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Interviews with Retailers: Jan van Daalen of House of Outdoor

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Old Tuesday 25th September 2018, 12:51   #1
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Interviews with Retailers: Jan van Daalen of House of Outdoor, NL

Welcome to this, the second of 5 interviews: 2 from the USA, one from the UK and two from continental Europe.

Who am I?
Jan van Daalen of House of Outdoor, Maarssen, Netherlands.

My Background
Born in 1957, I spent the first 21 years of my adult life in the Amsterdam Police Force, which career ended quite abruptly by publishing my first book “Sans Rancune” (‘No Hard Feelings’) that gave an insight into the way corruption was within that Force on every level. Starting a new life/career was no problem because money was no issue. The book got in the top 10 best sellers list of that year, the rights for the movie contract came on top of it, and after four years of legal fights the Force had to take me back with full financial compensation. My shop, House of Outdoor & Optics, came to life in 1997, after I left the Force again, but this time at my choosing.

My Shop
We started with 200 square meters, then one year later opened the first and second floors and in 2007 a new shop of 600 square meters was opened. Like every outdoor shop we sold a few binoculars of Bushnell, Swift and Jenoptik, but then Mr. Zeiss Netherlands, Aad Out, entered our shop uninvited at 13.00 hours, and left the next morning at 02.30 hours. We only discussed optics. Aad had worked for Zeiss Optics for over 30 years and knew every aspect of Zeiss Oberkochen/Wetzlar. We became great friends and it is thanks to Aad  that I got the optics bug. For this, Zeiss will always have a special place in our company, although some of the suits in Oberkochen are on a completely different planet from the others I work with in Zeiss.

Aad took me to Wetzlar, showed me around, educated me, and In return we bought all the sports optics products. I knew absolutely zilch about optics at that time so Aad introduced me to Dr.Gijs van Ginkel, who had a stand at the Dutch Bird Fair, selling his works on optics and test results. I bought every edition of his works and read everything forwards, backwards and forwards again, and learned a lot. At that time, Gijs worked as a volunteer for the Dutch Birding Protection Society and published all his test results/reviews on their site, but after a dispute about the interpretation of one test, Gijs asked us to be the platform for his tests, knowing our independence from the brands. For those who live outside Holland; Gijs is an institution and his works are highly respected. His leaving DBPS to publish on our website was a dream coming true.

The effect of selling one alpha-brand was that the consumers wanted to compare the products of all the other alphas with each other, especially the brand-new EL of Swarovski, so we took them all on-board. I think it is only fair to say that at that time Swarovski was a decent brand but not of the Leica/Zeiss level. The launch of the EL changed everything. Both Zeiss and Leica, in their arrogance, leaned back with the mantra “we are the best, we are the best”, but everybody bought green. It is really beyond my imagination that both Zeiss and Leica let this happen. Only now, years later, can we say that the EL SV, SF and NVid, the ATX & Harpia, the Perger, EL Range & Victory Range are all close together in capability.

Our Customers and How We do Business
It is important to know that 80% of our customers come to us because they are going on an African Safari, only 10% is birding, 5% is hunting and 5% is others (maritime, recreational etc.). Paying a lot of money to see wildlife in Africa without decent optics is a no-go for our customers, which explains the dominant position of the alpha-brands in our business, something that will be completely different from other stores with a different customer profile.

The average age of our customer is 40+. This is not the customer who chases the cheapest price. They are people with years of job experience who appreciate the way they get treated in our shop and are willing to pay the price for decent equipment.

Female customers are more and more increasing as bin users and buyers. Where, let’s say 15 years ago, they inherited the old bin of the male when he bought the newest of the newest, nowadays it is 50/50 male/female coming to buy binos. More and more often we sell two bins to a couple. 42/50mm to the male and mostly 32mm or pocket for her. Women prefer comfort carrying where men prefer power.

Our entrance sentence to the customer is: “What do you expect of the binocular performance- wise?” Sometimes their perception is mistaken and so we bring knowledge, education, and our extensive stock into action. We call the sub-alpha brands expensive wallpaper. When comparing a sub with an alpha (Zeiss, Leica, Swarovski and Meopta) the result always goes to the alpha. Knowing that the average use of binos by our customers is for their lifetime, price is important but not the closing factor, quality is. Understanding that the final choice has viewing consequences makes the choice of an alpha much more understandable. This is the big and vital advantage of a brick store compared to the E-stores.

