RBC Caribbean Business Growth Series
We’ve reached out to some of our Caribbean business owners to hear their experiences and stories. Through it, they share some of the valuable life and business lessons they’ve acquired from their mentors and even their families. So enjoy and gain some insights to helping you grow your own business.
Little did Robert Croes know that when he took over from his father as the Owner and Managing Director at Antraco Aruba Group that he will be literally building the business from the ground up following a major fire. The good news is that the company has thrive as successful commercial sales company that includes real estate, a shopping mall as well as service and leasing of office equipment.
On Restarting a Business
I was sitting in my office in a meeting and suddenly I hear things popping on the roof, so I thought somebody was walking on it. But then it was constant so I went outside and see our roof was on fire! I later learned that cans of pesticides from the building next door were exploding from a fire and landing on our roof.
I rushed back in and we started to evacuate people. We had 50 people in the building. There were some small injuries, and later on we learned one lady lost her baby. Others had breakdowns. We had to leave in a rush. But the back of the building, where the central warehouse was full of boxes, caught fire quickly. In two hours the whole building was completely burned down.
On Rising Up from the Ashes (Literally)
The next day, everybody was wondering if they had a job or not. Because we worked through the night, the manager and I had a plan. And the plan was simple. We’re going to continue. We’re never going to give up. We were going to safeguard our position in the market. So we assigned everyone their tasks. We had a team assigned to attend the phones. We had a large team go and meet all of our customers – all the supermarkets and pharmacies. We made handwritten lists of all the urgent matters that were needed so that the business could continue.
Fortunately, we had another property next door. We took over that building. And we changed it and fix it. We painted it up, and set up a computer server. We started from scratch again. Long story short, our core business stayed intact.
What I Learned from My Father
The first years when I started working for him were hard. His view was, “My son, what I forgot, you haven’t even learned yet.” [laughs]. But you know? But being hard on me, I think worked out.
The whole business was based on his philosophy. We focus on the details, the little things. Because Aruba is a small island, you cannot grow deep. You cannot have 10 men’s shoe stores. You have to grow wide. So you add ladies shoes and socks. The market is small. And so we moved into real estate, business-to-business sales, additional retail stores.
On Diversifying a Business
I believe in doing homework. We joined all types of retail memberships and retail associations. We read about the trends in that field. We visited shows all around the world on the latest technologies, latest trends and stuff like that. But it’s just homework, homework, homework.
On Competing with the Likes of Amazon
I was not okay with the belief that retail was closing down. Or that traditional business is not going to work in the future. And that the future generation will not have a job.
So we started focusing on what cannot be beaten by an Amazon. We started a coffee place. And then, we rented out one shoe store, one clothing store, one hair dresser. That’s less competition from online. We even have the Wine Room. It’s a very unique wine place that does tastings and it just got Five-star award from Trip Advisor. So, the formula is on creating more food places and entertainment.
On Being an Entrepreneur
I like new things. I’m not too much into routines. I like that the business is alive. Every season is different, every time you have new challenges.
The First Secret to Success
The only real secret of success is to have a system. With my background of loving mathematics, I was very into computer programming. It’s me wanting to control things, control all the details with a program and set up a system.
Second Secret to Success
We’re highly ethical. We’re very straight. If we lose, it doesn’t matter. As long as you can see yourself in the mirror and be straight.
Sometimes you have to lose now to win later. But we don’t cut corners. It’s a small island. We were always straight shooters. If a client has a problem and we were at fault, we’ll just tell them. We ask, what can we do to fix it? Likely, the answer will be softer than if you try to deny it.
Advice to the next Generation
What I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now
I think I would get into the financing part earlier. Because I didn’t know how much fun it actually was. So now, when the day comes that I have to receive my numbers, I’m all over it. I want to jump into that right away, and if they’re late, I’m sending some emails.
Well, RBC is very good. We have a good relationship. What I like about them is that we’re working in a more modern way. They get that everything needs to be digital. They do work on those things and that’s great. Whereas some of the other banks do not.
What I also like is that they’re very personally approachable; they participate in local events.
On Working Capital
On a small island like this, office furniture is not something that sells at a high monthly volume because it’s project oriented. I used to need financing with the bank for a large project like a government order. I would need extra capital to clear it.
We were at another bank. I had three large projects, one after the other one. I would have to get approval on each one. It was a pain. They had to evaluate everything.
In the real world, your business cannot wait until the bank approves it.
I presented to RBC our projects. They gave me Working Capital and I had it pre-approved. Last year, I got two big projects. Another major bank started on the island. I furnished the whole bank. And then we had the new offices for this four-storey building for the new refinery. I had no delays. Everything was already there.
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