The story so far
Running a company is actually quite fun. Below, we have listed a series of cock-and-bull stories that we have gathered over the course of the past 15 years. A few words of warning: what the stories do not tell you is that we also need to work quite hard most of the time and that it is not all fun and laughter. A (long) story about nude posing, Formula 1 parties and muscle ache. By: Floris.
February 1996 'The beginning'
In 1996 my dad invited me to sit in on a few 'Van Bommel' collection meetings. At that moment I was a student at the TMO (hogeschool voor modemanagement ), and sitting in on collection meetings would be a good experience. An often recurring topic during these meetings was that it was very difficult to sell fashionable shoes under the 'Van Bommel' label. 'Van Bommel' was primarily known as a producer of classic quality shoes. Past attempts to sell fashionable shoes usually ran up against a brick wall with our dealers. “Van Bommel is strong in the classic shoe segment, we will buy our young and fashionable shoes from manufacturers who have specialised in this,” is how they reacted. Logical reasoning, of course. Only problem was that it did not match our plans for the future.
During one of the collection meetings three pairs of really nice fashionable shoes were put on the table. In terms of styling the shoes were clearly different from the regular Van Bommel collection. At once, the discussion turned again to how we could sell them, what with the classic ‘Van Bommel’ image. My father, who had already had to deal with quite a few sticky problems during his career and had come out victorious, came up with an idea. He suggested to present the new shoes rigorously as a separate collection, with a new name, a new logo, a new box; however, he also emphasised that the link with Van Bommel needed to be retained. He looked over to the other side of the table where I was doodling away on my notepad (I was very good at drawing Snorkels at the time). 'Floris van Bommel', that did not sound too bad, and the story also seemed to make sense. I was not sitting there for no reason at all; I was quite taken with the idea of a future as the creative brain behind the collections, and so was my father. The 'Floris van Bommel' brand was born.
March 1996 'Looking for a logo'
The new name of course needed a new logo as well. One weekend, when I was recovering from my busy life as a student during the week at my parental home, my father pushed a blank sheet of paper in front of me. Would I be so kind as to write my name down a few times. Preferably in the best penmanship I could manage. I can only remember that I was in a bad mood and that I sat down at the kitchen table and scribbled my name all over two A4 sheets. We picked out the tightest version and that is the one that we have used as the 'Floris van Bommel' logo ever since.
Summer 1996 'Floris on film'
In order to promote the first 'Floris van Bommel' collection, I was sent out on a photo shoot with a photographer (René Wouters, someone who has shot many a great campaign for us over the years) and a heavily pregnant stylist. We ended up at Brussels Central Station. I was ordered to dress up in my Sunday best in the toilet and then act as if I was a model walking up the staircase in the middle of the station hall, sitting in the restaurant room, and straddling up and down the platform. I had never felt so unhappy. Eventually the picture in the restaurant room of me reading the newspaper – the Herald Tribune!! - and drinking a cup of coffee was used for a number of advertisements and a shop window show card.
March 1997 'The naked truth'
The following season the 'Floris van Bommel' collection was expanded with several additional models. The shoes sold quite well and the Van Bommel dealers were positive about them. However, the exposure of the 'Floris van Bommel' brand could do with an upgrade. The photograph on the Brussels station was nice but not really distinctive enough. We wanted to make a statement with the new adverting campaign... controversy! Our advertising agency developed an idea: I was to be photographed standing in the nude in front of various backgrounds with only a couple of strategically positioned shoes. I am not usually a spoilsport, so off to the studio I went.
Once I was shivering on a soapbox in the middle of that giant studio dressed in no more than my underpants with all kinds of stressed people around me, I did wonder how on earth I got into this situation. Then, when the photographer’s female assistant took a sponge and started to rub some vegetable oil all over my body to increase the shiny effect, and the photographer told me to bend down to make the space between my knees a bit less conspicuous – I am slightly bow-legged – I officially started to dislike the whole experience.
The final campaign, however, did have the effect we had in mind when we started it. With a good amount of advertising and posters in bus shelters all across the country, 'Floris van Bommel' was on the map, The essential difference between 'Van Bommel' and 'Floris van Bommel' had become somewhat clearer thanks to this campaign.
