100 years young, De Wit with its trade brand Don Quichotte has become among the very biggest players in the nail market, but there’s still space to expand with the Don Quichotte brand and OEM with its De Wit-Concept as well as through its broadening product line-up. Torque Magazine speaks with Sales Director Jan-Willem van der Wijngaart and Product Marketing Manager Naj van Galen…
When it comes to hardened steel nails or masonry nails, Don Quichotte is a name that is difficult to ignore. It’s hard to be unequivocally certain, but Don Quichotte is possibly the biggest hardened steel nail manufacturer at its quality level. It exports to over 70 countries and has a healthy and still growing nail business including the supply to some of the best-known names in the industry.
So, how did Don Quichotte get to where it is today?
Back in 1921, the company was founded by Johannes Hubertus de Wit and it has been making nails ever since that year. Back then, the company was known as Ned. Kleinijzerwarenfabriek Jan de Wit.
Manufacture was largely centred on standard nails, however by the 1950s and ‘60s, nails were starting to become a commodity and itwas becoming ever harder to achieve good margins. So, the company-owning DeWit family opted to introduce hardened steel nails, which can be directly used in concrete.
The savvy milestone move paid off. These types of highly specialised nails required a lot of know-how and expertise for the precise hardening process. The firm established itself as an absolute expert in the field.
That pivotal move saw the firm, then known as J.H. de Wit & Zonen B.V., grow its international reputation, with expanding interest from abroad for its range. The company name was not so easy for global customers to wrap their tongues around, so the decision was made to smooth international marketing with a new trade brand name that overseas companies could handle: Don Quichotte.
The name was coined by the son of Mr J.H. De Wit, who stumbled on a statue of Don Quichotte made out of steel wire on a Paris market. He fell in love with the statue of Miguel de Cervantes’ titular hero and visitors to the company HQ can still find the name-inspiring statue at the entrance.
The De Wit name endures for the OEM side of the business. Sales Director Jan-Willem van der Wijngaart tells Torque Magazine: “Private label products is an area that has been growing for us. We’ve worked with customers in the UK with private label products for many years, including some very well-known fastener suppliers, but we’re now seeing this business in standard nails increase in other territories too.”
Another pivotal moment in Don Quichotte’s development came around 25 years ago with a step into the electrical sector.
Van der Wijngaart reveals that the firm was supplying nails to the sector and soon saw the opportunities to add selected plastic products to the line-up. So, the firm diversified into plastics and combined products like nail anchors (Speedplug), cable clips and other products for that market.
“We have grown rapidly in the sector and we’ve built our catalogue massively. It’s the fastest growing area for the business and we’re developing marketing and new product ranges. But hardened steel nails are our history and is still very important for us.”
Nails, then, remain core. The firm currently produces a staggering 10 million nails per day, approximately. Nevertheless, the product expansion saw Don Quichotte expand its sales channels and as it grew, relocation became a must and it moved to a new business park in Helmond in 2004.
But while the firm is celebrating its big anniversary this year (naturally, celebrations are trickier in 2021 than they were prior to 2020) the emphasis is very much on the present and future, rather than basking in the glories of the past.
DON QUICHOTTE: PACKAGING, ROBOTS & THE ENVIRONMENT
One of Don Quichotte’s more recent projects has centred on packaging. In 2016, it invested in three new packaging lines and embarked on a unified packaging concept for continuity of branding in its expanding product line ups and categories. 2017 saw it install a new plug & pack bag packaging machine to continue the project.
Other investments for the future of Don Quichotte has seen cash put into a high-rise warehouse and the addition of cobots (collaborative robots). Robots have helped tackle the kind of tricky recruitment challenges facing many economies, not least for repetitive tasks, freeing recruitment to focus on bringing people in for demanding logistics roles, including order processing and picking.
The environment is ever more in focus too for the ISO 14001-certified company. Product Marketing Manager Naj van Galen tells Torque Magazine: “We are heavily invested in corporate social responsibility. In terms of the environment, we have been looking at things like heat regeneration, packaging, LED lighting and reducing waste, among other areas.” And making the production process more energy efficient is a win-win for the environment and company costs.
With its presence in the nail market well established, Naj van Galen also states that Don Quichotte is aiming to achieve a similar level of status for its electrical installation business. With that in mind, the company launched a brand new slogan “worker’s choice”, focusing directly on workers and installers, and also through its new social media channels on Instagram and LinkedIn.
With a successful century of business behind it, it might have been tempting for Don Quichotte to spend its anniversary year looking back and celebrating its triumphs and innovation – and fortitude in the face of 100 years of challenges like the pandemic. Don Quichotte is, however, keenly eyeing its future opportunities (including a recent subsidiary and warehouse in Germany specialising in cable routing and trunking products) and responsibilities to the planet.