What Swapfiets is for the cycling student, Swapcouch could be for the student in a rented room. Those who would rather not buy their own furniture can lease it from Bendix and Maurice’s company.
Bendix Zijlstra (23) lives in a spacious, brand-new studio on Akkerstraat. Elsewhere in the building, construction workers are putting the finishing touches on the latest housing units in what was once the mighty Noorderkerk church. Bendix’ room is within 100 metres of the Noorderplantsoen park. He had just completed his International Business (IBS) degree programme when he went for a walk in the park with his good friend Maurice Panman (also 23).
The fellow graduates had a pretty good idea of what the immediate future held. 2019-20 would be the year of the pre-Master’s programme in Finance, a year that would prepare them for the real thing: the Master’s degree in Finance at the University of Groningen.
‘With our backgrounds, we can certainly enter the international business sector within a couple of years’, said Maurice. ‘But, in the meantime, we are enterprising people. That calls us, too.’
When you first arrive, you have so much on your mind. Unfamiliar surroundings, a work placement assignment, new colleagues…
Being your own boss, the adventure. That was the topic of discussion during their walk. But the conversation really got going when they suddenly realised what they would put on the market. Swapcouch: a furniture leasing company.
You thought, if you can do it with a bike, you can do it with a couch.
Bendix: ‘Definitely. Both of us went abroad for a work placement: St. Petersburg and London for Maurice, and Jakarta and Berlin for me. When you first arrive, you have so much on your mind. Unfamiliar surroundings, a work placement assignment, new colleagues… In some cases, you have to find a room on your own. And once you have it, obviously you have no idea where to go to find a decent bed, chairs and a comfy two-seater sofa.’
So, in Groningen, you’re the ones to talk to.
Bendix: ‘It’s that simple. They don’t have to go looking, because we deliver the items to their door and, as part of our service, provide a replacement if there are any problems. The furniture is and remains our property.’
It’s important to point out: we deliver furniture in excellent condition
Maurice: ‘Our furniture is pretty sturdy. Yes, you’re right, you could call it idiot-proof. Look, we’re aware that students don’t always treat furniture carefully. Wilfully destroying things is a different story, of course. That’s why you pay a deposit. But regular wear and tear is not an issue. You understand that when you rent furniture.’
Bendix: ‘It’s important to point out: we deliver furniture in excellent condition. Not new, but as good as new.’
How do you get your inventory, and where do you keep it?
Maurice: ‘We have contracts with a couple of suppliers that are able to deliver quickly whenever we need more items. That’s the idea, after all; we want to grow.’
The number of international students in the Netherlands is steadily growing, and we are growing with it
Bendix: ‘Our furniture is currently stored in an old drying loft in Friesland. It takes half an hour by car to get there. Fortunately, as of 1 January we will have a warehouse in Groningen.’
What about the finance side of things?
Bendix: ‘So far, we haven’t had to recruit any external backers.’
Maurice: ‘Currently, turnover is still less than €1,000 a month. Not enough, perhaps, but we’re still in the start-up phase. February will be a crucial moment. That’s when the current crop of exchange students leaves, and the next crop arrives. That’s when we’ll be able to see whether the concept catches on.’
Bendix: ‘We have a solid foundation. Once business is really up and running, we will most definitely be interesting to investors. The number of international students in the Netherlands is steadily growing, and we are growing with it.’
Maurice: ‘If it doesn’t work out, we will sell the furniture. The risk is quite manageable.’