Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Garden Center Rijmenants

More than 1 year ago my son asked for a pond in the garden. Since I had no experience at all in this field we went to a big famous garden center in a nearby village. It is actually more than a garden center, it is a kind of mega superstore for the interior and the exterior. In the pond department we met Luc, a soft spoken man with a great knowledge about introducing a pond in your garden.

(picture: Luc in front of the new fish tanks at 'Rijmenants')

With the information we got from Luc we created a small pond at home. Because the children practice their sports on Saturday almost next door to the garden center, it became a habit to visit the center nearly every week to look for a new plant, fish, book or ornament. We saw Luc regularly, he became our prime 'pond-contact' for all our water oriented problems. We thought of him as a driven employee, loving his job, helping customers whenever wherever he could. Most of the time we met him while he was carrying plants, building stages for products, repairing stuff, or talking to customers. He invariably wears a green fleece or a simple t-shirt with the garden center's logo, as all other employees do.

Two weeks ago I learned one of the most important management lessons of this year. We were again at the Garden center. A new employee was working in the pond department. We had a problem with a filter we bought several months ago. I explained to the new employee a certain 'Luc' had sold me the machine. I asked if Luc could be called to help us ? The employee asked me several questions in order to try to find out which Luc I was talking about because according to him there were no employees with that name. A certain confusion raised during the conversation. "Listen", said the employee, "I don't understand where we are going here. The man you are describing seems to be Luc Rijmenants, the owner of the company, ..."Luc" is certainly not an employee." Then it was time for me to be confused. "We are probably talking about two different Luc's then I guess", I said, "since 'my Luc' didn't strike me as being the owner of this center".

Curious about his role in the Garden Center (it even bears his last name then: "Garden Center Rijmenants") I asked him last week if I had understood correctly he owned the place. "Correct", he said, "(hesitantly) ... I am the owner." Asked about the fact he always wears the same outfit as the other employees, he said: "I don't like to be seen as a tied up boss watching over my employees. I want to be on the floor in the middle of the customers and the other employees. I figure that if I also join my team in processing the 'ordinary' jobs (rack filling, stage building, ...) I am a better motivator than an anonymous boss on top of the pyramid. Plus, I will know than who they really are, what they think and feel. I always hope and think that my way of working on the floor and interacting with the clients serves the other employees better than a paper manual on customer service."

The Garden Center Rijmenants celebrates its 26th birthday in September 2007. Luc runs the business with his wife. They have 26 full time employees and a turnover of around 5 million Euros a year. During the day Luc works in the center, after hours he follows up on the administration.