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In more than two decades, CARU Containers has grown from a local container trader with eight employees to one of the world's largest players, with an average annual container volume of 125,000. The journey has certainly not been straightforward and has taken a great deal of trial & error and experimentation, with the focus on constant improvement. We explain how CARU originated and which milestones led to sustainable growth.
This required an approach that was different – and to a large extent still is – in the market. The focus points within this approach are long-term thinking, quality and a strong focus on relationships. A win-win for all the stakeholders. For the company, people and planet are just as important as profit.
CARU Containers was formed in 2000 after a merger between CATU Rotterdam, owned by Rob Tromp, and Paul Ockers’ companies Lease Craft and Trade Craft. Paul was mainly active locally, whereas Rob had travelled all over the world since starting out in the container trade in 1978. The opportunity to buy the current site in Rotterdam played an important role in the merger, as the individual companies were too small to do so. CARU started out with just 8 employees.
Rob: “When we set up CARU, the container trade – especially sales – was still a bit of a poor relation to which not much attention was paid. For Paul and me, it was clear that it offered a lot more potential. But in order to grow, we had to make sure we were more professional, easier to work with, more fun and more transparent than our competitors.
Rob, who was CEO of CARU until 1 January 2023 and has remained involved as an active shareholder since then, believes that prioritising both people and the environment as a whole – and therefore also the planet – is a prerequisite for a successful company. “It's no good at all if your activities are polluting and your people are unhappy. I don’t believe this can lead to sustainable growth. Your business needs to be logical and smart, or others will overtake you in the long run. As a company, we have always anticipated this. Not just to be ahead of the legislation, but because it makes sense.”
With these principles in mind, CARU has always done things a little differently. Growth goes hand in hand with building genuine relationships and ensuring a professional operation. Relationships always come first. If there is a win-win for all parties, the company will grow automatically. In addition, CARU has always offered complete price transparency and also leads the way in terms of sustainability. A professional operation ensures confidence and a fair price. CARU has always invested in professionalisation. For example, CARU was the first company in the sector to seriously focus on digitisation and automation.
The path to CARU’s current structure has not been a straight highway but rather a winding mountain road upwards, with several crossroads where choices were made. The most important milestones and insights since CARU was set up are shown below:
An important factor in CARU’s kickstart was the purchase of the 20,000 m2 site on Seattleweg in Rotterdam, which allowed the company to have an efficient and cost-effective depot.
The activities were initially carried out on the site in Portakabins, after which CARU had an office built in 2004. A professional operation requires a professional and trustworthy image, hence the brand-new office in Rotterdam.
In 2007, CARU took over Schouten Containers Services in Moerdijk. Schouten had a site that was four times as large (80,000 m2) and a lot more employees than CARU. With all kinds of mechanics, container repair, heavy container conversion and its own fleet of trucks, Schouten also offered a much wider range of services. As a result of the acquisition, CARU actually became more of a production company than a trading company.
Following the acquisition of Schouten's neighbour Transmo, CARU was able to offer even more services (such as tank containers) and an even larger number of mechanics.
Although CARU was ahead of the curve in business terms, the management realised the need to apply more focus by introducing a simple structure. Put simply, too much complexity had arisen. As a result, a decision was made to go back to the basics. Activities such as tank repairs and truck transport were made independent, and the Moerdijk site was put up for sale. From then on, CARU focused mainly on the sale and rental of containers once again. The office in Rotterdam was taken back into use after thorough renovation. This strategy proved extremely successful.
In view of global economies of scale and to provide customers with an even wider range of services, several acquisitions were made between 2016 and 2017. The range of services became even wider. Once again, the operations became more complex and distracted from the core business. Another decision was therefore made to go back to the basics and to sell off these additional services.
Since 2018, CARU has been selling and renting containers in a lean & mean way.
Over the years, CARU has expanded its network of offices by making acquisitions abroad but also by opening its own offices. This time with a clear focus on a narrower range of services: the sale and rental of containers. This increase in scale is a logical step towards ensuring growth and providing customers with even better service worldwide. In quick succession, offices were opened in Antwerp, Prague, Gothenburg, Boston and Santos.
The complexity in the years 2007-2013 led to an important insight: the success of the container lies in its simplicity, efficiency and transparency, and these same factors must also lead the way in your business model. Rob: “This is a must. You can’t work against your product. As Paul often said: 'a container will never go out of fashion.' That's a fact, and has been for the past 70 years! And by taking principles such as efficiency and simplicity even more seriously, CARU can certainly become four times as large. Data and technology will help us to achieve this.”