December 1999 'We're not too sure about that'
The 'Floris van Bommel' collection continued to grow season after season. After a few seasons we had grown from several hundreds of pairs to several thousands of pairs. Thanks to the more fashion-oriented 'Floris van Bommel' line we could focus fully on the classic market with the Van Bommel line. This ensured that there was a lot more stability and balance in the 'Van Bommel' collection.
After a 2-year traineeship in shoes, I actually started work at the Van Bommel shoe factory in 1999, at the age of 24. During this traineeship the things I had done included completing a shoe designer’s training at the ArsSutoria in Milan and a 3-month apprenticeship in the shoe factory of the Foresi family in Monte Granaro. Their brand, AreaForte , has become big all over Europe in the past few years. From day one that I started work at Van Bommel shoe factory I have been responsible for the communication and design departments.
June 2000 'Benetton Formula 1 team'
In 2000 we launched the "Floris van Bommel' Formula 1 shoe. With this shoe line, we zeroed in on the sponsor contact we had entered into at the end of 1999 with Rocco Benetton, the team leader of the Benetton Formula 1 team. We had slightly underestimated the impact of the newly obtained title of 'Official supplier to the Benetton F1 race team'. The national media reacted massively. Classic van Bommel was entering the fast world of Formula 1. One newspaper even published an article under the header of “It is as if the Pope is founding a satanic rock band: Van Bommel becomes a sponsor in Formula 1”. During the three years that we remained a supplier of the Benetton – and later the Renault – F1 team, the Formula 1 shoe developed into the most successful shoe in the history of Van Bommel.
Actually, the Formula 1 shoe was so successful that several shoe producers started marketing copies of the shoe. The president of the district court of Breda even had to be called upon in order to rule in our favour after summary proceedings. The result of the ruling was that all copies (and there were MANY) had to be taken off the shelves within 24 hours. Even today I can still spot copies of our F1 shoe in the street and in the dressing room of my gym. Quite bizarre. I always fantasize that I need to start screaming blue murder and telling the ‘thief’ to take off his shoes so I can set fire to them – no mercy. However, it still has to happen.
December 2001 'Floris goes Liberace'
Late 2001 we thought that the time had come to include Floris once again in an advertising campaign. It resulted in 3 kitschy white images. The wise gentlemen of our advertising agency believed that this soft atmosphere perfectly fitted the cold and aggressive era following the WTC disaster in New York. For myself, I thought that the idea was too idiotic for words and therefore OK.
Being the Van Bommel mascot, I discovered at a relatively young age already that photo shoots are nowhere near as much fun as they are generally thought to be. In this particular shoot the little girl simply did not want to stop crying. Ultimately we managed to bribe her with TicTac sweets to do what we wanted, for exactly 5 seconds. For another photograph I had to crouch down to a position that looks very natural on the photo, but which, in reality, was probably harder on my thigh muscles than cycling up the Alpe d'Huez twice. But the result was to our liking. We wanted kitsch and we got KITSCH.
January 2002 'Brother Reynier'
On 23 June 2002 my father retired. From that moment on, my older brother, Reynier, and I – the 9th generation – were the only Van Bommels working at shoe factory van Bommel. In the run-up to this change Reynier became the Commercial Director on 1 January 2002. Throughout the years people have been asking Reynier and me at least one hundred thousand times whether working so closely together does not end in fights all the time. Despite our different characters we can tell them this is not the case. From an early age on we have just been good buddies. My mother regularly digs up old stories about how she liked to dress us up in the same clothes when we were still very young. Wearing the same striped sweater we would walk arm in arm along the street belting out Denny Christiaan's chartbuster: 'We are two buddies, hooba hooba hooba hop hop hop'.
January 2005 'Sneakers'
Early 2005 we introduced the first Floris van Bommel sneaker line. This was something that was entirely new to us and we intended to take it up in the best possible way right from the start. We decided to start promoting the most impossible colour (bright green) in a campaign which included commercials on MTV, TMF and The Box as its focal point. The commercials showed ‘one day from the life of Floris’. Reynier was fine with the fact that I recorded the accompanying music to the commercial myself in a real studio. Up to that moment I had never taken music writing any further than writing a few tunes in my attic room. Our Sales reps were grumbling a bit: “How on earth do we have to sell that to our dealers? A bright green shoe, hard-boiled rock music, MTV, and Floris who is puking down a bridge in the commercial?” According to many people it did not really fit in with the target group we were serving at the time. Nevertheless, we put our foot down and nobody ever regretted that...