With the regular margin for the retailer lying between the 25 and 40%, there is not so much room for aggressive discounting battles between the brick shops. I remember visiting a Digi scoping course at Swarovski’s where the retailers of the big photo chains, who are dominant on the Web, were also present. Afterwards, discussing about the trade, margins etc., they reacted like: “How much is your margin? Wow, we can take all this, no problem. We will dump the prices and take all the sales you do now”. There is nothing wrong with this particular point of view, although it didn’t work. It is just their business model but ours is very different. We educate and this takes an hour and a half at least. A completely different approach. In the words of a chain store director: “We sell stoves, we don’t give cooking lessons”. Well, we and other brick stores do give lessons, then we sell. Together with stock, choice and knowledge it is the only response to E-sales.

Our Products & Sales

We sell the telescopes/binoculars/night vision and thermal devices, of Zeiss, Swarovski, Leica, Meopta, Kahles, Fujinon, Docter, Bushnell, Bynolyt, Vanguard, Seek and Steiner.

On sales by brand, Swarovski is number one, followed by Zeiss, Meopta and Leica. After that comes Bynolyt as best of the rest. Putting Swarovski’s sales figure at 100%, Zeiss does 60%, Meopta 30%, Leica 15% and Bynolyt 10% of that amount in 2017.

Our total Sales for 2017 were about 1770 binos including rangefinders, and I would guess 25 scopes and 10 night-vision/thermal imaging.

Looking at Zeiss sales figures they show clearly that the 42 sells far more than the 32, due to the lack of a 32SF. The SF far exceeds the sales of the now-discontinued HT, is almost on par with Terra, and is now on the same level as Swarovski’s EL SV.

Looking at Swaro’s sales the EL SV 32 are equal to the 42, but the CL 30 beats the sh1t out of both EL SV 32 and 42 in Sales. The current CL is eating a lot away from the EL SV32. By the way sales of the EL SV 32 are equal 8x and 10x.

For Meopta, the beautiful MeoStar 32 is nowhere to be seen in sales compared to the 42 line, due to the new CL30 of Swarovski. In this respect, the same can be said of the Conquest 32.

Regarding Leica, compared with the SF and EL SV, sales numbers are bad news. At Ultravid level, sales of 32 and 42 are more or less equal.

Looking at our total sales, 42mm is our top seller with 30/32mm at 85% of 42mm sales. By magnification, 8x is most popular, with 10x around 70% of the 8x total.

Personally I am a 7x user but in our sales numbers they are nowhere. We offer them from Swarovski, Leica, Docter and Meopta in CF but they are rarely sold. Steiner, Zeiss and Fujinon have marine optics with IF and these are sold regularly to marine customers.

The SF is selling very well now and is more or less on par with the EL SV, the CL30 scores exceptionally well, as does the whole EL SV line and the Pocket line. Swaro in total is top seller, the SF and Terra 42 together are second, followed by the complete MeoStar line except the 32.

Relationships with Our Suppliers
From the retailer’s side there are several ways to get your merchandise. You can become a member of a buying group and, because of the volume, get more margin. Additionally you’ll get a Shell card, so your fuel costs drop by a dime/Euro. Collective Insurance is also included and every three months the bill has to be paid. The downside is…….nothing is free in life, so there are down-sides.

We choose to be independent and negotiate our own margins. Sometimes it works, sometimes we have to say goodbye to a brand when we can’t come to an agreement. Negotiations are not just about margins and also concern point of sales materials, extended after-sales service, short and direct communication channels (there is/was a brand that did not accept phone calls, but only e-mails. “So time consuming, all that talking…..”). This company didn’t last long in our store.

Some brands are represented in the country by agents/importers. Others operate without. Zeiss for example started with an agent in Amsterdam, opened a shop in Weesp, closed it after a few years, got (thanks to Aad Out who came along from Weesp) very well represented by Technolyt in Wormerveer, and currently use their own sales channel in Breda.

