Karel Cardoen: ‘Classic car branch will not survive’
By selling his 13 Belgian car supermarkets to French PSA owned Aramisauto.com, ex CEO Karel Cardoen (66) waves the car sector goodbye. “You can feel the classic car branch will not survive”, Cardoen tells newspaper De Tijd in an interview. “The big players will be internet companies, like German AUTO1 today, for instance, with a gigantic turnover.”
“They have raised a lot of capital recently and are buying up the market in all countries, especially in the segment of cheaper cars. Internet will be the big winner. Today Cardoen is still profitable. With a gross margin of 4% we’re even doing better than Aramisauto.com.”
Internet sales next to nothing today
“But what is profitable today, won’t be so in ten years. The day the threat or opportunity of the internet will strike, Cardoen has to be ready. Today internet sales is next to nothing for us, only 50 to 100 cars a year”, Cardoen adds.
“What is getting important is people surfing through our stock via the internet, while sitting at home, and the service we offer to take an option on the car that interests them and bring it to a shop nearby to see. The 100 euro for the option, they’ll get back anyway, buying the car or not.”
“Aramisauto.com is selling 35.000 cars per year and 7 per cent is direct online sales. They combine the web with a call centre for people with additional questions. Here in Antwerp we have a call centre with two people, they have a call centre with 50 people.”
“This way you get a better interaction between showrooms and call centres. That multi-channel approach is what Cardoen will be rolling out quicker with the French experience. When the Kebek investment fund took over 70% of the Cardoen shares in 2015, it was clear that we would do some take-overs in France or elsewhere to expand.
“But one day Guillaume Paoli, CEO of Aramisauto.com, called after hearing we would step into the French market. He had plans to come to Belgium, so he proposed to talk. That ended in a proposition for take-over from them.”
Isn’t that like throwing in the towel?
“My career ended in May last year when I retired at Cardoen. We are relatively big in Belgium, but we are nothing on a European scale. If we wanted to compete with the big guys, we needed more selling power. Growing slowly on a foreign market is old-fashioned. You have to be quick to reel in scale benefits. The deal with Aramisauto.com is good for both parties.”
Is there still a role for you to play in the car business? Like buying another company?
“No, that won’t be the case. Actually I’m not a car lover at all. I love doing business. I’m in real estate now with a family holding, Immo 12. Here in Wilrijk I have some 15 hectare of building lots I can develop, in Herentals we bought some old barracks where we are realizing an indoor playground for children.”
“In Puurs we own an industrial building lot along the A12 and in Schelle I’ve bought an old electricity power plant we’re looking with the municipality and the province to convert into something useful. Real estate fascinates me. I put a lot of time in it.”
Euro Car Retailers
Karel Cardoen has still one foot in the car sector, though, with Euro Car Retailers, exclusively exporting cars from Belgium. “We don’t sell anything on the Belgian market. Turnover is 50 million euro and 15 people are working there.”
“The CEO is an old employee who owns one fifth of the shares and I own the rest. It needs no looking after and it brings in good money. That business I will keep.”