15 August 2022
15 August 2022, Comments Comments Off on Marie Boulanger – Thetford
Marie Boulanger - Thetford

Think globally, act local

We interview Thetford Europe’s rising star, Marie Boulanger, who after 14 years with the company, and at the age of only 37, has been promoted to the position of Sales and Marketing Director. Aboutcamp BtoB speaks to Marie Boulanger to find out more about her career with Thetford, and her new responsibilities

Words John Rawlings

Please could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your career?
Marie Boulanger: I am 37 and started at Thetford in 2008. I am originally from France, but after graduating from my Masters in Law and meeting my (now) husband, I moved to the Netherlands and was looking for a job. Thetford was looking for native French speakers for its sales department, and I was offered a job with responsibility for internal sales for France and the south European markets, including Spain (as I also speak Spanish). I quickly progressed to new business development in 2010/2011, looking at new opportunities in emerging countries with the potential for growth. I got the assignment of going to China to look for opportunities, which is how we set up our operations in the China market. In about 2013 there was a vacancy on the business analysis side of Thetford. This involved worldwide sales forecasting and establishing processes and new tools. That role grew quickly, and in 2014 I became the manager of internal sales; then, in 2015, I also became the sales manager of Scandinavia: more and more responsibilities! In 2017, our CEO, Stéphane Cordeille, asked me to be the General Manager for most of the European market, except for Benelux and UK, including responsibility for customer service. Most recently, I was asked to be Thetford’s Sales and Marketing Director. I have really enjoyed the ride and opportunities to grow with Thetford. I have experienced all aspects of the business, including finance and supply chains. On top of all this, I have three daughters aged from 11 to 4. I want my girls to become independent women and stand up for themselves. I believe in the ability to be a mother and a professional women. I love being a mother and I enjoy working.

What are your specific responsibilities in your new role as Sales and Marketing Director?
Marie Boulanger: My current responsibilities are sales, product management, marketing and customer service. We have a lot of subsidiaries all over the world, led by our key account managers. The key account managers in Europe, Australia and China all report to me. Thetford prefers to grow its own people rather than recruiting new people to bring into the business. Most of the leadership team have built a career with Thetford. They all have a lot of experience in Thetford and in our RV market. This is what we prefer.

What are the challenges of your responsibility or involvement with Thetford in North America, Australia or China and Korea?
Marie Boulanger: Thetford America is lead by Mary Pouliot. The challenge of the European markets are the very different mind sets – something that the Americans don’t have to deal with. In Europe, we have so many different cultures – a challenge that we manage very well at Thetford by guiding the global approach but offering the opportunity to act local. We are very close to our customers and have subsidiaries in those countries who know the culture. That also counts for China and Australia. In both areas, Thetford is represented by a highly professional team. We do business in South Korea managed by our team in China.

How does Thetford support its OEM customers in Europe?
Marie Boulanger: We are structured with key account managers all over Europe – France, Italy, UK, Germany, etc. We really value having key managers who speak the local language to fully understand each OEM. Customer intimacy – being close to our customers and understanding their needs – is a key value for Thetford. We contact our customers regularly and consult them as much as we can on future products. Customer service is also a key pillar at Thetford. Customer service engineers travel to OEMs to help them install products and to ensure we have a close understanding of them and what they expect from us as a supplier. This is why we have customer service engineers all over Europe, and Australia and China as well. We also work with our OEM customers via our R&D and marketing departments; for example, we developed our iNDUS smart sanitation system with an OEM and supported them with some joint marketing initiatives. Next to the OEM business, part of our sales staff focuses on the aftermarket, to give all our customers our attention and best understanding. The aftermarket is just as important for us as the OEM market.

What other sectors does Thetford supply, other than the caravan/RV market?
Marie Boulanger: Thetford is mostly active in the caravan/RV sector, but we also supply the DIY and leisure markets, and are active in the marine industry through our Tecma brand, which offers sanitation solutions for the marine sector. For the marine business we have a dedicated team in Italy fully focussing on this specific market and responsible for growing this business worldwide. It is a separate business unit and does not report to me, but we do have a lot of interaction.

How important are environmental issues to Thetford and your customers? Is Thetford reducing the environmental impact and carbon footprint of its products?
Marie Boulanger: We all have a responsibility for the environment and to leave the world in a better shape than it is today and it is something I am very passionate about. I have children and this is an important issue for them. We cannot ignore it. Thetford really wants to act upon this instead of just waiting for the regulations to kick in. We have put in place a sustainability group with people from different disciplines within the company. We want to accelerate Thetford’s shift to a more sustainable way of developing products and reducing our environmental impact. We also want to develop products with recycled materials and reduce waste in the supply chain. We are brainstorming how we can act in a more sustainable way within the company. This goes across the whole organisation, not just concerning our products. Our new waste management system, iNDUS was developed to use less water by reusing grey water for flushing the toilet. Next to that, the iNDUS toilet uses a water saving macerator pump, bringing the use of flush water to the low level of a cassette toilet. For the sake of comparison, an iNDUS flush uses 200 to 500 ml per flush where at home we use between 3 and 10 litres. The iNDUS system also uses an automatic dosing system for the additives to avoid using too much and to make sure it is discharged without damaging the environment. We have only launched this smart sanitation system recently, but want to roll it out much more. In terms of Thetford’s carbon footprint, we are also working on reducing this. We are measuring the impact of our operations, and based on these results, we will search for ways to lower it. For example, we are working with OEMs to reduce the amount of packaging and also reviewing our ways of producing electricity and investing in solar panels. Our fridges have also been developed with the environment in mind, with a shift away from gas-powered appliances to electricity. Our electric compressor fridges have been developed to have a lower power consumption, and there are features to save power, such as being able to turn the freezer section off if it is not being used. We will continue to focus on sustainability for all our products. We are also asking our suppliers to see what they can do to reduce their carbon footprint so that we can also reduce ours. We have created an innovation hub where every employee can suggest any ideas they have – on anything. It opens opportunities for staff anywhere in the company, anywhere in the world, to post their ideas, and all of them will be evaluated. This hub is not only a way to post ideas, but also a way for us to post some questions to employees to challenge them to come up with ideas. We have already collected some good suggestions with a focus on sustainability as well.

