Group De Cloedt is leveraging the four arms of its ever-evolving organisation to not only align itself with the latest trends in dredging, but also to surpass the industry curve while expanding its service and geographical coverage.
Maintaining the family-owned values which have become synonymous with the company over the past 130 years has seemingly struck a perfect balance with the ongoing strive to find new and innovative ways to remain proactive in the industry.
This doesn’t just revolve around core dredging works either, with Group De Cloedt still entrepreneurial and flexible enough to branch out into new fields of work, including operations in sea defences, onshore quarries and decontamination of soil and sediments to complement its four key divisions.
These sectors comprise aggregates, environment, dredging and contracting and, following the most recent ownership shift at the turn of this century, the past 10 years has seen these entities pull together to form a formidable industry offering.
“2004 was the new start of Group De Cloedt, independent of all other major dredging companies,” said Jef De Brabandere. “We have these four branches but they’re not clear cut because there are large synergies and collaboration between all those companies.
“We can be flexible to find the best solution. If we are working on a simple project, then one company might be able to deal with it on its own. When bigger projects come along, especially within contracting works, we can look at how best to deal with it and combine the efforts and competencies from across the group.”
Sand and gravel
The synergies achieved within Group De Cloedt are especially common between the aggregates and environmental divisions, enhancing the company’s core focus within sand and gravel significantly.
Being able to transport the contents of a dredging operation along with the decontaminated materials from nearby soil cleaning centres ensures transport efficiencies are enhanced also, and is an example of the ongoing strategy the company is adhering to.
The focus on sand and gravel, in particular, also gives Group De Cloedt a key differentiator in the market, as De Brabandere explained:
“Most dredging companies have also gone into the building world too, building ports and harbours as well as getting involved in maintenance dredging.
“We have not gone into maintenance as much in the past, optimising our dredging vessels for specialised works in sand and gravel, and aggregate production instead.”
Capitalising on its prominence in this area has already paid dividends, and also encourages the company to continue investing in and developing its vessels, technologies and procedures within the general dredging arena.
Group De Cloedt has also made giant strides since the 1990s in its role in the water ways, combining its own fleet of 11 barges with a further 20 almost exclusively working for the business to transport over four million tonnes of sand and gravel, primarily around Belgium, Holland and France to its own terminals, or directly to customers, in the most sustainable way possible.
While Group De Cloedt is keen to maintain the significant market advantage it now holds in its general dredging works, the flexible nature of the business is also allowing expansion into new opportunities, bringing about both operational and geographical growth.
This has largely been achieved through acquisitions including, at the start of 2014, the 50 percent acquisition of Carrières du Fond des Vaulx’s shares, in an attempt to boost the company’s presence in the European aggregates market.
Similarly, the entire sale of the Société d’Exploitation des Carrières d’Yvoir SA Company to Group De Cloedt is the latest in a series of quarry purchases to once again strengthen its saturation of the local market.
“In addition to the offshore work, we have also bought, with a partner, an existing, state-of-the-art shipyard in Ostend,” added Business Development Director, Patrick Degryse. “We started it up again in August and since then we have already carried out the maintenance of several vessels for public authorities.”
The industry trend towards larger quantities with less specialisation is one that the company has more strategically veered towards in its own way, again leveraging acquisitions such as these with its intertwining divisions.
In regards to sustainability, this has been especially significant, with the use of its contaminated soil accepting terminals in Paris and London not only adding a further string to the company bow, but also strengthening the company’s presence overseas and its subsequent client relationships across the continent.
When first branching out as a company in its current state a decade ago, competition was stiff and market growth was not simple to come by, but the progress made in just 10 years justifies the culture and continuous improvement strategy that Group De Cloedt has stayed true to.
“As we say in Holland, ‘work brings along other works’, so if the people can see that you are professional and can manage projects in a certain way, that is still the key to success,” explained De Brabandere.
This has led to opportunities and success in relatively new sectors including inland navigation transport, recycling projects, beach nourishment contracts and even at sea assistance in oil recovery operations under the environmental strategy.
“Especially in Northern Europe, coastal defences have become common work based on the climate change issue,” De Brabandere said.
Degryse added: “A lot of authorities are looking into the best way to deal with this, by making the beaches higher to stop the water coming in after bad storms. It’s important to have the man power and right equipment.”
Group De Cloedt has both those commodities in abundance, and with ongoing training and skill recruitment occurring to ensure that these new requirements are met, the range of skill sets available to the company is only set to expand further in the future.
“I think the sustainable growth and the consolidation of what we have achieved should be taken as a major goal for the coming years,” De Brabandere concluded. “However, to begin with we thought about consolidation, but then we see opportunities come around, such as our recent Danish expansion, and we are in a position where we can say, ‘let’s go for it’.”
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