September 2005 'Big Mouth'
One of my biggest dreams when I was a little lad was to become a stand-up comedian. Being on stage and telling cock-and-bull stories, that would be the day. Eventually I ended up in shoes; however, blood will always tell. I was asked to give a presentation for the Province of Brabant. I warned them that this once it would not be a business presentation at an academic level. No problem. I climbed the stage in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and presented a hash of all cock-and-bull stories and funny anecdotes I had amassed about our company. I had the afternoon of my life. A new hobby was born. By now I have given presentations at the greatest companies, at universities and at conferences, including presentations for Rabobank, KPMG, the Chamber of Commerce, Deloitte, Berenschot, Nijenrode University, Erasmus University, UVT, the MWG conference, and during Sprout Challengers Day.
The highlights were the times that I was ‘flown in’. How cool is that! International windbagging. The Floris van Bommel 'Windbag World Tour', sometimes with Reynier on board, called at Jersey (UK), Chicago (USA), Graz (SWI), Monaco, Pirmasenz (GER), and the EU Headquarters in Brussels (BEL). Added bonus: commercial events come with a decent fee for presentations like these. Over the years, this has been a great help to my friends at Trucktour Tilburg .
February 2006 'Banaantjes'
The new sneaker line sold like hot cakes in the summer of 2005. There were even shoe shops that had waiting lists for the green sneakers. The Floris van Bommel brand had moved on. We decided to intensify the exposure of the sneakers. This resulted in a second TV commercial for the sneakers in the spring of 2006. One night without sleep and lots of illegal filming underneath the Eiffel Tower (It is in a protected national park and, therefore, it is not permitted to shoot professionally without a myriad of permits) resulted in a campaign that was appreciated by the advertising sector as well. It won us a SAN accent, a prestigious advertising award.
January 2007 'Rutger Hauer'
Reynier and I have always agreed on the fact that we did not want any Dutch celebs in our advertising campaigns. We also agreed on the fact that there could be one exception to this rule, Rutger Hauer. Rutger Hauer is not a Dutch celeb, Rutger Hauer is a living legend. Being the film buffs we are, we decided to take the plunge and approach Rutger Hauer. We knew that, throughout his entire career in film, he had done something commercially exactly once, sometime in the eighties, for an Irish beer brand. We thought we stood little chance, but... he who does not dare, does not win. To our utter amazement we found ourselves back in a press-packed room of the Tuschinski theatre in February 2007. With Rutger Hauer at our side we were there to reveal our joint campaign, shot by Anton Corbijn. We thought we stood little chance, but... he who does not dare, does not win. To our utter amazement we found ourselves back in a press-packed room of the Tuschinski theatre in February 2007. With Rutger Hauer at our side we were there to reveal our joint campaign, shot by Anton Corbijn. We thought we stood little chance, but... he who does not dare, does not win. To our utter amazement we found ourselves back in a press-packed room of the Tuschinski theatre in February 2007. With Rutger Hauer at our side we were there to reveal our joint campaign, shot by Anton Corbijn. We thought we stood little chance, but... he who does not dare, does not win. To our utter amazement we found ourselves back in a press-packed room of the Tuschinski theatre in February 2007. With Rutger Hauer at our side we were there to reveal our joint campaign, shot by Anton Corbijn.
July 2007 'Across the border'
In the slightly further past we sold Van Bommel shoes across the entire world – from Canada to Japan and from New- Caledonia to Iceland. Problem is that it sounds better than it actually is. It is terribly expensive and time-consuming to sell in lots of countries. The shoes have to sell in big numbers to make it a profitable venture. In 2007 we decided to change course. No longer ‘more or less worldwide’, but ‘targeted markets and full force’. In terms of exports we started to focus 100% on Belgiumand Germany.
