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Jorien Schouten, Sudlac:

Being a woman in a man’s world

In June 2008, Jorien Schouten was hired by Sudlac in order to build up their export division. Now, seven and a half years later, the French manufacturer of horticultural shading paints markets its products to almost 30 countries across the world, and is profiled as one of the major developers of advanced greenhouse coatings. We had a chat with Jorien about the efforts she made, and not unimportant, her position in an industry that is mostly dominated by men.

Before talking about the achievements and difficulties, how does a Dutch girl from the northern part of Holland, without any relation to horticulture, end up in the south of France for a company like Sudlac? “Merely by accident. It was the director of a company I did an internship for that met the owner of Sudlac in Japan. They started talking about the Dutch being travelers and entrepreneurs, and how their company could use a guy like that. My former boss did not know any man that fitted the profile, but had to think of me instead. I really think they had no alternative, because it’s not common to speak French here, and also because at that time I had a very limited knowledge of the greenhouse industry and a small network. After a few e-mails and meetings I was hired and moved to Grenoble (France) when I was 25 years old. With only a suitcase and - very Dutch - my bike, my new life began, without knowing anybody but my boss and some colleagues, no experience in export management or sales. When I think back about that time, it was quite an adventure.”

A woman in a man's world

In order to create an export division, Jorien had to travel a lot over the past few years. "When I joined Sudlac, there was not a real export department yet. Our main market in regards to horticulture was France, our home market. In the first few years I developed a second home market by increasing our presence in Holland. I started to attend trade shows all over the world, in search of distributors and new customers. I quickly discovered that all the countries in the world look at the Dutch market in one way or another, your references there, the type of products etc. If you have a good market share and presence in Holland, international distributors take your product seriously and it makes it easier to develop business elsewhere. Being Dutch myself was a good help in that way, although the Dutch are known to speak other languages, they prefer to speak their mother tongue. A French export manager that does not speak Dutch, would have never had the conversations I had. Being a woman in a man’s world, definitely opens other doors as well, that even for Dutch men would have stayed closed.”

'That girl from the greenhouse paint’

Sudlac increased its exports to other countries by establishing an extensive dealer network. "This meant that I had to start to travel a lot," says Jorien. "In the beginning, the traveling was easy to combine with my private life because I had a long distance relationship, and no children at home. I got married a few years ago and moved back to Holland, but was still going to France every month and around the world regularly. I feel blessed with my husband, who got used to the fact that I was out of the house a lot. Even after I gave birth to our little daughter last year, I picked up traveling again. To date, I still can combine it, thanks to the love and understanding from my husband."

Jorien at the IFTF in Vijfhuizen 2014, shortly after the birth of her daughter already at a trade show.

According to Jorien, being one of the few women at all those international trade shows often helped her. "Many started to recognize my face, as I was one of the few women, I soon became 'that girl from the greenhouse paint’. On the other hand it was sometimes hard, as many not always take you seriously. They often suggest that you are hired for your looks, blue eyes or blond hair, not for your knowledge."

In 2011 they hired a new R&D manager, Marcel Schoondergang, with a large experience in the greenhouse coatings industry, in order to improve the products and introduce even better solutions to the industry. “This also increased our credibility and professionalism, especially in the Netherlands."

Dealer network

Nonetheless, Jorien achieved the creation of an extensive network of Sudlac distributors within a few years. Nowadays they are present in more than 25 countries. Jorien: "Europe has become very important, but also in Canada we have established a fair market share with our distributor Sun Parlour Growers Supply in Ontario. Other important markets are Mexico, where Leyton Greenhouse & Supply is our distributor and Japan, where HollandWeb is our partner. Futhermore, we are present in many other countries with large scale greenhouse horticulture as well such as Australia and Russia. The main products we sell are removable greenhouse coatings, such as Eclipse LD, TransPAR and OptiFuse. A rose grower in Russia has different needs than a tomato grower in Mexico and I love the fact that I am able to propose the greenhouse coating that fits the needs of all these different growers. Also the diversity of customers is something I value, going from a small plastic tunnel in Korea to a high level greenhouse in Canada. We always look for a product that is suitable for their location, type of structure and crop. A great thing about greenhouse coatings is the versatility of the product. Unlike other suppliers, we have a range of products that can be used in high-tech, mid-tech as well as low-tech. We are proud to offer a product that no other global supplier promotes; a white shading paint that degrades naturally by UV and rain: Eclipse F4. Why is it called F4? Because it generally provides shading for 4 months in our home market France."

Being in three places at once

Looking back at the past seven years, Jorien is proud of Sudlac's transition from a local supplier to a global player. "It's often a very busy job and you need to be in three places at once, but I still enjoy it every day. In the peak season it gives me energy when everything is going well. I am not a person that enjoys going to the same office, talking to the same people, doing the same job every day. I never would have thought that the greenhouse industry is such a vibrant environment that suits me so well. Let’s be honest, being located in the French Alps, doing a job you like and traveling the world, isn’t that bad!"

For more information:
Jorien Plak-Schouten
[email protected]

+31 (0)6-42736969