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Vetus den Ouden

While in Holland this fall, I got a chance to visit a company that is ever-present on our boats, more than I realized. From steering wheels to engine vents, from bow/stern thrusters to hatches, hydraulic steering systems, diesel electric propulsion, propellers, exhaust systems, windlasses, seats and a whole lot more, the products from Vetus den Ouden find their way aboard pleasure boats in the world. Indeed, a recent test ride on the new kickbutt, jet drive Willard Homeland Defense Navy patrol boat has Vetus products on it as well. One might say Vetus den Ouden is the marine equipment mother lode.

We've known Leo Van Hemert for years, the person responsible for the presence of Vetus in the U.S. Leo is a wealth of knowledge about boats and the parts that go into them. He's also a great guy. During one visit my curious side got me to ask him about the company that represents such a diverse product line. Looking through the Vetus catalog, I swear I could construct a complete boat if I started from a bare hull. So, with Leo's gracious assistance, I made a day trip from Amsterdam to Schiedam at the conclusion of the 2003 Grand Banks rendezvous in Antwerp.

My host for the visit was Vetus ambassador extraordinaire Rudolf Mes, general sales manager special products. Rudolf drove me the distance to Schiedam while giving me an explanation of local affairs. It is literally a struggle for life in Holland, and I learned that the country spends more money on maintaining the delicate balance of land and water than on its military. (Imagine that in this country!) Wrenching precious land from the sea is no mean feat and requires considerable resources to maintain and continue. The country has been working hard at this for 500 years and expects to do so forever.

As we drove along the wooded motorway, I was told that the Dutch planted nearly every tree and patch of forest throughout Holland-trees don't exist in the natural sea state from which the land was taken.

The company headquarters in Schiedam is a sprawling building in the heart of the Netherlands, but it is just the tip of the iceberg of an enormous organization that provides products to more than 100 countries through 40 authorized distributors. It is an operation that showcases the creativity, business acumen and steadfast hard work that is the hallmark of the Dutch. The Schiedam facility is home for 90 of its 130 employees worldwide, and there is no actual manufacturing done in Schiedam. In fact, I was surprised to learn that Vetus den Ouden does not actually make any of its products. That fact is the cornerstone of its success and explains its rich diversity.

The reality is that Vetus engineers design and develop products for the marine industry but rely on strategic partners and suppliers to actually produce and assemble the goods. Vetus maintains tight quality control over manufacturing but uses the expertise of its suppliers to cover the manufacturing process. Production of individual components is contracted with specialized manufacturers around Europe, and assembly of completed Vetus products is done in the Netherlands under strict Vetus control. This explains how a company can offer diesel engines, bow thrusters, gauges, vents, seats and windows under one label. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

According to Beschier Kik, managing director of the organization, the company is successful because it strives to offer "plug and play" boatbuilding, supplying builders with many of the hard parts used in boatbuilding. The more products are engineered together, such as engine mounts for specific engines, the easier it should be to build a boat better, faster and without the frustrating issues of dissimilar parts.

It is a proven direction that has worked for almost 40 years- since Willem Hendrik den Ouden first opened shop in 1964. The key elements at Vetus den Ouden are product development, marketing and distribution. And the company aims higher, as the demand for more comfort and systems in larger pleasure boats continues to grow at a fast pace. Vetus sees opportunity.

To put the size of Vetus den Ouden in perspective, consider that the shipping department in the 9,700-square-foot Schiedam facility outputs over 300 shipments every day into its network, from small boxes to full shipping containers. On any day there is $12 million of inventory at Schiedam, even though Vetus adheres strictly to a "just in time" inventory philosophy. That is a lot of product being sent into the world. You want hose? We've got hose.... Vetus ships 38 miles of hose every year, ranging from 1 inch to 12 inches in diameter.

While the end customer is 80 percent pleasure-boat builder or yard and 20 percent light-duty commercial/military, Vetus managers think it reasonable to supply the entire world with properly engineered gear that works. A tongue-in-cheek company slogan says it all: "If It Ain't Dutch, It Ain't Much!" A joke more than a political statement, the sentiment nevertheless tells us something about the Dutch pride of producing quality products with solid engineering.

The company attends 40 boat shows each year and prints 450,000 catalogs in nine languages. I was floored when I heard the current American boating market is only about 10 percent of the total Vetus base. But this is going to change as Vetus den Ouden expands its U.S. presence by locating Vetus representatives around the country to establish relationships with U.S. boatbuilders, chandleries and boatyards.

In 1995, the company also created the independent Vetus Diesel, a new effort to develop, market and distribute marine diesel engines sourced from several engine manufacturers.

With 2,500 products made up from 20,000 pieces, Vetus is a major player in our marine environment. Expect to see more of its products in the U.S., and in more complete packages. In marine propulsion, for example, Vetus engineers have developed the pieces needed to offer a complete propulsion system-filters, hoses, vents, controls, strainers, mounts, flexible couplings, exhaust systems. And it is all designed to work together. It's a good plan.

It might be a good game to invite your friends to count how many Vetus products are on your boat. I went through

Growler last week and found several items without much searching around.

You'll likely see a Vetus den Ouden booth at your next show. Rest assured the reps have more to show you than just bow thrusters, even though thrusters are one of the favorite products of recent years.

I heard Rudolf Mes is moving to the U.S. to help expand the company's presence. I wish him and Leo Van Hemert success in developing the U.S. market. I sure do love my thruster. But he'll have to get used to the fact that we spend way more money on our U.S. military than land management. But that's the cost of freedom.