From a retailer’s perspective, my preference is a Dutch-speaking brand representative with the authority to make decisions, which is not often the case. Some retailers order big time at trade fairs, using the extra trade-fair margin as a bargain. Others don’t and negotiate on own terms.

Point of Sale Support from Brands
As education is vital in our shop, we demand cut-away, sectioned, binos from our suppliers, so our customers can see inside them. In reality, only Swarovski, Zeiss, Leica and Opticron have them available for retailers.
Every other point of sale is easy to get. Almost every brand has their own brand store cabinet if needed, T-shirts, caps, gimmicks, etc. these are not a problem.

Warranty Support

On the guarantee side, both Bushnell and Bynolyt has never let us down. Swaro’s after service is well known and AFAIK, both Zeiss and Leica come close.

From retailers/producers point of view, about complaints concerning warranty service, we’ve seen it all in the last 25 years. There are always two sides to every story. Swaro is famous for their Noblesse Oblige attitude. Zeiss and Leica more for their no nonsense approach. And some customers feel the need to blow off steam on Forums, some legit, others absolutely not. At the end of the day, only one thing is certain. The sun goes down.

Thanks!
A big thank you to Jan for taking the time to give Birdforum members an insight into optics retailing. Jan’s details are given below:

Jan van Daalen

http://www.houseofoutdoor.com

Diependaalsedijk 12-14
3601 GK Maarssen
0346-556166
[email protected]



Lee

Last edited by Troubador : Monday 1st October 2018 at 10:15.
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Old Tuesday 25th September 2018, 13:55   #2
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Thumbs up

Thanks Jan for the insights and Lee for the write up. BF has been a more informative (and sometimes funnier too :) place since Jan came along :)

Massively surprised by the number of Terra(bles) shifted ! Maybe the pretty colours help :) . Also interesting to hear of the new CL30 pinching sales of the SV32.

Always good to hear things from the retailer's perspective and the anecdotes around that. Bravo !




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Old Tuesday 25th September 2018, 14:04   #3
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Thanks Lee and Jan for a lovely interview.

I commend Jan for his bravery.
I also have the same view as his regarding business methods.
Also for me the telephone is king.
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Old Tuesday 25th September 2018, 14:34   #4
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A fascinating look behind the scenes, bookmarked for future reference. Thank you Jan and Lee!
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Old Tuesday 25th September 2018, 14:56   #5
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I've had the great pleasure of making a transatlantic purchase from Jan. There can't be another optics dealer in the world who would have gone to the lengths he did to accommodate my desire to have a binocular custom assembled by mixing parts from two different models. Someday I hope to visit his store, which looks like a binowonderland in photos.

I thought the most surprising statistic in his 2017 sales was 1770 binoculars vs 25 spotting scopes. I guess we're lucky they bother to make scopes at all.

Henry
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Old Tuesday 25th September 2018, 16:00   #6
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Thanks Binastro and Jonno.

Lee
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Old Tuesday 25th September 2018, 16:04   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by henry link View Post
I've had the great pleasure of making a transatlantic purchase from Jan. There can't be another optics dealer in the world who would have gone to the lengths he did to accommodate my desire to have a binocular custom assembled by mixing parts from two different models. Someday I hope to visit his store, which looks like a binowonderland in photos.

I thought the most surprising statistic in his 2017 sales was 1770 binoculars vs 25 spotting scopes. I guess we're lucky they bother to make scopes at all.

Henry
Henry
The bulk of Jan's customers are buying optics to go on safari and probably binos are more convenient to travel with and then use from the 'comfort' of a Toyota Landcruiser. And for much of the time it is not recommended you step out of the vehicle, so setting up a scope and tripod is probably not permitted.

Lee

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Old Tuesday 25th September 2018, 20:21   #8
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Lee,

I really appreciate your interview series. They are great reading. They help bring a newcomer to non-photo optics, like me, some history and many perspectives.

