Time for an Upgrade


“We should be prouder of what we achieve in Belgium”, says Bert Vandenkendelaere, Sales and Marketing Director at Unilin Panels. 
Bert (37) is still young, but with 12 years at Unilin under his belt, he’s an expert in the wood(craft) industry. Over a decade of experience and knowledge to tap into, and visions of his beloved industry that he was happy to share with us. 
“During my decade working at Unilin, we’ve certainly faced quite a few challenges,” Bert shares. “In the last few years, these challenges seem to be following one another more quickly than they used to. It’s hard to stay competitive in today’s global market. Countries like China and Turkey, for example, are fierce competitors in our market. They manage to market cheaper products than we do. Labour costs are high in Belgium, and since the war in Ukraine, energy and raw material costs have increased as well, the impact of all of this often has us starting on the back foot. On top of that, different legislation for Belgian and European versus international companies adds more pressure and, unfortunately, creates an unequal playing field. Our policymakers urgently need to work on a solid Industrial Deal”. 
Challenges keep us on our toes and stimulate our innovative spirit
“There is opportunity in challenge and crisis though,” Bert says. “Challenges stimulate our will to innovate, and at Unilin we happen to be very strong in this, the DNA of our company is innovation. We pride ourselves in continuing to invest in new ways of thinking, working, and producing by researching and applying new technologies. We give special attention to how we approach our people and make an effort to invest in them. Our training hub, ‘The Dive’, is a great example of this. It’s our in-house education centre in which we educate through training, hands-on experience, and by giving our people a platform to share”. 
Bert continues: “At Unilin we also recognise the power of marketing, something we, as little Belgians, often overlook. Innovation needs to be marketable, but also has to be marketed”. 
We must have the courage to be more daring
“Innovation, to me, means having the courage to be more daring,” Bert says. “Daring to, when necessary, make a clean slate with what we know and rethink how we’ve always done things. We need to work towards the future, not live in the past”.  
Our Wood(craft) industry needs an image upgrade
“For a very long time now, our wood(craft) industry has been suffering from an image problem,” Bert shares. “It seems like our identity stays glued to images of old-fashioned manual labour and pictures of green forests, but I can assure you, we are way more than that!”
Bert: “We’re a future-forward industry, pushing technological progress. The industry has a huge number of companies that house impressive technology and are dedicated to advancing the latest developments. Our high-tech sector is a true playground for engineers and designers alike. Highlighting this can change the perception about wood(craft), even for those who don’t work in our field”. 
“Another great quality of our industry is wood itself,” Bert adds. “Wood is a wonderful material to work with. It has a warm character, leads to beautiful creations, and you find it all around us, buildings and objects that improve our day-to-day lives. Wood captures carbon and is therefore also a valuable material in sustainable creation and innovation”. 
As consumers we have a responsibility to change our perspectives and behaviours just as much as the industry does
“As consumers, I believe we have our part to play in enhancing our industries as well,” Bert shares. “In terms of sustainability, for example, our behaviours are often contrary to the mindset we claim to have. We recognise the benefits of buying more sustainably, but at the same time, continue to turn to cheaper products that rank lower on the ecology scale, by doing so, we continue to reach back to global export products”. 
“I believe Belgian designers, architects, and government projects should try to source as local as possible, choosing sustainability and promoting our local businesses and trade”. 
Thank you, Bert, for sharing your expertise, experience, and views with us.