Annemarie van Gaal: Supergirl
The entrepreneurial spirit can thrive with a little help from your friends, says Annemarie van Gaal
‘I’m opening a shop and I would like you to perform the ceremony. Will you come?’ This what 22-year-old Naomi Gelderblom asked me a few months ago. The shop was a new supermarket in Driebruggen, a village of 1,700 people in the province of Zuid Holland.
When I drove into the village last week, I immediately noticed dozens of posters stuck to trees and lampposts saying ‘Congratulations, Naomi!’ It was a present from the local entrepreneurs.
I met Naomi in the village hall and she told me her story. When she was thirteen she took on an after-school job at the local bakery. At fifteen, she was asked by the owner if she’d be interested in taking over the business. ‘I can’t because I still have a couple of months to go before I finish at vocational college,’ Naomi said.
The owner decided to wait. When Naomi received her diploma she took over the bakery.
Two years later, the supermarket next door was put up for sale. The owners also wanted Naomi to take over. ‘But I’m only seventeen, I haven’t even got a driver’s licence. How can I take over a supermarket?’, Naomi said. But take over the supermarket she did.
Both the bakery and the supermarket needed a facelift. The roof leaked, the freezer cabinets conked out every five minutes and the pipes needed replacing.
She made plans for a completely new shop in the village and that is when the bureaucratic nightmare began. But she persevered, often against her own better judgement.
‘A man who gives up is a lost man,’ she said wisely. She collected thousands of signatures to convince the local authorities of the need for a new village shop. She even hired a bus to take eighty villagers to attend a local council meeting.
While the villagers doled out cake, Naomi addressed the council and explained why she was so passionate about the shop and why it mattered so much to the village.
In the end she managed to convince everyone. She even qualified for a subsidy which supports the ‘viability of small villages’. I won’t forget the evening the shop opened in a hurry: the whole village had turned out and the band was playing for all it was worth.
A nice story, I hear you say, but the best is yet to come. Naomi chose a unique concept for her shop. It’s really lots of shops in a shop. Profit margins are traditionally small in supermarkets and Naomi opted for a greater involvement of her suppliers.
The meat she sells comes from a local meat merchant, the cheese from a local cheese merchant and her fruit and veg are grown locally. ‘My apples are so green they hurt your eyes.’
The local suppliers are in charge of their own shop space. They give Naomi 25% of the day’s profits. All the other suppliers rent their shop space.
PostNL has a service point in the shop, there’s a cash machine and you can even bring in your shoes to be repaired. All these activities bring in money, enough for Naomi to pay for the roof over her head.
The opening was a great success and a satisfying end to years of struggle. Naomi is a passionate entrepreneur with a brilliant concept but she is also a young girl, not a winning combination for bankers and council members afraid of taking risks. But she won them over all the same.
In the first three days after opening the shop, Naomi served 1,500 people. Not bad for a village of 1,700. No matter what the future brings, she has the village rooting for her.
Annemarie van Gaal is an entrepreneur and head of publishing company AM Media. She is also a writer and television personality
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