The innovation family – where everything is possible
Cecilia (Cian) and Gerard (Gerre) Versteegh met in 1977 when Gerre ran the petrol station in Sandhamn. In 1978, Gerre took over Shellmacken on Strandvägen in Stockholm. Cian attended the Business School and came down in the evenings to do the bookkeeping. The rest of the time was spent on finding development opportunities – both wanted to invest in developing the business, they say.
Gerard, Jacob and Cecilia Versteegh own the company Bonver. Photo: Katarina Palmstierna
– There was a need for firewood for the large old Östermalms floors, but it would be wood in paper bags and not in nets as it was littered. All said and done, we bought one meter of wood, a wood splitter and paper bags. After work, we went out into the country to chop the wood into small fine logs and put them in bags to sell at the grocery store. We quickly became the largest in the area for firewood, says Gerre.
This is the thirtieth article in a series of interviews with business owners on Lidingö that Katarina Palmstierna, chairperson of Företagarna Lidingö and chairwoman of Lidingö Näringsliv, conducts and which is published on the Lidingö page. There will be meetings with both larger companies and sole proprietors. What they have in common is that they all work at Lidingö.
– In 1979, rental video made its entrance and we were the first to rent out video films. We were the fourth rental place in Stockholm and the only place that was open on weekends and evenings. There was a procession of people from all over Greater Stockholm, indeed from the entire Mälardalen.
– The films were expensive and it was very risky for renters to buy films, so our idea was to share the revenue with the film companies. For this, a computer system was needed to know what was rented out and to distribute the income. In a collaboration with Bonnierdata, this was resolved and a jointly owned company was formed with Bonnier. That’s how the name Bonver came about (Bonnier/Versteegh). In 1989 we bought out Bonnier.
– The video rental business grew to all gas company chains as well as Coop and others. At most we had about 3,500
rental customers in the Nordics. Eventually the film companies asked if we wanted to manage the Nordic logistics for them and we became a large logistics company. Bonver Logistics was born. The biggest rental film at the time was Dirty Dancing with 4,500 cassettes distributed.
– In the 90s, the shopping video came along. Then there were significantly more cassettes to distribute. One day around Christmas we received a phone call from London telling us that two large lorries with advertising material were on their way to us and five more would arrive shortly – it was the launch of The Lion King in Sweden. It sold 600,000 copies.
– At the time, the company was located in Stockby and grew to five different buildings and 7,000-8,000 square meters, but it was not enough. We asked the municipality for help and they referred us to Margarinbolaget, which had empty premises for sale in Gåshaga. We jumped at the chance and in 1996 we moved to 23,000 sq m. It was too big and it was a risk, but we grew so it cracked, adds Cian.
Bonver’s entrance in Gåshaga. Photo: Katarina Palmstierna
– The plot was large and we tried to get planning permission for part of our land and had dialogue with the municipality, who were very cooperative and stood up in every way they could. We drew up a proposal together with the architect Thomas Sandell. It took a lot of energy to develop the entire housing project called Gåshaga Brygga and consists of 40 townhouses. Finally, we got “yes” to building permission from the municipality and we were able to sell the project to NCC. This was in 1999. It was a relief financially, says Gerre.
The large warehouses have high ceilings. Photo: Katarina Palmstierna
– In the end , our company managed the logistics for all American film companies’ video films, the so-called major companies, but also SF and Sandrews. At most, we distributed over 60 million video films per year and we now also had a warehouse in Rosersberg of 25,000 square meters, says Gerre.
– The peak in video/DVD came in 2010 and with the illegal downloading of films from the internet and the launch of Netflix and other digital services, the market subsequently decreased by 30% per year. There we sat with 50,000 square meters and 450 employees. Now came the real crisis.
– Of course we understood that digital would take over and we invested in a streaming service which, however, never took off so we closed it down in 2015. There was too much piracy and it was more than tough in the industry!
– 2010 meant a real crisis that coincided with our son Jacob, who had just graduated from the School of Economics, being more or less forced into the company to help out. Jacob became an important resource in the change work.
– Now it was time to look ahead and how we could develop further. We were good at logistics, building concepts and had a sales force. E-commerce was coming in and we saw our chance. Today, Bonver Logistics is the logistics partner of 75 e-commerce companies and more on the way.
– At the same time, the service of “dispensed” medicines for patients was also de-monopolized and we entered the game. No one thought we could meet the quality requirements when we worked with video films. It turned out that the quality requirements from the film companies, which were 99.8% delivery accuracy, were higher than the county council’s requirements, which were 98.0. We started the company Apotekstjänst, won a tender and invested everything. Today, there are 200,000 people who get their medicines delivered in dose packs, of which we deliver to 80,000. The quality control is enormous and the number of wrong deliveries is basically zero. However, the market is under severe price pressure and we are three competitors on the market, says Jacob.
– The innovations continued and within Bonver Entertainment, which had its main business in film rental, we were forced to re-direct the business. We started with an overall concept for ice cream and frozen yogurt – “Frozen Dreams” and supplemented with the sale of concepts for coffee, “Coffee Dreams” for shops and grocery stores, with good coffee machines and really good brewed quality coffee. Today we have 350 “coffee shops”, including at ICA Käppala and ICA Näset as well as Vattenverket. Today we also have our own coffee roastery, “Gåshaga Roastery”. We only work with so-called specialty coffee and only with organic coffee beans, which we are alone in the industry.
Collection around the coffee concept “Coffee Dreams”. Cian, Jacob and Gerre Versteegh. Photo: Katarina Palmstierna
Another company in the group is GreatDays – which sells experiences and MovieZine which is a website for movies and TV series.
– 30% of all employees live on Lidingö and 300 sit in the house in Gåshaga. The dining room is wonderful, here you can find everything from 16-70 years and 30-40 nationalities, 50/50 women and men. There really is diversity in our dining room, says Cian proudly.
View from Bonver’s dining room over Höggarnsfjärden. Photo: Katarina Palmstierna
– We are most proud that we succeeded in the transformation from DVD – an industry that disappeared, to new businesses in e-commerce, dose dispensing and concepts for coffee and ice cream, experiences etc., say all three.
Jacob is Bonver’s next generation and is CEO today. He works with a new generation of management – a management team for each business. Cian and Gerre support management and go in and work where support is needed.
– We have changed our appearance and are now active in the companies to create growth and find synergies. If we look 10 years ahead, it is important to maintain our culture and innovative power! Our vision is that we want to become leaders in the industries we enter, say Cian, Gerre and Jacob.
– I am also on the board of Lidingö Näringsliv and think it is important that we create a joint action plan for the development of Lidingö Näringsliv together with politicians and city officials, concludes Gerre.