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Old Wednesday 26th September 2018, 00:22   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by henry link View Post
I've had the great pleasure of making a transatlantic purchase from Jan. There can't be another optics dealer in the world who would have gone to the lengths he did to accommodate my desire to have a binocular custom assembled by mixing parts from two different models. Someday I hope to visit his store, which looks like a binowonderland in photos.

I thought the most surprising statistic in his 2017 sales was 1770 binoculars vs 25 spotting scopes. I guess we're lucky they bother to make scopes at all.

Henry
Have to agree with Henry—I made two purchases through Jan on products I couldn’t get in the States and what a wonderful person to deal with! Best experience I ever had on purchasing optics! Great write up Jan!
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Old Wednesday 26th September 2018, 00:26   #10
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Jan and Lee....that was just GREAT! What an enjoyable and entertaining read!
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Old Wednesday 26th September 2018, 00:44   #11
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Excellent work,
Lee thanks for the time to do these interviews, I hope you will not miss out on your time viewing the otters before it gets too cold.
Jan, thank you for also taking the time and letting us know a bit more about yourself, additionally, thank you for the statistics regarding sales as I am always curious about them world wide.

Andy W.
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Old Wednesday 26th September 2018, 01:14   #12
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A wonderful read... thanks for doing this Lee and thanks to the retailers for sharing!!

Lots of great stuff and reflects my sentiment regarding Swaro not really being in the top tier until the arrival of the EL. Then WOW.. gamechanger!

Interesting that the CL has reached the popularity it has but it does have a lot going for it in what it offers at its price and size.

Keep up the good work...

CG
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Old Wednesday 26th September 2018, 02:15   #13
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Cool

Hear, Hear on all the wonderful accolades for Jan's success and Lee's investigative literary skills. Enjoyed the shared knowledge and appreciate what it takes to obtain it!!!

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Old Wednesday 26th September 2018, 06:55   #14
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Marc, Karmantra, Chuck, Andy, CG & Ted.

Wow, guys, thank you so much for your appreciation and of course thanks to Jan for making it possible. Putting the texts together from the interviews/questionaires was great fun. Reason for doing these? We all buy binos from dealers. Without them where would we be? And we occasionally discuss them and speculate about their business. I thought we should find out just what they and their businesses are like behind the scenes.

Lee

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Old Wednesday 26th September 2018, 08:37   #15
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Thanks Jan and Lee for another excellent interview. Using cut-away, sectioned, binos to educate potential customers is quite special, and the possibility of doing so is a unique advantage of brick&mortar stores. Even a frugal customer will be impressed to learn about the complexity of an instrument that looks pretty simple when viewed from outside.
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Old Wednesday 26th September 2018, 14:32   #16
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Fascinating read! Thanks so very much Lee and Jan.
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Old Wednesday 26th September 2018, 14:44   #17
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Thanks for your kind words Peter and Foss.

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Old Sunday 30th September 2018, 16:59   #18
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Hi guys, and onde lady in particular.......

Thanks for the kind words.
If anyone want's to try to reach me, please do so via my mailadress.

Best to you all.

Jan
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Old Sunday 30th September 2018, 18:29   #19
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Thanks Jan, for a great interview.

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Old Sunday 30th September 2018, 19:49   #20
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I love your virtual reality store tour. I just wish I had known about it when I lived in Amsterdam and was completely clueless about binoculars.

One and half hour educating a customer is a huge commitment. Is “showrooming” (people who come and get advice, but turn around and order online) a big problem?

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Old Thursday 22nd November 2018, 09:46   #21
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I am one picky customer and have visited the shop in Maarssen once, buying a second hand Ultravid 10x42 with a discount for returning an ultravid 8x20.

I cannot imagine many showroomers visit the shop. I feel Jan's presence, enthusiasm, explanation + the very inviting stock range of products for all to try and see is key to keep customers loyal and satisfied.

There are some other good optic shops in the Netherlands (I can think of 3 more), some run by dedicated birdwatchers, and I guess many scopes are bought in those shops. Maarssen and surroundings are the Long Island of Amsterdam where the rich and famous live. Those people have money, can go on safari and value quality and a client-is-king attitude. They won't go to a birder's optic store 1-2 hrs driving when there is a fantastic shop with a solid reputation run by a known optics nerd just around the block.
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