Fiets! is closing five shops in Flanders after Dutch bankrupcy
Belgian-Dutch bicycle store chain, Fiets!, is closing five of its shops in Flanders and asks protection against its creditors. The chain was booming thanks to the popularity of the e-bike, but fierce competition of online discounters in the Netherlands cooked its goose.
‘The year of the bike’
“This will be the year of the bicycle”, proclaimed Hendrik Winkelmans in 2010, when he opened his first Fiets! shop in Ghent (Belgium). Business soon was booming, thanks to the success of the e-bike.
At the absolute peak of success – and with the take-over of Hans Struijk Fietsen in the Netherlands – Winkelmans had an empire of 31 shops in Belgium and the Netherlands, good for about 30.000 bicycles a year. One and a half year later only eleven stores remain, all in Flanders.
“In Holland Fiets! had to compete with aggressive online price-cutters”, explains Michel Verhaeren of Vermec, the investment fund of the Verhaeren family that stepped into the company as a minority shareholder. “The Dutch consumer is also more price-conscious than the Flemish one, who attaches more value to service.”
Focus on Flanders
Hans Struijk Fietsen made terrible losses and in July petition in bankruptcy was filed. In the meantime, founder and CEO, Winkelmans, was set aside. Vermec now has more than half of the company’s shares.
After the Dutch bankrupcy, Fiets! is now closing five shops in Flanders. The company is asking protection against its creditors and plans to make a restart. “We first have to put things right now”, Verhaeren says. “First of all, we will focus on the eleven profitable stores in Flanders.”
“The Belgian market certainly is profitable”, an ex-co-worker says, “but it needs a lot of market knowledge. The bicycle itself is getting more and more complex to repair, especially the e-bike, and clients are hardly willing to pay for it.”