IFTF director Dick van Raamsdonk:

‘I put my head down and keep going’

Dick van Raamsdonk of HPP Exhibitions has been organising trade fairs since 1985. It’s only been since 2010 really, that he has been truly successful, with a stable and well-filled portfolio. The IFTF trade fair in Vijfhuizen is organised by him. Van Raamsdonk has one dream left. “I would love to launch a World Horticultural Exposition one day.”

byArie-Frans Middelburg

It’s a bizarre building, the office of HPP Exhibitions, located at Saksen Weimarlaan in Amsterdam. From the outside, the large, red letters on the glass front give it a postmodern feel. The interior of the property, however, is totally different. Indoors, the office has a soul and there’s nothing that would scare away visitors as soon as they arrive.

It’s pretty packed, and they’ve had to be creative with the available space, which led to some interesting details. Narrow spaces between the desks, enormous, green plants and a little kitchenette in the toilets. The highlight is perhaps the office of HPP’s director himself: Dick van Raamsdonk. The room is filled with large piles of paper. On top of, next to, in front of and behind the desk. Everywhere. Van Raamsdonk apologises several times this morning for his apparent lack of tidiness.

He travels a lot. He’s just returned from Quito, and made a stopover in Las Vegas, where he signed the contracts for the organisation of a trade fair in ‘Sin City’ next year. He confirms that Las Vegas completely met all his expectations. He was already welcomed by dozens of slot machines at the airport. “That’s not for me, though”, he stresses. “I don’t gamble, nor drink any alcohol.”

He mentions that he’ll be going on another trip in a few days. To Colombia. A friend of his Mexican wife is getting married. “I didn’t really fancy it, but I promised I would come along.”

On top of all that, the 58-year old has a young family as well. He has three young children, who keep him up at night on a regular basis. “With the first two, I said I wasn’t going to change any nappies. But when the third one came along, I had to give in.”

Van Raamsdonk absolutely doesn’t perceive the kids as a punishment though. On the contrary. He’s not hiding his pride when he starts a YouTube video and turns his computer screen towards us. Van Raamsdonk shows us a performance of himself and his daughter Tess – six years old at the time – in 2015, in the SBS 6 TV-programme ‘We are family’. (Click here for the video)

He plays the guitar and she is seated on a piano. They’re singing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ together and it’s touchingly beautiful. Their family members are in the audience. When the last notes have faded, father and daughter hug, a moving moment. Anyway, we came to meet Dick van Raamsdonk, the trade fair director. IFTF in Vijfhuizen is about to start.

How was Agriflor in Quito?
“Buyers and growers I spoke with – even onboard the plane – said it was the perfect trade show. Let’s say it was nearly perfect. Because total perfection doesn’t exist. There are always little things that could be better. It was the first time that we were based in Quito’s city centre and the entire industry was represented. Furthermore, there was a good atmosphere. The Ecuadorians’ production isn’t huge at the moment, but the prices obtained for the flowers are good. Demand for their flowers is growing due to problems around the supply from Ethiopia. They offer an alternative for the loss of sales to Russia. Growers did good business at the fair.”

How are you doing, in between two trade fairs?
“The time leading up to and during a trade show always gives me some tension. For me, a trade show is equivalent to Valentine’s Day for growers and flower exporters. I’ve got to perform during the fair. I can’t really enjoy the time I spend at the fair. At long last, during the past six years, I’ve had a few successful trade fairs. I started in Taiwan in 1985 and the fairs we organised the first 25 years generated some income, but we only really broke through in 2010 and since then we’ve had a well-filled, stable portfolio. I gained lots of experience in those days, though. I used to love the pioneering, but nowadays, walking around on a successful trade show …”

So your trade fairs are doing well?
“I’ve had a few good fairs now. There were some unexpected good results in Ecuador. IFTEX in Kenya went well, too. The four days in Iran were a nightmare in terms of organisation. So much red tape. But the trade show was nice and a big success. It was teeming with people. There is going to be 40,000 ha of horticulture in Iran. The exhibiting rose breeders immediately booked again for next year. Everybody’s coming along again, including those who didn’t dare the first time round. I’m going to organise this fair again in seven months time, that’s something I’ve never done before. Why wait until September?”

How do you explain your success?
“Commitment, being specialised and above all, perseverance. I put my head down and keep going.”

