“We are a technical 'one stop' wholesale company,” explains Peter van Houten, a sales manager with A.A.H. Alligator BV, one of the largest suppliers operating in the Dutch market.
“What we do is fairly unique." Alligated has existed since 1913, more than 100 years. The company started in Amsterdam as an agent for a packing supply company. After a few years they moved to Rotterdam to be closer to their customers. "We used to be an agent for a packing supplies company in England – the Turner Brothers," Peter says. "We have since moved to Rotterdam and our core business is nowadays supplying to the ship suppliers and ship chandlers. That all began with packings.”
“In those 100 years or so we have expanded the range and variety of articles that we stock. Most of the articles are in the IMPA catalogue.”
Today the company stocks a vast array of products, ranging from valves, couplings and nozzles, and fire hoses, to safety gear, filtering and sealants and a whole host of goods in between. Alligator now has offices in Shanghai, Singapore, and Houston too, each of which is enjoying success.
What sets it apart is that it supplies only to the ship suppliers, and not directly to ship owners or management companies. It is a model that is so far working well. So how did the company come to work that way?
“It is our business to supply the ship suppliers, and their business is to supply the ship owners and vessels. Each industry has got its own specific skills. We definitely don't want to be a competitor for our own customers something we want to avoid. We are not a traditional ship supplier in that sense.”
The approach Alligator has taken has proven to be a major catalyst for the company’s growth. According to Peter, it offers an element of security for Alligator’s customers, each of whom knows that Alligator will not be approaching shipowners; it removes suspicion and doubt from the process, and adds a layer of integrity and honesty to the supply chain, which is often missing.
“It’s something that nowadays is appreciated (by our customers) and it’s clear for them who we are and how we operate.”
Flexibility, as one would expect, is critical to Alligator’s operations. As a supplier to the suppliers of major vessels it has to be both reactive and highly responsive, qualities that ensure that crucial deliveries are made to vessels on time. Building this into its daily activities is an important aspect of the company’s operations.
“What we face for example, especially in the Rotterdam area, is receiving an order right now and we have to supply within two to three hours,” says Peter.
“So we have to be flexible of course. We do this by stocking large volumes – that is essential. We have our logistic department on hand. All day we have our vans driving to customers to ensure that we meet those demands.
“One of the most important aspects of the service is a rapid response time when we receive an inquiry. Each is dealt with within an hour. We respond quickly. The sooner you reply to them the better chance the ship supplier will get the order and so do we.”
Alligator’s reputation is growing abroad too. It supplies to most of Europe, while its other offices in Shanghai, Singapore and Houston and building steadily.
“These offices are relatively new for us and we have had to fight to establish ourselves there. We have been in Shanghai for nine years, and in Singapore and Houston for three years. We are making great progress, and there is a lot of potential growth for Singapore and Houston.”
While admitting that there are plans to develop the business further afield, Peter says that the focus for now is consolidating its current business and growing that in a stable manner. Only then will they look at other regions.
“There are plenty of other suppliers out there that can supply what we supply,” he says. “But we are fairly unique. Short lines, a broad and diversified stock, flexibility and quality are the keynotes of our company. The combination of our article range and the way we operate makes us think we have a strong chance of succeeding there too.”
And with such a strong track record of success in the past, who would bet against the suppliers’ supplier repeating that abroad in years to come?