Every year, millions of Impex drinking water nipples find their way to poultry houses all over the world, where they contribute to the welfare of chickens and the profitability of poultry farmers. And all this because Willem Wentzel made a remarkable discovery in Switzerland…
It’s the late sixties. Miller’s son Willem Wentzel travels the world as an agricultural representative of several international companies. One such trip takes him to Switzerland. There, he basically encounters a drinking water valve by accident. At that time, chickens - and other animals - around the world still drank from open troughs and gutters. If the first animal at the gutter is sick, the chances of that disease spreading are high. The stagnant, open water is also a source of bacteria and fungi. Moreover, when manure enters the water, ammonia emissions shoot up into the air.
The Swiss valve that Willem Wentzel has in his hands? It’s a complex product, with lots of small components. Screws, rubbers, adjusting screws; laborious to make, vulnerable in the poultry house. But he can do something about that. Wentzel mainly sees potential. A solution to improve drinking water quality and hygiene in poultry houses worldwide.
With his wife Elizabeth, the young Willem Wentzel decides to take the plunge. Impex was founded in the attic of their home in 1971. It’s hard work in those early years. During the day, Willem deals with orders at the farmer’s kitchen table or stands in the poultry house in overalls installing drinking systems, while Elizabeth takes care of the administration and correspondence from home. At night, he regularly gets into his old bus to Switzerland to take care of the nipple production there. The opportunity that the enterprising couple sees? They grab it at exactly the right moment. Until the early seventies, poultry farmers in the Netherlands were not allowed to keep more than 600 chickens. This changed precisely when Impex introduced its first automatic drinking water systems to the market. With tens of thousands of chickens in the poultry house, automation suddenly becomes interesting for poultry farmers. In the early years, Impex took full advantage of the intensification of Dutch poultry farming.
But the real growth, Willem Wentzel realizes, is across the border. That’s where the really big farms are, that’s where the volumes are. He already has international experience and the first contacts. And so, in those early years, he got on a plane right away. Grabbed his bag, put a sandwich in it and off to Schiphol Airport. “We were the first in Asia with drinking nipples. I had to screw them into bamboo sticks for demonstrations.”
Willem Wentzel is rapidly building up an international dealer network. Japan to Chile and from Canada to Australia. His secret? Do your homework properly and invest in relationships. “Many representatives saw a trade show as a holiday trip. Afterward, they boarded the first plane back home. I often stayed for another two weeks. I then visited companies I’d made contacts with at the show. I wanted to know what they were facing, how I could help them and share knowledge about poultry. That’s how you build relationships and build trust.”
It’s typical of Willem Wentzel. Social and committed. Always a keen eye for cultural differences. And above all loyal. “Of course, as an entrepreneur, you have to keep a sharp eye on your returns. But we don’t switch suppliers easily if someone else can make it just that little bit cheaper. And we stick to our dealers, in good times and bad. Impex has always gone for the long haul. Continuity is worth much more than quick profits.”
Willem Wentzel combines this loyalty and reliability with a healthy dose of courage and business acumen. When Impex’s rapid growth necessitates expansion, the young entrepreneur decides to move to Barneveld. The heart of the Dutch poultry sector, with a large number of agricultural suppliers and educational institutions that attract poultry students from all over the world. Impex builds on growth. In the early years, perhaps only half of the premises then were used. But Wentzel has faith. That’s enough. And he was right, as various expansions of the business premises followed. The name Barneveld on a business card turns out to be of great value. It opens doors abroad, while Impex can also regularly join forces with other international poultry players from the village, such as Jansen Poultry Equipment. A good example is a project in Siberia, where Impex is laying no fewer than 105 kilometers of drinking water pipes with more than a quarter of a million nipples.
At least as important? This is the continuous focus on quality and innovation, with the acquisition of a factory in Germany as an important milestone. We’ve had our nipples made there for years. On the issue of business succession, Impex decided to take over the factory. We did this not only to ensure continuity of production, but also because it gave us more opportunities to develop new systems and products,” says son Richard Wentzel.
Since 2007, he has been at the helm of the 100% family business. How do the first and second generations of Wentzel differ from each other? “My father was a real pioneer. He had that mercantile spirit, an unerring eye for opportunity. But he was also very sociable. I learned a lot from him about how to do international business and maintain relationships. He also always insisted on reliability. It’s important what you say, but even more important what you do,” Richard says of his father.
Conversely, Willem Wentzel sees how his son successfully responds to changes in the global poultry market. And how Impex made the transition: first from a trading company to a producer, and now to strengthening its international position as a knowledge supplier in the field of drinking water management. “He looks at this company with a businesslike, economic view. He always thinks about how Impex can improve, while at the same time keeping a sharp eye on the human dimension and the connection with the end user. This is important in the agricultural sector. You have to understand that a poultry farmer not only runs a business, but also has a heart for his animals. In this sector, you do business at the kitchen table, not in the boardroom.”