What about the additives?
Marie Boulanger: We want to reduce the environmentally impact of every product; for example, our concentrated additives use smaller bottles, so they reduce the use of plastic, carton packaging and our transportation requirements to get them to the market, which means less pollution. For example, a truck with our traditional Aqua Kem Blue 2-litre bottles would have to do three trips compared to just one truck of Aqua Kem Blue Concentrated that will do the same job. The additives we sell may sound unsustainable but, first of all, by the time people discharge their waste, the chemicals are already dissolved so they are allowed to be discharged in the regular sewage system without causing pollution. As long as our products are used as they should be, they should not really harm anything. All our additives, including our blue products, comply with biodegradability requirements for detergents. We constantly work on improvement of our products, both in terms of functionality as in terms of sustainability. Our Aqua Kem Green Concentrated and PowerPods Bio can safely be discharged in sceptic tanks. Younger buyers tend to buy our green products, so we must make sure this message is out there.

How is Thetford managing to supply the market with the current supply chain issues?
Marie Boulanger: Everybody has been confronted with the challenge of supply chain issues. Our CEO, Stéphane Cordeille, has been a good visionary for this crisis. He saw the ramp up of demand so he implemented a strategy called ‘meet the demand’ and took the decision to boost the operations at Thetford production facilities. We set up regular meetings to share sales forecasts and our understanding of the market and what type of products to order, so we were ahead of the game. He forced the whole organisation to plan for the biggest growth of the market ever. Feedback from our OEM customers has been that we have been the best at maintaining supply to them. They did not have to stop their production because of Thetford and have been very transparent if there were any issues so we could find solutions together. The situation became more and more difficult in 2021, but due to our strategy of having close relationships with our customers and monitoring our suppliers very closely, we kept a constant loop of communications. Our sales team contacts our supply chain and our customers all the time to ensure that we manage all supply chain issues together. We have done a good job – without being arrogant. Sometimes we have had to pay more to get our supplies, but we have managed the supply chain successfully. We don’t want to be the weakest link. Due to our focus on ‘meet the demand’, we had to slow down some product development projects. Looking at all the supply chain challenges, it has been the right decision despite the fact we would have liked to put more effort on innovation and new product developments.

What is your strategy for Thetford’s marketing in the era of digital communications and the constant growth of social media?
Marie Boulanger: Our marketing used to be very traditional but we are moving quickly towards a more balanced on- and offline approach. We are putting much more of a focus on our digital communication, our website, and our app for the Indus system, for instance. There is now much more of a focus on the digital side of things and we are really boosting our social media activities. For example, we are creating some digital campaigns with competitions for people to win things. However, there are still some things you don’t buy online, like a fridge or an RV, so we cannot fully shift to an online approach. We need to find the right balance. Norbert Van Noesel, our Marketing Manager is doing an amazing job with his team, and we have the right talent. It is a journey, but we need a good balance. We are accelerating massively on digital with initiatives like Thetford Friends, for example, so we can attract them and interact with end consumers and address their needs better. We can get feedback much quicker online. We are still learning and progressing fast in this area. Maybe our most important marketing tool is the service we provide and we can do this even better with online digital products, such as moving away from producing printed manuals to having videos. All departments are working together on this as the whole company needs to support the digital communications strategy.

What are Thetford’s intentions or strategy regarding attending exhibitions in Europe?
Marie Boulanger: This year, we are taking an in-between approach. For 2022 we decided to exhibit at the Caravan Salon Düsseldorf and Le Bourget in Paris, but we have decided that in the future we want to go back to one exhibition in each main RV country – to support our partners and end users. We need this constant interaction with the market, especially for customer service reasons.
You cannot completely replace actually meeting people and letting them see the products, and showing them how they work. We will go back to our new normal presence next year. We don’t believe in skipping these shows as they are very valuable to us.

Thetford seems to always be developing and improving its product range. Can you tell us if we will see any new products at this year’s Caravan Salon Düsseldorf?
Marie Boulanger: We have had to put innovation on a slight back burner at the moment because of having to put so much focus on the supply chain. For the same reasons, there have also been less innovations from the OEMs, but I am sure this will change in the next few years. Unfortunately, we cannot disclose anything further at the time being about what we will be introducing at the Caravan Salon Düsseldorf.