Interclean Memories with Laurens Metternich on family history, sustainable solutions and the importance of exhibiting.
The Metternich family have a long-standing history with Interclean Amsterdam as one of the first exhibitors back in 1967. And with generations of Metternich exhibiting at the show comes memories from the early days right through to the present day. He also tells us how the exhibition and business have changed with the modern world.
Laurens was first introduced to the Interclean trade show as a young child. “I have memories of Interclean as a child when I was very young. I had to phone my Mum to ask how old I was, and she told me I was about 10 years old. I remember we went to Amsterdam – my parents, brother and sister, my whole family – and they were building the exhibition for the upcoming week. It was a beautiful day; warm and sunny. That’s something my Mum always says, it’s ‘Interclean weather’, which means it’s always warm. We went inside and I remember thinking it was huge, it was incredible. I didn’t know what I was looking at to be honest, being 10, but there were lots of booths and because it was the buildup, there was a lot of traffic, lots of things moving around.”
A family of exhibitors
The Metternich family’s experience with Interclean starts with Laurens’ grandfather, who founded his company in 1963. “He was a producer of cleaning agents and disinfectants mainly for the food and agriculture industries. My father also worked in the company along with his brothers – he learned everything from the business. They were at the very first Interclean exhibition in 1967!”
Navigating bumps in the road
While the family business was doing well, it wasn’t always smooth sailing, Laurens tells us. “They [my grandfather and father] had a falling out and so my father started a competing business, Spectro, in 1986. I was 1 year old at the time. I’ve heard stories about me playing in the box beside the mixer where they were making products! Then my grandfather got sick and passed away at the end of the 1980s and my grandmother was left bankrupt, so my father took over the business and its customers and merged them into Spectro. It’s a bumpy history but it all came together in the end.”
Finding a place in history
Being part of a family business has its ups and downs, but a lot can be learned, Laurens adds. “My parents learned a lot about working with family and after that, said never again. There have obviously been some changes to that outlook though because myself, my brother and my sister now work in the company. This happened almost accidentally; we started with summer jobs. I wanted to combine my study with work, and I enjoyed the market, products and company and slowly became very involved with the sales and marketing. My brother was studying in the USA, and he later had a gap year so started working at Spectro. My sister was living in London also doing something completely different career-wise, but always asked how the company was doing.”
After a break from exhibiting at Interclean, Spectro returned in 2014. “We had some very innovative and sustainable solutions at this stage, which attracted customers from all over the world, so we were looking for an Export Manager. My sister filled that role and my parents decided not to sell the company but keep it within the family, so we started planning. They eventually sold the company to us in 2019 and my parents went into retirement. It’s very interesting; you don’t see a lot of family-owned companies owned by two brothers and a sister.”
A change in exhibitions and finding business
Starting a new business meant needing to find new customers, and Laurens’ father knew exactly where to find them. “When my father started Spectro, he was obviously looking for new customers for the new business, so they went to Interclean Amsterdam. He said, that’s the place to find new customers. All their life savings went into the company. They said at the time, the cost of Interclean was more than their turnover so it was a very big gamble. They needed it to pay off, but they were sure it was where they would find new customers – and they did.”
While Interclean Amsterdam continues to prove fruitful for Spectro, having exhhibited many times including 1991 and 2014, Laurens says the reason for exhibiting is somewhat different from the old days. “In the 1980s and 1990s, exhibitions were, I don’t want to say more important, but they were places you went to meet new companies and do direct business but nowadays they’re more about relationships, branding, innovation.”
Innovating for a sustainable future
Building on that innovation comes easy for Spectro, who are in Oss, The Netherlands – “the cleaning capital of Europe.” And it’s not something Laurens sees slowing down.
“I truly believe we need to do something to reduce our impact on the future, so we invested a lot in more sustainable products but also in making the use of our products more sustainable. For example, we have great dosage systems. We thought it was so special, we should bring it to the international market. Somewhere in the 2000s we stopped going to Interclean to focus more on the Netherlands and Belgium but in 2014 we returned. We were such an innovative company, we wanted to promote our new ecological cleaning systems to the international market and that’s what Interclean Amsterdam is great for! Interclean 2014-2016 were very good editions for us because they gave us a good push to the export market. We still have some very good customers from these years.”
Adapting to change and continuing the legacy
“Things are different since my grandfather first exhibited at Interclean. Business in general has changed and the internet has changed a lot of things. If you’re looking for a product, solution or company, you simply Google it. Back in the day, you relied on the Yellow Pages, going to exhibitions and maybe magazine ads, but that’s it. And now we rely on our phones instead of doing business face to face.”
“If you think about it, we cannot imagine a world without a phone, whereas in the 80s and 90s, my father would go to a phone booth to check for any urgent messages or issues and get straight back to the booth to do business,” he adds. “We cannot imagine back in the day when you would send a letter or a fax to place an order or write down orders at the Interclean exhibition. There are completely different aspects that are important nowadays.”
With such a proud family history associated with the business, Laurens is keen to continue the legacy with his own son: “I would love to go to an edition with my son one day soon, perhaps the next edition. Then there will be four generations of the Metternich family that have attended Interclean Amsterdam.”