Always be Reliable: Living in a digital age where we can order a product and have it delivered to our door the same day puts even more pressure on companies to deliver on-time and accurately. The worst thing that could happen is for a customer to open the wrong package or have their package be delayed for a big occasion. Let your customers lean on you and implement strategies and strong partnerships to avoid these mishaps. Yes, these things happen, but that’s when you have your strong customer service skills to back you up.
As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Henselijn, CEO of L’Orenta Gourmet Nuts & Goodies.
Driven by a strong entrepreneurial spirit and passion for setting the bar high for positive customer service experiences, Henselijn brings more than 10 years of leadership experience to his role as a fifth-generation owner and CEO of L’Orenta Nuts.
Building the company from the ground up, Henselijn is dedicated to continuing his families’ 80-year legacy of selling the highest quality nuts and snacks including authentic Stroopwafels, dried fruit and custom nut mixes for at home, in the office and on-the go. In his role as CEO, Henselijn wears many hats for the company including developing concise business strategies to ensure alignment with short-term and long-term initiatives; overseeing all operations and business activities to ensure the desired result is produced and on-brand with the overall strategy and vision; and reviewing financial and non-financial reports to devise solutions for improvements.
After graduating with his MBA from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Henselijn wanted to expand his horizons and expertise beyond the family business and work on an exciting new startup-concept called SandCan, L.L.C. in San Antonio. Serving as the director of operations and business development specialist, this is where Henselijn cut his teeth in the financial management world as he assisted with raising millions in private equity funding and developed and executed organizational strategies that kept the company on-track to meet end-of-year projections and tactical initiatives.
Born and raised in The Netherlands, Henselijn moved to the United States after receiving a full scholarship to play tennis at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. At the time, he was ranked among The Netherlands’ top tennis players.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
The story of L’Orenta dates all the way back to 1934 when my great grandfather started a modest nuts and goodies store in Amsterdam. His passion at the time was much more than to simply sell nuts and dried fruits and instead, he wanted to bring his customers happiness as they were engulfed in warm aromas and the exquisite tastes of his product offering. With his attention to quality and service, the company soon grew to have over 2,500 stores in Europe.
After graduating with my MBA from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, I wanted to expand my horizons and expertise beyond the family business and work on an exciting new startup-concept in San Antonio. Ultimately, my passion for putting a smile on our customer’s faces through indulging them in healthy and delicious snacks pulled me back to L’Orenta where I took over as CEO.
Using the invaluable lessons I learned from starting a company, I was able to quickly brainstorm innovative new ideas to expand the business. Over the next six months, my apartment slowly transformed from my living quarters to a full-blown test kitchen as we were constantly experimenting with a variety of nuts, mixes and gift bundles to add to our product line.
Having the support of my family as my foundation, I moved quickly in order to source and cultivate new relationships with growers, suppliers, packaging companies, creative teams, etc. By stripping the business down to its studs and looking at it all from a new point-of-view, I was able to rebuild the brand step-by-step and create a new vision that has ultimately put L’Orenta on the path to success.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As a fifth-generation owner of an 80+ year-old business, I always tell people we’re in the business of customer service and just happen to sell nuts and candies. Our number one priority is making sure each customer is satisfied and treated as if they are the most important person in the room, the way we all should be treated in a retail experience. There are a ton of stories that I can name, but if you read our reviews online, the number one thing that stands out is our great customer service and high-quality products.
Another thing that also makes us stand out is the utmost attention to detail we put into every single one of our products, no matter how big or small the order is. We don’t just sell a product; we sell a whole upscale experience without the marked-up price tag. For us, it’s the little extras we do that make the difference.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
If you set a goal, a mission or have a vision for yourself, you must follow it. Trust me, the road only becomes harder as you grow and there’ll be even more hurdles to overcome along the way. Believe in yourself and don’t let others bring you down.
It’s extremely hard to start a successful company, and it’s even harder to scale that success as you continue to grow. The biggest piece of advice I can give is that you have to stay true to your core values and make them a staple of your brand standards. Stay true to yourself, work hard and teach your employees the correct and ethical way to do business and hopefully, you become successful while doing what you love.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
For me, it’s all about being a leader and coming up with a unique niche that sets you apart from your competition. This doesn’t have to be anything over-the-top and can be as simple as putting a message like, “We make our own unique mixes in-house” on your packaging. This makes us stand out from those who don’t offer this.
Another thing you must watch is your expenses as every penny adds to the bottom line. Especially during difficult times, you want to make sure that your return on investment, ad spend, or other back-end business expenses are justifiable and responsible in the moment.
The pandemic has really taught my team how to grow the business, continue positive momentum, and work more efficiently in times of uncertainty. I believe the key to success of some of the retailers mentioned above is the brand awareness, stubbornness and whole-hearted belief in their concept that allows them to carry out their vision, even when so many others may doubt what they’re doing. By continuing to follow the path set forth by their executive teams, each of these brands have a goal to get from where they are now to their end destination.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Companies like Amazon are putting an exuberant amount of pressure on small businesses, especially those who rely heavily on e-commerce sales for the bulk of their revenue. With Amazon being able to offer same-day and next-day deliveries through Amazon Prime, it’s becoming increasingly more challenging to appease customers that’ve gotten use to this type of service, which is a tough battle to fight.
