Dorrie Eilers | Neptunus | Joining the Family Business and Growing it

Maartje van Wijk | Founder Wenneker Group | Shortlist TNW100
22nd May 2018
In the spotlight: General Director Royal Van Wijhe Verf and board member of the Future for Nature Foundation Marlies van Wijhe
12th July 2018

Dorrie Eilers, along with her brother Antoine and sister Betty, run the family-business Neptunus, a company that supplies temporary structures for events, pop-up shops, sporting halls and more.  Neptunus was founded in 1937 by her grandfather after he discovered an old trunk on the beach with the trident – the sign of Neptune – on it.  The chest contained an army tent, which her grandfather put up in the garden from time to time.  When neighbors began to ask if they could borrow the tent, he realized he had a business opportunity.  

Dorrie’s father took over the business in 1970 and Dorrie and her siblings took over  in 2000.  “It was not taken for granted that I would come into the family business.  And I wasn’t sure if I was interested so I took it slowly.”  

We don’t want to be the biggest.  We want to be the best in our field.

Today Neptunus has offices in Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Austria and the UK with an annual turnover of 65 million euros.  Neptunus employees 300 full-time employees, and doubles in size with freelancers during the high season.  Recent projects include the structures for Dinosaurs in the Wild immersive experience in London, The 2018 BRIT Awards, the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, the Tomorrowland Festival and MTV Europe Music Awards.  

Since Dorrie and her siblings took over the company, it has grown dramatically.  They were the world’s first supplier to design and build a temporary structure with two and three stories, and providing cutting-edge solutions for additional space requirements for any business anytime and anywhere.  Called “Evolution and Flexolution” temporary buildings, these structures open up new possibilities as flexible and sustainable alternatives to real estate.  

We saw a certain market and a certain need – but we didn’t have the right products.  So we decided to manufacture and design something for that.

When I asked Dorrie what the best part of running your own company is, she replied, “it brings me a lot of energy, work on a lot of different projects, we travel a lot.  Decide our own rules.  Can switch very quickly. The company is big and at the same time small. Very experienced people around us giving us the opportunity to expand our business.

And it works because we’re all focused on our own areas:  I manage sales and marketing, my sister works on logistics and my brother is responsible for new products.”  

What’s the worst?  In our field there are a lot of different building regulations in the EU and another for each country.  It took us about a year to sort it all out.  And sometimes it’s difficult to find good people who share our passion for the business. This year we happen to have 25 people who have their work anniversary being with us for 10-35 years.  And others who don’t last 1 year.  My advice is “If you don’t like what you’re doing, you better stop!

Why do you think TheNextWomen is important for female entrepreneurs?  Knowledge, contacts and networking.  When you want to approach a new market or a new country, there are always people who have done the same thing.   

Any words of wisdom for new female entrepreneurs?  You have to follow your heart and do it.  It’s easy to reach your goal if you’re passionate about it.  

What’s your biggest challenge for the future:  The next generation.  Among the 3 of us, we have 7 boys and 1 girl.  We hope some of them are willing and able to continue our business.