At Katoen Natie, one priority runs through everything it does – its desire to go above and beyond when serving its customers.
As one of the world’s premier logistics service providers, the Belgian company’s reputation has steadily grown since being founded in 1854 by four working partners handling cotton goods in their native country.
Now with operations in North and South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East as well as Europe, Katoen Natie, though still family-owned, employs over 13,000 workers worldwide, building on-site, support and multi-customer platforms to smoothen the supply chain for many of the world’s biggest companies.
Arnaud Derbaudrenghien is Managing Director of one of the business units in Thailand, where it works side-by-side with customers in the country’s eastern province of Rayong. He explains how the company’s close relationships with its partners work.
“As a company we try to work on a longer-term base with our customers, and because of that we have grown to be a multinational company operating all over the world,” says Derbaudrenghien.
“We work with multinationals in Thailand who have the same international standards. We provide state of the art facilities, together with our processes and our trained teams which can provide the premium services our customers require. We have customers like BMW, Ford and Suzuki, but we also work with the first tier and second tier suppliers of these companies. Basically, we build up a network within our customers that goes through the whole loop of the supply chain.
“We are not in it for a quick shot - we are in it for the long-term. We cannot just go to a customer and say ‘okay, we take the quick money for one year’ and then forget about them. Our strategy is to invest in long term relationships with our customers. That’s why we have our own assets and develop further together with our customers further business and collaboration. We as a company has already invested quite a lot of money here in Thailand and our plan is to continue to do so. We have some customers that have been with us for more than 15 years, and we work every day to keep them satisfied and expand our long-lasting collaborations.”
Innovating to improve customer delivery
All of Katoen Natie’s work to improve its service is part of its promise to deliver ‘value-added logistics’, and a key selling point of its offering is a sophisticated IT management solution that successfully connects its own system with those of its customers, giving all of the information and reporting needed for the customers to optimize their planning, work process and logistic flows.
The solution, built using electronic data interchange (EDI) technology, generates automatic reports on a highly-secure two-way channel between both companies. It’s a process that has proven highly successful for Katoen Natie, but also one to which it commits time and resources to improving.
“To have an efficient and correct information flow is really important. Otherwise, our customers cannot work,” Derbaudrenghien explains. “We have a complete team that is working on that in our HQ. It develops regularly based on feedback from our customers, improving our system to be up to date with the developments within our industries, and to the specific needs of our customers.
“The EDI messages are all encoded, making it secure to send messages in and out of their systems. In today’s business environment a lot of attention is given by our customers to cyber security and to the securement of their own IT systems. With these developments our customer can be assured that this combines operational efficiency without having security breaches within their systems.
“At the moment, when the customer sends an order out, it will automatically come into our system and we will be able to process that order. The same happens once we complete an order - it will send a signal towards the system of the customer so that the customer knows that it has already been implemented.”
Further innovation can be seen in its warehouses too, where Katoen Natie works to reduce the links in its customers’ supply chains by providing an advanced service when it comes to the handling of goods, often tailored to the specific requirements of each client.
“What we try to do at Katoen Natie is think together with the customer, and always look for opportunities to improve the complete process of our customers, providing them additional services so our customers can focus on their core business, while leaving the complete Supply Chain part to us.”
Derbaudrenghien wants to do more in the near future, however, adding: “Our goal is always to go a step further in the process.
“What we usually start with, in the first steps of our logistic process is just to receive, store and send out the collies of our customers. The next step is to say, ‘okay, what can we do more for this customer to help them in their process?
“For example, what we can do for them for example are quality checks of incoming goods, repackaging of goods, pre-assembly of parts, sequencing of the parts to the production lines of our customers. Often the level of service will depend on the specific flows of our customers, on the challenges that they are facing and on some of the bottlenecks/quality issues within their productions that we can help to resolve by providing our services.”
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Thailand’s bid for business
Katoen Natie currently operates a total of 350,000 sq metres of warehousing space in Thailand, split over two main locations. Nevertheless, the company is still looking to further expand its offering.
Extra efforts are being made by the country’s government to attract foreign investment and this is undoubtedly positive news for Derbaudrenghien.
His warehouses are situated in Thailand’s newly-defined Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), a region along its eastern seaboard where at least 1.5trn Thai Baht is set to be invested over the next five years to transform its logistics infrastructure. Major work is being undertaken at the nearby U-Tapao International Airport and Laem Chabang deep sea port, on top of considerable road and rail upheaval.
Companies from around the world are being incentivised to bring business to the EEC, with corporate income tax exemptions of up to 13 years available if they meet certain criteria.
“It will mean that we’ll have companies that before were not considering Thailand as a potential hub,” says Derbaudrenghien. “They will have more incentives to see Thailand as a perfect location in order to develop further their business. From there on, they can be involved in and develop both the domestic markets and the exports markets in the region too.
“The locations for supply chain are really, really important. The government has made quite some effort in order to make roads better. They will have a railway too that will give the opportunity to send goods all over Thailand and even to China.
“All this connectivity will help not only the logistics, but I think industry in general in order to support further development and more efficient development.”
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