SyncForce: Eindhoven company helps world brands
Published in: Eindhovens Dagblad April 2017
EINDHOVEN – Strepsils, Durex condoms, Van Dobben croquettes, Lays potato chips and Frico cheese. Before they appear in stores or webshops, products from almost 4000 brands go through the software programs of SyncForce in Eindhoven.
Less sugar. Warnings of ingredients that can cause allergic reactions. An app that lets you scan your pork products in the supermarket to find out where they come from. The pressure on food manufacturers to innovate and to be transparent has never been greater.
This is the driving force behind the growth of Eindhoven software company SyncForce, says its director Hans de Gier. “A large manufacturer produces 10,000 new or changed products each year. Nobody can keep all that under control. Our software enables all those changes to be managed within a single system. And it ensures that every product has all the right information, in all the required languages, both in the store and in the webshop.”
De Gier talks to the top managers of global companies. For example Reckitt Benckiser, with brands like Dettol, Durex, Cillit Bang, Clearasil and Strepsils accounting for annual sales of 16 billion euros. And Pepsico, which no longer offers cola drinks but, for example, markets Lays potato chips and Tropicana fruit juices. Friesland Campina is an important customer in our own country, and so is Zwanenberg Food Group, whose products include Kips liverwurst. In the building and DIY market, water pipe manufacturer Wavin and its owner Bolton, which produces the Bison brand adhesives, are among our customers. And Philips Lighting, Vredestein and Brabantia are also users of SyncForce software.
De Gier and his company recently stepped into the limelight with their nomination for the BOV trophy for Beste Ondernemers Visie (Best Business Vision) in Eindhoven. The big question was: how did the company, with a staff of 35, manage to get on board with all those multinationals?
Answer No. 1: SyncForce is unique. Hans de Gier uses that word with caution, but there’s nothing else that he can say. That’s because SyncForce offers the one software program that does everything: managing the product changes in all the relevant departments of a company, and making sure that the right product information is added to the products, both online and offline.
“And we’re certainly unique because the internal decision-making process within customers’ companies is included in the system. From the multi-year strategy right through to concepts and decisions about which projects are given priority.”
Answer No. 2: SyncForce has been working for the past 16 years on just one product. “That was just by accident”, says De Gier. “Back in 1999 the company thought up a solution ‘in the cloud’, which meant data is stored on external servers. This allows changes to be carried out quickly. And that’s a big advantage in this time of continuous changes in manufacturers’ product ranges”, says De Gier.
At the start of the company, there were three customers who were looking for a solution that would let them digitalize their libraries of product and advertising images. “But they didn’t know which images were stored at which locations in all their disk drives. Because we were working for three customers at the same time, we built a generic system", De Gier recalls. And during that process SyncForce also started to record product information, and created digital product catalogs.
The company has grown by an average of 26 percent each year over the past three years. Practical examples show how SyncForce benefits from the changes in the manufacturers’ markets.
“Sugar is now the enemy. Every manufacturer wants to change, but in a gradual way. Take Icetea Green for example, which is switching over to the natural sweetener Stevia. That means the product provides a completely different taste experience. If you were to switch over all at once, you could lose all your consumers”. And that explains the series of small changes in products like this.
That product may differ from one market to another. In countries around the Mediterranean Sea, where consumers are used to tea with a lot of sugar, the Ice Tea, for example, isn’t such an issue.
But what’s in the product and how it’s described on the label has to be correct. The legislation is becoming stricter all the time. Product recalls can have disastrous consequences, both financially and in terms of loss of image. SyncForce is developing a system that scans labels automatically as images. “That allows a check to be made of whether the barcode is legible and correct. And of whether the logo of the CE product-approval marking has the required width of 6 mm.”
Business is good for SyncForce. One of the areas in which the company is involved is the increasing levels of consumer advice on product usage. “In the Praxis DIY stores, you can get advice about which type of Bison adhesive is the best choice if you want to stick aluminium to wood. Changes in Bison’s product range are carried out every night through our system.”
The number of customers is constantly increasing, says De Gier. But he has turned down some big names. They wanted to store their data on their own servers, instead of in the cloud. But that’s out of the question as far as SyncForce is concerned, because it doesn’t allow the required update speed to be achieved, De Gier explains.
Douwe Egberts, which markets coffee as well as Pickwick tea, is the latest addition to the ranks of SyncForce’s customers. “With Friesland Campina and Douwe Egberts, that means two of the five biggest brands in the Dutch supermarkets now use SyncForce’s software solutions.”