiang Mai will demand better
service. People visiting the city are willing to pay more for food and drink
but demand higher standards and value for money. Chiang Mai has moved on
from a backpacker’s haven and is now a mainstream destination in its own
As part of his contribution to developing the city, Rudy is working with
students at Payap University. He believes one of the keys to development and
advancement is ‘sharing with the community’. Whether it’s teaching
staff how to serve wine, how to serve tea and coffee or simply to smile and
say hello, customers prefer better service and are more likely to return for
more business. This is how Horeca is run and that is the key reason it has
grown over the last 6 years.
Rudy is currently in the process of buying land where he hopes to develop a
training centre. This will allow businesses and individuals to take
advantage of a high quality teaching and demonstration facility. He is
hoping the centre will include a library containing cookbooks, training
manuals and other reference works to educate people on service and good
management. In addition to all these initiatives, Rudy is also turning his
irrepressible enthusiasm to the conservation of the environment and the
preservation of the Lanna heritage. He feels that not enough is done to
preserve the old Lanna style buildings in Chiang Mai which he believes
improves the look of the city and ensures that the history is never
forgotten. Chiang Mai is an historic city and Rudy firmly believes that the
past should be embraced and promoted by the hospitality industry.
Horeca is an extremely open and honest organisation and this will be seen by
the food show they are organising on the July 20. This invitation-only event
is bringing suppliers and customers together and offering samples of a wide
range of products. The show will also feature guest speakers, seminars and
demonstrations from some of the biggest names in the hotel and catering
Rudy van den Berg’s approach is extremely rare in business. He is not just
making healthy profits but using his knowledge and experience to help and
enrich the lives of the individuals and businesses with whom he comes into
contact. With Horeca leading the way, I’m sure many others will follow.
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