Aren’t you very approachable as well?
“Yes, I’m always having a laugh with everyone at the airport, at the trade shows. I know all the exhibitors personally. We chat about business and private matters, about everything. In a normal way. Very informal. I don’t need a management board. If you don’t mingle with the crowd, you won’t hear anything. How would you be able to do what the customers want? All I have to do is make sure that there is a fair and that I do what people want. Breeders want to meet growers and growers want to meet buyers. It’s as simple as that.”

IFTF is about to start. You’re expanding the size of the fair?
“There will be an additional 30%. It should have been an expansion of 100%, the new hall should have been covered by now. Next year, we’ll have 2 ha. And yes, I’ll be able to fill that. I’m really happy about it. I’ve been begging for years.”

You’re sometimes met with resistance, aren’t you?
“That’s right. I have no idea why. Sometimes it’s personal, but I think it’s business most of the time. I sometimes get in other people’s ways, which makes them worry that they’ll be knocked off their perch. People don’t like that; like AVAG when I started to include technique at IFTF. AVAG started an anti-lobby. Anyway, in Iran I heard that not everyone within AVAG has the same opinion either. There isn’t much I can do about it. These things are mostly related to business interests.”

What about your cooperation with FloraHolland?
“That’s non-existent. I was surprised they called me in Ecuador last week to try and align IFTF and the Royal FloraHolland Trade Fair Aalsmeer, a bit of a mouthful by the way. The auction wants the trade fairs to take place a week later, with regards to All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. The countries where those days are important, like France, Germany and Italy, are not my primary countries, but I’m happy to think along nonetheless. There are so many people visiting the Netherlands in that week, so who am I? It looks like FloraHolland is beginning to take me seriously, though. Even if it might not be wholeheartedly.”

Are they contributing to the shuttle buses?
“No, they did for the first two years, but after that they no longer paid. I’ve never heard why. And at the same time, the number of visitors making use of them is increasing. More and more people visit both fairs. Although the attendance of Dutch growers and Dutch traders lags behind at IFTF. They seem to be quite some stick-in-the-muds. That really surprises me. You have to look further than your own country. But apart from that, I don’t mind that the auction and us have nothing to do with each other. It works. Maybe not that bill for the shuttle buses. It’s nearly € 20,000 after all. That’s a fair bit of money. I’m only being half-serious here. I find the bill for the shuttle buses of secondary importance. What really matters is last week’s phone call, which ensures that the trade fairs are taking place in the same week. That’s important. I think we’re doing pretty okay.”

Had you always been dreaming of a trade fair in the Netherlands?
“Yes, that was my dream. I was in Ethiopia when I heard that Horti Fair had gone belly up. I immediately got on the plane – I was flying Turkish Airlines – and returned to Amsterdam. With IFTF, I grabbed the opportunity straight away. Journalist Jaap Kras once wrote: give Dick an idea and he will persevere. After playing all those ‘away games’, the ‘home game’ was relatively easy. I could apply all the experience I had gained.”

What are your plans?
“I’m trying to optimise existing trade fairs and establish and expand new, smaller trade fairs, such as the one in Iran. In addition, I would really like to organise a World Horticultural Exposition one day. A bit like a Floriade for businesses. An expanded version of IFTF, with maximum activity of growers, breeders and suppliers of dry materials, all gathered in one place. An event that will be visited by end-product buyers as well as by growers and which will last for a week or even longer. Perhaps as a one-off only. There aren’t too many other things on my list. I’m busy enough as it is.”


Dick van Raamsdonk holds a Masters in Economics

Dick van Raamsdonk (58 years) graduated from Eindhoven University of Applied Sciences, after which he studied Economics at the University of Amsterdam. He successfully completed those studies too. After that, he briefly worked for the World Flower Trade Center in Leiden. A little later, he started his own business.
His company was initially called Holland Produkt Promotions and when it entered the international market, the abbreviation became the name; the letters HPP no longer stand for anything in particular. HPP has been located in a building at Saksen Weimarlaan in Amsterdam since 1985. The company organises five fair trades per year. This year, they included the World Flower Expo in Los Angeles, the International Floriculture Trade Expo (IFTEX) in Nairobi, the Iran Green Trade Fair in Tehran, the biennial Agriflor in Quito and the IFTF in Vijfhuizen.

Next year, Van Raamsdonk will be organising the trade fairs in Vijfhuizen, Nairobi and Tehran as well as fairs in Las Vegas and China (Guangzhou). Whether the Hortiflora Expo in Addis Abeba will be going ahead in March 2017, is very uncertain according to Van Raamsdonk.