January 2008 'Floris advises'
‘Floris’ having been away from advertisements for two years, it was considered high time to bring him back on stage for the 2008 Spring campaign. The plan was to keep it nice and basic, just a studio session, picture, done. No large sets nor complicated scripts. I thought it would be fun to use a cool but incomprehensible slogan. I could think of no reason why everything always had to be comprehensible. Even if something is incomprehensible, it sends a message of some sort; what the message is, just becomes more interesting... like. The slogan became: 'Floris van Bommel advises you and your friends to hide under a rock or in a cave'. The reactions varied – from associations with Nick Cave to angry people who considered it all too threatening and negative.
Februari 2008 'Our own outlets'
In February 2008 we opened our very first Van Bommel outlet in the centre of Antwerp (Belgium). We took the interior decoration very seriously and had a design made by the Antwerp design agency PureSang. The opening was attended on behalf of the 7th generation Van Bommels by my great-uncle and former CEO, Manuel van Bommel. He could not believe his eyes. An unbelievably luxurious Van Bommel shop in the middle of the Huidevettersstraat next door to all great and glamorous brands of the world. As a friend of the company, stand-up comedian Geert Hoste had agreed to perform the official opening act.
In September 2009 the whole thing was repeated – be it on a smaller scale – when we opened our second Van Bommel outlet in Zuidzandstraat in Bruges (Belgium). This time we had the honour that author and TV personality, Marcel Vanthilt, had been prepared to cut the ribbon and open the shop.
June 2008 'A-brand'
2008 was the first year that Floris van Bommel shoes sold as well as the classic Van Bommel shoes. All this, while Van Bommel had even grown slightly since the introduction of Floris van Bommel. Floris van Bommel was no longer considered an addition to the Van Bommel range, was is now an A-brand in itself. Floris van Bommel was included as a case study in Philip Kotler’s book ‘The Principles of Marketing’. This book is generally considered the marketing bible for every marketing specialist. It is the book I had to learn by head during my studies. A WTF moment, if ever there was one.
September 2008 'Yellow tongue'
In late 2008 we ran a commercial in Dutch cinemas. It showed a grey patent leather sneaker with a yellow tongue. How do you promote those? We thought this was a good idea:
January 2009 'Behind the scenes'
Before shoes are in the shop they need to be sold to the retailers first. Retailers visit us during a trade fair or in one of our showrooms. Nieuwegein (NL) and Brussels (B) have permanent trade centres where we have nice proprietary showrooms to serve everyone as well as possible. In January 2009 we were present in Germany for the first time on the Bread&Butter Fair in Berlin. This is the biggest and the most important streetwear fair in Europe and perhaps even in the entire world. Thanks to some fantastic people we managed to get a ridiculously great spot for our booth at 'The greatest show on earth'. Every Bread&Butter fair is a spectacular party.
February 2009 'Timberland & Floris van Bommel'
Brilliant plans conjured up during lively drinks sessions usually are not granted a long life. The spontaneous idea that came up during a conversation of my brother Reynier and Renato Braaf of Timberland Nederland was an exception to this rule. The bold plan was to join forces and create a shoe together an it actually resulted in the ultimate 'make love, not war' statement. Together with big shot Timberland we developed one shoe, which we marketed under the name of 'Timberland & Floris van Bommel'. Two shoe brands, one shoe... Looking back, it was reasonably unbelievable that we managed to pull it through. However, Jeffrey Schwartz, the big boss – and grandson of Timberland’s founder Nathan Schwartz – was very positive and gave the experiment the green light. In the end we presented four collections over a period of two years, which were sold all across Europe.
March 2009 'Media'
Over the years we have never had any trouble with media attention. Many a great article was written about our shoes and our family. March 2009 was a small highlight when my two brothers, my father and I were asked to sit in on the Pauw & Witteman talk show. They do not usually have company managements there for a cosy chat. In the end, it became a great conversation in which Pepijn even framed the term ‘Professional happiness’ [He boomeranged a joke from fellow guest, the lawyer Gerard Sprong]. One of the strange things about being on a TV show, I have to say, is that you are unable to zap out. And that is always quite uncomfortable during the first few minutes.
March 2009 'OzarkHenry'
I have been a big fan of the Belgian band OzarkHenry for a long time already. My first acquaintance with them was in my home town in a small record shop, Sounds, just around the corner. I was browsing around when, suddenly, music sounded from one of the corners of the shop. I saw a keyboard set-up and a man singing. It turned out to be OzarkHenry.
