Inge Vercammen and Marcel Naenen of award-winning Van Dyck Fine Foods, producer of Marcels pancakes, talk to Gill South. They own a large purpose built factory in New Plymouth which includes a two-bedroom apartment where they lived for the first seven years of the business.
We sold all our possessions in Belgium and paid for everything with our savings when we bought land in the industrial zone of Bell Block in November 1999. The building was ready in April and the containers with the machines and manufacturing equipment arrived at the end of April and in May, 2000. We cooked our first pancake in July. The building contained a flat, a factory, a freezer and an office for administration. It was all designed by Marcel and refined by the architect.
How did you find living and working in the same place?
It was fantastic in the beginning. No time was wasted driving to work and back.
Everything you needed was there. We could work as long as we needed. That is fine for the first few years which are very hard to get your company established. But after seven years I really had had enough. As we became busier, the hours of work were longer. At one point we went over to two shifts. The more orders we got the longer the shift became. The outcome was that the start-up became 3.00am and with that was the noise and the smell of pancakes. After a while I couldn't cope with it any more. It was time to move out to a house where it is easier to relax and entertain.
What benefits do you find owning your own building now the business is established?
The land appreciated in value considerably. As the business grows, so has the building. We have built on a couple of extensions. We have doubled the freezer area and also a new wing with a second pancake line. The flat has been converted to offices. All that is very hard if you are not the owner. As it is, we have complete freedom in alterations. When we bought the land we bought a very large piece which has given us unlimited room for expansion. This has proved invaluable to us.
We looked at renting to start off but there was no building suitable for what we had in mind. People thought we were mad to buy such a big piece of bare land and called us even more disturbed when they saw the building appearing to cook just crepes. We were new to the country and we had zero clients. Now 12 years later we are happy that we did what we did. It all depends what your goal is. It is very convenient to own your own factory. I suppose it is the same as renting a house versus owing one.