Sales up with support of Enterprise Europe Network (EEN)
Simon’s Bow Company uses new techniques to make traditional bows from sustainable wood. Looking for an international partner, owner Simon van der Heijden turned to the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN). ‘I had already approached a fair number of companies but EEN ensured I was taken more seriously.’ With EEN’s support, Simon found a partner in the Czech Republic. ‘As a result, my production volume has almost doubled, sales are up by 50%, and I can supply my customers more quickly’.
The Enterprise Europe Network was set up by the European Commission to support SMEs in international trade and innovation. EEN comprises more than 450 organisations, including Oost NL, which operates in over 50 countries. These organisations quickly find partners and information for SMEs wishing to grow internationally.
What exactly are traditional bows? Simon: ‘They’re the kind of bows used in the past that weren’t fitted with any gadgets. Unlike modern bows, there are no sights or stabilisers. Traditional archery is currently growing in popularity.’
For his bows, the artisanal entrepreneur from Velp uses ‘sustainable sources’. ‘No tropical hardwood. My wood comes from Austria. It is fast-growing and doesn’t need to be strong; glues make it strong. I work with stabilised wood that resembles plywood; imitation hardwood consisting of different layers of wood. Beautiful and strong.’
Traditional archery is ‘much more challenging’
Simon explains why traditional bows appeal to him so much: ‘Not having sights means it’s a different way of shooting. You shoot instinctively. Just like when you throw a stone; you throw intuitively and the more you practise, the better your feel for it. With Olympic archery, you need to adjust your sights, but you don’t need to do that with traditional archery. I think that is really cool, and it’s a lot more challenging. It’s a matter of feeling and experience.’
Simon’s bows are used a lot at competitions in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In the Netherlands they are being bought in dribs and drabs; compared with the countries mentioned above there aren’t many competitions in our country. Simon also makes what are known as horse bows, designed for shooting while riding. ‘The bow is slightly shorter, which is easier to shoot on horseback.’ His horse bows can be found all over the world. Most of the bows are used for sport and hobbies while the occasional customer - in Finland and the USA - uses them for hunting.
You need more than a bow though, so what about the arrows? ‘I do make arrows but only standard sets as there are too many possible variations. The fanatics either make their own or buy them from an arrow specialist.’
How it started: a boy with a hobby in a forest
How did Simon’s love of bows begin? ‘I grew up in the woods. My parents used to rent a house from the Dutch equivalent of the National Trust (Natuurmonumenten). One day, I saw a book about people whose hobby was making bows from wood. I thought it was great and wanted to be able to do it too. It was a hobby of mine for a long time until a few years ago. Then I thought that if I wanted to take it further, I’d have to do it now. That was when I took a more ambitious approach. I was a boy with a hobby in a forest; now I’m a step further.’
When started out, he only used wood, but nowadays Simon uses wood bonded with composites such as fibreglass. ‘It still looks traditional but the materials are stronger and more user-friendly. Their action is comparable with modern bows.’
Simon looked for support from the EEN network. Why? ‘It isn’t easy practising an old craft and managing finances, as it involves so much work. I started looking for ways of increasing production. There’s a lot of demand; I have a nine-month waiting list. Financially, it would be better if I were to produce more bows, but how was I going to manage that? I use modern techniques in the workshop, but all the sanding, varnishing and finishing can only be done by hand and not by a machine. The idea of outsourcing work came to Simon from shrimps. ‘I read an article about Dutch shrimps that are sent to Morocco to be peeled before coming back to our country. I realised that I could outsource the finishing work; that’s the easiest part of the process. It couldn’t have a detrimental effect on the quality.’
After some online searching, Simon came across the EEN website and found Christa Pieffers, Senior Project Manager at Oost NL and Liaison Officer for the Enterprise Europe Network. ‘The first time we spoke, I had a good feeling about them. I explained in an online meeting what I was looking for. Once we’d created a profile, the search could begin. In terms of price, Eastern Europe is appealing and they have the necessary skills. In the end, I started a collaborative partnership with a Czech company, with EEN initially acting as an intermediary.’
‘I think EEN is particularly helpful for small businesses. If you’re bigger, you have probably already made serious contacts. As a small business, that can be hard-going, so that’s when a network like EEN has real added value. I’ve even recommended EEN to my neighbour, who is also a business owner.’
Oost NL has been affiliated with the Enterprise Europe Network since January 2022. Christa continues: Simon’s Bow Company was one of the first companies that we helped. I’m delighted that we were able to find a suitable partner in the Czech Republic. Going forward, we are now looking for partners for a new model of bow that is easier to produce and outsource.’