From MP3 player retailer to electronics millionaire: This is the "Dutch Jeff Bezos" who now wants to attack Media Markt and Saturn in Germany
Pieter Zwart is already successful in the Netherlands and Belgium with his retail chain Coolblue. Now the multimillionaire wants to enter the German market and compete with Media Markt and Saturn.
Its success story started with an idea in a cafe. Today Coolblue has an annual turnover of two billion euros.
Zwart is open and optimistic: "I find it strange that you can no longer say that you want to make money. What was my goal? multimillionaire. This is what I achieved."
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The electronics trade in Germany is dominated by two names: Media Markt and Saturn. However, a new competitor is now attacking in this country. The Dutch supplier Coolblue is planning to enter the market and open a 2.Open 600 square meter store. Coolblue promises fast delivery times and customer proximity. Pieter Zwart is behind the company. For his compatriots he is the "Dutch Jeff Bezos.
In addition to Germany, Coolblue has also been successfully active in Belgium since 2007. Despite pandemic, retail chain continues to expand. It’s a good fit for Zwart, the head of the company. Through his ambition, in 18 years he has built up a company with an annual turnover of two billion euros. In the Netherlands Coolblue is the flagship of the retail industry. But who is the most notorious CEO of our neighboring country ever?
"We often smoked and drank beer and made plans on beer mats"
Like many success stories, Zwart’s and Coolblue’s started small. In 1999, the student at the Rotterdam School of Management bought his first MP3 player. Hits like "Livin’ La Vida Loca," "I Want It That Way," and "The Bad Touch" were playing. But the device was small, clunky and the battery didn’t last long. This gave him and his two friends, Paul de Jong and Bart Kuipers, an idea. Why not just start your own company and sell electrical appliances?
"We often smoked and drank beer and made plans on beer mats," Zwart says in an interview with "Erasmus Alumni Magazine". "One of those evenings, we were sitting in Cafe De Dijk. Suddenly the idea was there. I called my father and said, ‘Dad, I’m not going to enroll in college for a year.’" The company was born. The name: Coolblue.
One year turned into two. In the beginning they sold MP3 players on their own website. A few soon became hundreds of orders. Despite their success, the three quit their business studies to concentrate fully on the company. Over time, more and more products were added. They created a separate webshop for each device. How were the MP3 players on mp3shop.nl and laptops on laptopshop.nl offered. In ten years, more than 300 different webshops were created in this way. The company is customer-oriented, friendly and flexible. Three pillars on which Zwart is still building with Coolblue today.
"Consumer trust is crucial and the most important thing you need as a web store," Zwart explained back in 2003. "Word of mouth spreads fast, even outside the Internet. So our product has to be good, because quality creates trust in our company." This trust paid off. 2012 was the final breakthrough for Coolblue. The company’s sales rose by 48 percent to 168 million euros. Zwart was named best online entrepreneur of the year. His name was now no one in the Netherlands came around.
The Dutch Jeff Bezos
The trio of entrepreneurs then dissolved in 2016. Zwart bought the shares of his former partners with the help of investor HAL. The decision was made by mutual agreement. Coolblue became too big for De Jong and Kuipers. They devoted themselves to smaller projects. For Zwart, meanwhile, it went on. In the same year Coolblue generated 857 million euros – a new record.
Despite the success, the 44-year-old never took off. Employees describe him as charismatic and friendly. But the boom also had its dark side. A few days before Christmas 2017, Zwart is robbed and abused. Rotterdam police managed to catch the perpetrator.
The entrepreneur shows himself undeterred despite the incident. In 2018, the more than 300 web stores were then combined under the Coolblue brand. The idea came to Zwart two years earlier: "The change to a domain was quite exciting. The commercial consequences are huge: now we can automate and develop faster."
Zwart was reluctant to talk about his private fortune for a long time. It is estimated at 475 million euros. Today the multimillionaire is more open about it. "I find it strange that you can no longer say that you want to make money. What was my goal? Multimillionaire. That’s what I’ve achieved," says Zwart in an interview with "De Ondernemer".
But the Corona pandemic did not leave the company unscathed either. At the end of February 2020, customers were the first to notice. Prices for products increased by ten to 15 percent due to supply bottlenecks from China. In March, all brick-and-mortar stores had to be closed down. However, online trading boomed and Coolblue did not have to fear insolvency. Zwart is now optimistic and does not want to hide from the big market leaders in Germany either. His success proves him right.