Wouter Torfs Entered The 21st Century In Stocking Foot Shoes Torfs – Companies

Wouter Torfs retires at the end of this year as CEO of Schoenen Torfs, the chain founded by his grandfather. He announces today that he will become chairman of the board of Centrum Algemeen Welzijnswerk, a government organization that helps people with mental health problems. Torfs has always emphasized the importance of mental well-being. It was not contrary to his mission to be able to pass on the shoes Torfs strengthened and renewed to a new generation.

When Wouter Torfs became the day-to-day manager of Schoenen Torfs in the 1990s, selling shoes was still a relatively simple business. The larger shoe stores of chains like Torfs, often cheaper places along the Flemish roads, could easily win customers due to their larger and cheaper range to the detriment of the independent shoe stores in the city centers. The turning point came around 2010. Torfs and other chains came on the defensive. Under the impetus of the German webshop Zalando, they faced stiff competition from specialized webshops. Moreover, the fat years also seemed to be over. The store network had already been largely expanded, the financial crisis of 2008 had already made consumers more frugal. It was no longer possible to grow side by side, there was now real struggle for market share.

When Wouter Torfs became the day-to-day manager of Schoenen Torfs in the 1990s, selling shoes was still a relatively simple business. The larger shoe stores of chains like Torfs, often cheaper places along the Flemish roads, could easily win customers due to their larger and cheaper range to the detriment of the independent shoe stores in the city centers. The turning point came around 2010. Torfs and other chains came on the defensive. Under the impetus of the German webshop Zalando, they faced stiff competition from specialized webshops. Moreover, the fat years also seemed to be over. The store network had already been largely expanded, the financial crisis of 2008 had already made consumers more frugal. It was no longer possible to grow side by side, there was now real struggle for market share. Still, Torfs continues to grow, and Wouter Torfs has played a key role in this. Firstly, as CEO, he has made a good personnel policy an absolute priority, with great attention paid to a good work-life balance. The chain has already been named the best employer of the year in the medium-sized companies category eleven times. Staff satisfaction was also reflected in the stores, which enabled the chain to rightly claim that it offers a service of similarly high quality as the independent shoe salesman under the church tower. Thanks to the good reputation and brand awareness, Torfs was also able to compete with Zalando and co. Torfs first launched a webshop in 2012. But it could quickly compete in the leading group, partly due to good integration with the physical stores, such as screens for ordering shoes and the option of free pick-up or return of online orders. Meanwhile, 34 million euros or 20 percent of the annual revenue of 176 million comes from digital orders. Torfs could not get everything picked up in the shops. As a medium-sized company, it was to participate in the rat race for fast and free home deliveries, where Zalando and other giants can fully utilize their enormous logistics power. There, too, Torfs could keep up, among other things by finding an agreement with his employees in the distribution center to also prepare online orders late in the evening. In 2017, Torfs was one of the only dealers who reached an agreement with the unions on so-called ‘night work’ in the profession. It’s yet another illustration of how Wouter Torfs, as CEO, implemented change in a calm but firm way. It’s somewhat anecdotal, but Wouter Torfs also adjusted the chain’s traditional reputation in a different way. In 2016, he confirmed that employees wearing scarves were welcome. A few years before, he had said he did not like it. “Society has changed. We want to be a company where all customers are welcome, including immigrant customers. Then we have to accept that the employees also wear headscarves,” said Wouter Torfs about the turn to Radio 1. Torfs is still one of The the rare large retailers in Flanders who dared to take that step. Wouter Torfs received angry emails because of that announcement, but that was it. Wouter Torfs can leave a stronger and more modern company to the successor. However, there is a stain on his record. He supported entrepreneurs Manu Bracke, Dieter Penninckx and Anja Maes in their plans to aggressively develop the fashion group FNG into a European market leader. This alliance enabled Torfs to gain control of its main competitor Brantano, but by 2020, FNG ended up in difficult papers and the founders of FNG were discredited. The trio is defending themselves against a fraud complaint Brantano and other FNG brands went under. As a result, both the Schoenen Torfs and the Torfs family had to swallow a loss of millions. It is completely underexposed, but Wouter Torfs therefore has another profit. He made sure there were no raging family conflicts around the business while there are many heirs. The company is still in the hands of four branches originating from Mechelen founder Louis Torfs, grandfather of Wouter Torfs. The fourth generation consists of about thirty members and they now also have children. Unlike, for example, Colruyt, Torfs does not have the great benefit of gluing the togetherness of an ever-growing family. Furthermore, due to the corona crisis in 2020 and the mandatory store closures, Torfs could not pay dividends either. Such financial stress has already created serious and crippling conflicts at other family businesses, but that is not the case with Torfs.

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