With global competition being huge and large corporations acting as tyrants in their prospective industries, one thing they’re not able to deliver on is adding a personal touch to their products in order to connect with their customers on a deeper level. Our customers love the great attention to detail we put into our quality products, that’re offered at such a great value, and they appreciate buying from a family business that brings a unique element to the table most large corporations aren’t able to do.
My advice to other companies would be to not get discouraged and instead, force yourself to focus on your strengths and the elements that sets your brand apart from the competition because chances are, you’ll stumble upon a buyer that had a poor experience at a big company and is looking to be treated fairly by a smaller brand. Especially with the pandemic, we’ve seen more and more people start to appreciate the extra values a family-owned business can provide.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in starting multiple companies is how to think ahead to the future but act in the now. Most companies start out thinking too many steps ahead instead of taking the time to create a fundamentally sound business that has the right processes, procedures, products, service and guidelines in place to be able to scale when the time comes. Don’t get hung up on the downfalls and day-to-day issues that come with running your own business and instead, focus on your vision without deviating from it.
Starting a business is like raising a child. A child doesn’t walk or talk the day you bring them home. Instead, it’s a lengthy and complicated process that over time, shows the effort that was put into it. It’s extremely important to build a solid foundation for future growth because without it, everything will collapse. We’ve seen hundreds of multi-national companies that have ceased operations in the past year due to the pandemic, all from not having a solid base. Although building a solid foundation takes several years, capital, and tons of learning experiences, the time that goes into it should yield successful results in the long run.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
I think it all starts with the culture of the business. If there’s bad culture from the top down, then customers will have a bad experience. To avoid this, the key is to train your employees properly and really have them understand your brand’s core values so they can implement them in different situations.
I believe when you create an environment for your employees where they’re appreciated and acknowledged for their importance, they will reflect nothing but positivity towards your customers. In my experience, most salespeople underestimate the knowledge of the consumer as everything can be looked up on the internet. Arrogant salespeople that still subscribe to the old mentality that customers don’t have access to much information are losing the battle.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
We have many stories where we “wowed” our customers especially as it relates to us “going the extra mile” for them. What sets L’Orenta apart from other businesses in our retail space is that through our meticulous attention to detail and high-quality products, we make our customers feel extra special when they open their packages. The overall experience from when our customers click on to our website to when their goodies finally arrive in the mail is why they continue to come back for more.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
In the grand scheme of things, our long-term and repeat customers are the ones who keeps us operating and push us to evolve into a more well-rounded brand. It’s from their feedback, reviews and consistent orders that we’ve been able to learn so much and grow these past few years; and it all starts with having high-quality products that you can’t find anywhere else.
A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?
The #1 most important ingredient by far in creating a fantastic retail experience is providing great customer service that is fair and approachable. When you call L’Orenta, you’ll be put into contact with a knowledgeable and friendly brand representative that’ll help with all your needs, without overtly pushing you to buy something.
The second most important thing is offering pricing that is fair for the product you’re offering. I’m not saying to be the cheapest or most expensive on the market, but to be priced accurately for the service, experience, convenience and product you’re offering.
You also want to create an enjoyable experience for your customers, so they stay longer on your website. Make it as easy as possible for them to add products to their cart and make the language and details easy to understand so there’re no surprises at the end. This also goes along with having an eye-catching presentation in order to make a lasting first impression on the customer. Choose colors that pop and make sure every little detail from the font to the alignment to the box the product is shipped in are all on-par with your brand standards.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Keeping Strong Customer Relationships. In any business, it’s important to build some type of relationship with the customer so they start to trust you and the products or services you offer. This doesn’t mean to get to know each one on a personal level, but at least understand which items you’re trying to sell and to what demographic. For example, if someone is allergic to peanuts, don’t try and sell them goodies with peanuts in them. It’s common sense.
- Personalize Your Advertisements. Customers are getting overwhelmed with advertisements on every platform they look at. So now more than ever, it’s important to personalize and tailor-make advertisements that target the right audience and in return, hopefully convert some new eyes on your brand along the way. It’s like the old saying says, the customer is king!
- Timing is Everything. All advertising and communication with customers need to be timed correctly and answer the questions of who, what, when, where and why. When are you reaching out? Why are you reaching out? What is the message you’re trying to relay? If everything aligns, the chance of a customer buying again is increased. Without repeat customers, most companies will fail.
- Always be Reliable: Living in a digital age where we can order a product and have it delivered to our door the same day puts even more pressure on companies to deliver on-time and accurately. The worst thing that could happen is for a customer to open the wrong package or have their package be delayed for a big occasion. Let your customers lean on you and implement strategies and strong partnerships to avoid these mishaps. Yes, these things happen, but that’s when you have your strong customer service skills to back you up.
- Believe in Yourself. If there’s one thing in business that’s always a constant, it’s that you always need to go with your gut instinct. When you’re feeling the tug of a different lifestyle, idea or vision, lean into it and see where that path may lead. You might not always succeed but at least you’ll learn a valuable lesson that will help guide you in your next big decision.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m a strong believer that teachers are a great influence on the next generation and with that, I feel we need to implement more courses for entrepreneurship in grade schools. Especially right now with the current pandemic, most kids are learning virtually with a watered-down curriculum, which is understandable given the conditions, but still very unfortunate. By having courses that allow students to think freely and to flex a creative-business mindset, I believe, this could ultimately lead to global innovation and advancement opportunities in the workplace. The next Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs could be sitting in a classroom right now, but without proper development, they may not reach their full potential.
How can our readers further follow your work?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!