In an interview that has just appeared in the Flows magazine, the managers of the Genk-based transport company address the question of how a family business can still flourish in times where scale and consolidation seem to be the norm.

In twelve years, Bart Tilmans and Francis Paulussen lifted the family business Jacobs Transport from Genk to a higher level. he small transport company is now a medium-sized enterprise, which means new challenges. In order to meet these challenges, they have outlined a new growth strategy in which the family nature of the business and its flexibility are maintained. In this way, they want to make the difference with ‘The big boys’.

The family business Jacobs A. Transport was founded in 1934. The A. refers to the founder Albert Jacobs. The company was taken over in 2008 by Bart Tilmans and Francis Paulussen. They achieved significant growth. In 2008, the company posted a turnover of 2 million euros with 20 employees. In 2019, the turnover was 17.2 million with 98 employees (drivers, mechanics and clerks). The fleet increased from 18 trucks and 20 trailers and chassis, to 70 trucks and 160 trailers and chassis in 2020. The specialties are coil transport, conventional transport with covered trailers for the automotive sector, among others, and container transport.


“In recent years, we have grown at around 15% per year each time. Due to the corona crisis, growth fell flat this year, but starting in 2021 we want to get back to double-digit growth rates,” Tilmans says. “We want to do this by making the company more professional and optimizing its operations. An initial decision in that regard was the hiring this fall of Jill Gielen as commercial director. Until then, we had not employed any sales talent or account managers, but we saw the need to set up a commercial branch.”
“Jacobs Transport was growing along with its clients. And the growth also came from outside: in 2016 we acquired our sector colleague CV Service from Houthalen-Helchteren. n addition, we enjoyed positive word-of-mouth advertising. But we realize that this is no longer enough,” Paulussen adds.


“If we want to sustain growth, we need to shift up a gear without losing the family nature of the company. Today we are still small enough to be flexible, but large enough to respond to various customer requests. It is therefore a question of continuing to guarantee that flexibility in a larger company,” adds Tilmans.
Tilmans, Paulussen and Gielen didn’t take any chances. “We started writing our mission, vision and growth strategy with a blank page. We held it up to the light and adapted it to the needs of today and tomorrow. That’s how we mapped out long-term goals,” says Gielen.


As a result of that exercise, we decided to offer logistics services in addition to transport. “We want to give more added value to current and new customers with customized logistics activities. To this end, we have purchased a 42,000 m² site close to the former Ford site in Genk. There is the possibility of trimodal access via rail, port and road,” Gielen adds.
For a number of customers, we worked out a tailor-made package in which our company was appointed as the house carrier. We want to continue this by also offering customized logistics services. So we are aiming for strategic partnerships to unburden the customer. Those logistics operations should start by the end of 2021,” she states. “Today we are conducting a market survey. We are mapping out the needs of the customers and looking at what services and what added value they expect from us. The warehouse will be custom-built for the customers who want to partner with us.”


A second aspect in this new strategy is diversification. “The outside world knows us as a steel specialist and an agile container carrier. Jacobs is much more than that. For example, we also have refrigerated trailers. Most of our vehicles are multifunctional. In a sliding tarpaulin trailer, we can transport a very wide range of products. In a refrigerated trailer, food but also pharma fits. With this greater diversification in the customer portfolio, we want to tap into sectors such as foodstuffs, packaging, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, tiles, construction, and so on. We do not exclude acquisitions in this respect. Geographically, we will continue to concentrate on Belgium, the German Ruhr area, the southern and central Netherlands and northern France,” she adds.


The third axis of the strategy is optimization and digitization. “Growing bigger can mean unwieldiness. To maintain flexibility – our strength – we need to adapt structures and bring more consistency to the organization. Digitalization plays an important role in this. Think of connections to customer platforms, minimizing administrative repetition, driver scanning of documents, and so on. Thanks to more automation, planners can be shorter on the ball. That way you can continue to grow without sacrificing flexibility,” Gielen adds. . “Finally, we want to be more active in the marketing landscape. We are currently working on our ‘branding’ and on name recognition,” she concludes.

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