Several gold and platinum records later Piet Goddaer, the master brain behind OzarkHenry, voiced, in an interview in the spring of 2008, that he had this dream of designing the prefect slipper. In the autumn of 2008 I was sitting at a table with Piet discussing how we could make that dream come true. We immediately set up an entire media campaign around it. It ran in Belgium in 2009 and in the Netherlands and Germany in 2010. During the official photo shoot we had, I felt rather ill at ease sitting next to a rock star of his stature but, believe me, it was pretty cool!
The launch of the slipper in our shop in Antwerp was a rather unusual situation for a shoe seller. Upon arrival, we were met by camera crews, photographers, journalists, obtrusive fans and doormen on steroids.
July 2009 'Monsters'
During one of my surf sessions over the Internet I came across a graphic designer from California, Kevin Bannister . As a 'creature designer', he designs the coolest stuff. On-line I bought a drawing from him of an alien walking his dog and, not much later, I contacted him with the question if he was willing to make a few designs for us. Since that moment he has drawn several designs for us including one advertisement and two mega-cool family trees.
When Kevin emailed me with the idea for the design of the advertisement shown here, he wrote this: "The idea is that these shoes are so cool, so skull-crushingly BITCHIN’, that it singes and burns the flesh of the monsters and beasties trying to get a little closer to bask in its coolness." That, to me, was such a clear explanation that we put the text as copy at the bottom of all advertisements.
January 2010 'Brother Pepijn'
After two years working as a consultant at young Colfield , my brother Pepijn joined Van Bommel Shoe factory. After no more than six months he already shot up to the rank of Director. As of that moment the management has consisted of Reynier (General Manager), Pepijn (Commercial Director) and me (Creative Director). 25 years ago we often played ‘shop’ together, now we play ‘shoe factory’...
January 2010 'Flagship Boutique Berlijn'
Already back in 2008 we had taken a final decision to sell only Floris van Bommel in Germany. The Floris van Bommel collection ended up rather quickly on the shelves of prestigious shops like KaDeWe in Berlin, Prange and SOR. In 2010 we even received the 'Musik Express style award' for being the coolest shoe brand of the year (MusikExpress is the biggest music magazine in Germany). In order to leave an ever stronger 'Floris van Bommel' mark on German soil we opened a 'flagship boutique' in Berlin in February 2010.
August 2010 'The collection'
In 1996 we started a Floris van Bommel collection of three different models in three colours. Fifteen years later the collection contains over one hundred newly designed models, every season. Another thing we do every season is develop several new rubber soles and lists in our workshop and introduce dozens of new leather types. It drives our purchasers and engineers over the bend but it all looks very cool. It regularly drives me mad as well, by the way:
December 2010 'Advertising on poles'
Late 2010 Interbest made us a very nice offer to put up an advertisement on a giant billboard. Interbest had noticed that, after the introduction of Floris van Bommel in 1996, we had constantly polished the way our communication with the outside world was supposed to look like. Over the years we had developed our own style with ups and downs. The most important rule: out with all hollow advertising talk and fake marketing bullshit. Interbest challenged us to come up with the very best we had to offer...
January 2011 'This does not sock'
Over the years we have had many offers to market products other than shoes with the Floris van Bommel brand name. From bicycles to breakfast cereals and everything in-between. It is not really our thing. We want to spend all time and energy we have on building the greatest shoe brand in the world, not on undermining the brand. For years we have restricted ourselves to a small collection of products that have a direct link to our shoes: maintenance products, small leatherware, and belts (made from the same materials as the shoes). Early 2010 we expanded it with a range of socks. Although, they are not really socks, they are more a kind of 'Experience'.
March 2011 'Flagship boutique Amsterdam'
After more than 276 years we thought it was high time we opened our first outlet dedicated outlet in the Netherlands. We have a fantastic dealer network in the Netherlands with quite a few dealers who are willing to stick their necks out for us. The idea behind the shop was therefore not so much to try and up the sales a bit more; what we wanted above all was a single location with its own front door and an interior completely designed to our own liking, all in order to show what the Floris van Bommel brand stands for. On 15 March the Floris van Bommel flagship boutique opened in a fabulous building on the Singel canal in the heart of Amsterdam. My personal highlight of the day was a live performance in the shop of my favourite Dutch band, Racoon .