Europlan celebrates 60 years in business! We talk with Paul van Dorsten about what we've learnt.
Paul van Dorsten has owned and been Managing Director of Europlan since the 1980s. Proud father of four (boys), Grandad to his growing extended family and passionate business investor, Paul reflects on what made Europlan the company it is today.
We sat down with Paul for a chat about the lessons he’s learnt and Europlan’s evolution as it celebrates 60 years in business.
Why did you buy Europlan and get into the workplace design business?
“It was in the 80’s and I was working in merchant banking and a friend of my Dad’s owned New Lynn Metalcraft and was keen to offload it so my business partner Hamish and I decided to purchase it”.
At the time, New Lynn Metalcraft was a sheet metal fabrication business specialising in the design and manufacture of steel storage for workplaces. One of their claims to fame is that they were the first company to manufacture ‘Tambours’ – they’re those slide doors that open to shelving, in NZ. In fact, they even exported them to Australia!
The name of the filing cabinets being manufactured at that time was … you guessed it … Europlan. Hence the renaming from New Lynn Metalcraft to Europlan with the plan to diversify from just metal shelving to a wider range of product and design services for workplaces.
After reviewing research coming out of overseas markets and the manufacturing trends, Paul made the tough decision to stop doing the manufacturing. He agreed with one of the largest metal fabrication companies in NZ, Metal Skills, to provide the machinery and staff to continue to manufacture these products in NZ. The result being that all employees kept their jobs, and the products were still being manufactured in NZ.
Europlan was then free to move into the next phase which was providing NZ made or imported products for full office fit outs, adding their design and consulting services into the mix.
Fast forward to 2023, Europlan have an extensive range of their own products including the neurodiverse and accessible ranges, Kite and Waltzer products.
International furniture manufacturer, Haworth, approached Europlan in 2010 and formed a partnership with them to be the exclusive dealer of their products. Haworth is a renowned leading US furniture company and was the first to create a carbon zero chair (Haworths Zody Chair) certified Cradle to Cradle Gold by MBDC. This partner was a game changer for Europlan and office spaces across NZ, as the Haworth Collection features leading global designers through its brands—Haworth, Poltrona Frau, Cappellini, and Cassina—the collection leverages the tradition and innovation of design around the world.
If you could go back to the 80s and give yourself some advice, what would it be?
“The most important factors would be to implement strategies as early on as possible. By getting the right people involved, hiring external independent facilitators and being prepared to make the hard decisions you’ll do well”.
It’s important to learn to let go. Becoming more accepting of not always being right, has been an important area of learning for Paul. During his time at the helm of Europlan, he has learnt to have the best leadership team and professionals in the business. They needed to be able to also work as a team and respect each other’s knowledge. Paul has achieved this, with Tony heading up the Exec team and GM surrounded by long term employees of the business.
“You need to be able to trust your team to grow a business. By having the right reporting structures, and holding people to account, you can step back and enable them to do their job and help you grow your business”.
What are the main lessons you’ve learnt in business?
“Know how to manage expectations especially when dealing with banks”.
With Paul’s wide range of experience in banking and investment, he was armed with the knowledge of what banks need to know, and the approach best to use when dealing with them. Providing solutions to your problems when working with banks, gives them a better understanding of where you plan to go with the business, rather than simply providing the problem you need finance for.
Encouraging mentoring within your team members has been essential and has a positive impact on the work environment. More recently Paul has carved out more time and space to mentor and share his knowledge from his career in business with his team. This is important to Paul as he knows he wouldn’t have the best team if he didn’t provide them with support and time to grow their skills and abilities.
Paul is also an active member of the local business community and loves sharing ideas and lessons amongst his connections there.
What can you attribute the success of Europlan to?
“Becoming successful in business by providing really good service and products is so much more than just being price competitive”.
Getting the structure right in your team is extremely important. Then ensure you have the best reporting systems so you can be across all areas of a business. It’s essential to be able to measure what your business is doing, and the outcomes from those efforts.
Another key to success in business is staff retention and loyalty. Europlan’s leadership team have all had significant tenures and don’t plan to move anytime soon. Because of the business and financial transparency given to the team at Europlan, they’re included and have an informed interest in improving and growing the business. They’re trusted to do their jobs and are the eyes and ears of the business’s product and service development.
“Our business has diversified through the feedback we get from our team who are working directly with our clients and being active in the workspace design market”.
Particularly noticeable during COVID, as like many businesses in NZ, there were hard decisions that needed to be made, pay reductions and hard graft required to navigate the years when the market went to ground. This was a difficult time for the whole team, however within a short space of time the team was back on full pay, paid back in full for the pay decreases they’d provided, the business was busy again and the team has grown to 42 at last count. Europlan have also opened warehousing in Christchurch and Wellington and have new showrooms in both cities to complement their Auckland offering.
“It was important to us to be transparent during COVID about our position and supporting our team to navigate the challenge, and to grow back as soon as possible”.
Hiring more staff and growing quickly post-COVID has put Europlan on target to achieve their stretch goals. With 60 years in business, you get the sense Europlan has only just started and has a great exciting future ahead of it.
What will the next 60 years bring for Europlan?
“I always encouraged my four boys to go and find and live their own dreams, and I’ve never planned on passing the business down to them. I’m glad they’re doing what they love, and in the future, I see Europlan being owned and continued to be grown by people as passionate and driven as I have been over the years”.
“Europlan is growing, and I am really proud of where we have brought it, the most successful part of it is that the business has the right leadership with Tony and the team that I’m no longer necessary for the day-to-day operations. I can know that the trusted long-standing team are the ones holding the key to the continued growth and success of a NZ born and bred company”.
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"Thank you again for the great job, the fine work you and your team did to deliver what was promised, in the short time frame."
University of Otago - ISB
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