In Depth: Mark Verhaar & Dick-Jan de Blaeij – Directors Who See Service as Their Top Priority

Quickly responding 24/7 is very important in the maritime industry as well as within inland shipping, directors Mark Verhaar and Dick-Jan de Blaeij of Verhaar Omega B.V. say.

“When customers call us, they expect to have a technician as soon as possible. This kind of service is still our main focus and has made Verhaar Omega the company it is today.”

Verhaar Omega is a supplier of bow- and stern thrusters and main propulsion. Since the company was founded in 1967 by Jan Verhaar it has a strong position in both the national and international shipping industry. Worldwide Verhaar Omega installed more than 4,500 bow thruster-units for inland shipping and maritime transport. As we speak, Verhaar Omega counts 25 employees, distributed across locations in Sassenheim and Zwijndrecht, both in the Netherlands.

This year, directors Verhaar and De Blaeij have been working for Verhaar Omega for 20 years. Back in the day, Mark Verhaar, son of the founder Jan Verhaar, started out in the service team. In that same period De Blaeij started working for Verhaar Omega, immediately after graduating his Mechanical Bachelor.

“I started within the engineering department and I was also responsible for the production. Over the years I have held different positions in the company, from accounting to acquisition, and have subsequently grown in my role as director”, De Blaeij tells us.

Market outlook

He continues: “Originally the team consisted of a small group of six men, including Jan Verhaar, when Mark and I started. In those years, we focused entirely on inland shipping in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.”

In 2008 Mark and Dick-Jan joined the company with each 20 per cent of the shares. With them joining Jan Verhaar the company name changed into Verhaar Omega BV.

De Blaeij: “From that moment we start concentrating more on the international market and we expanded our product range, with our tunnel bow thrusters, so we could becomes better established in the maritime industry as well.”

By focusing on the international market and the maritime industry, Verhaar Omega grew even more. After five years, Verhaar and De Blaeij took over the company in 2013 with both 45 per cent share.

Counters disadvantages

Since Verhaar and De Blaeij started twenty years ago a lot has changed. Because of demands from the market for a more comprehensive package they expanded their range of products even more. One of their new products is the Verhaar Omega V-POD.

“Four years ago we introduced the V-POD into the market. The V-POD is an electric propulsion and maneuvering system which can replace the conventional propeller-shaft line and rudder. Because the electric motor is located in the housing under water, the V-POD is a so-called Pod drive. The V-POD counters all the well-known disadvantages of existing POD drives, thanks to the high propulsion efficiency”, Verhaar explains.

Increased demand for more sustainability and efficiency

De Blaeij admits that the development of the V-POD came about after an idea from a different product. “The idea was to generate propulsion for ships to sail without ballast. Because a mechanical solution was proven to be too difficult, we came up with an electric solution. With this electric solution we already had a new product in our hands. So instead of developing the propulsion for ballast free ships, we decided to concentrate on this electric solution: The V-POD.” Verhaar agrees: “Also in this period, there was an increased demand for more sustainability and efficiency. Our response was the V-POD.” 

Verhaar continues: “The V-POD is 25 per cent more efficient and can be placed on any vessel. We provide the installation for both inland vessels and yachts. But most demand comes from the seagoing vessels”.

Great success

Like other new products, bringing the V-POD on the market wasn’t easy. Verhaar explains that companies were afraid to be the first to try a new product like the V-POD, because there is always a risk.

“The first customer of the V-POD was an existing customer and he believed in the V-POD, so he granted us the order for four vessels. These vessels have gone into service and are running great. From that moment on there has been a lot of attention for the V-POD. For example, last year we installed the V-POD on De Volharding 6 and it turned out to be a great success.”

Meanwhile, worldwide, several vessels have been installed with the V-POD since 2012 and there are new applications coming in.

“Last month we signed a deal for a lift boat project with two V-Pod’s and two tunnel thrusters”, De Blaeij proudly announces. “A great opportunity and probably there will more down the road.”

In order to generate more international success, Verhaar Omega has employed Hans Hoek as International Sales Director. With Hans, Verhaar Omega has got a very experienced and well established sales person.

Fast developments

“The developments in the past few years went fast, perhaps too fast”, Verhaar says. “We started with V-PODS with 500kW, but meanwhile we deliver them up to 2,500kW. A big step in a short period of time. Ships are getting bigger and the market demands more power, so we had to take this step.” 

In the years to come Verhaar Omega BV will focus on this segment. “At the moment we will not go beyond 2,500kW. For now, and the nearby future this will be the market where we want to operate.” Here, there are a lot of opportunities, Verhaar and De Blaeij explain, because there is little competition. Verhaar: “The only competition for the V-POD are the companies that start at 3,000kW.”

When asked whether Verhaar Omega BV has been affected by the low oil price, Verhaar responds: “It is like a snowball effect. We didn’t notice it for a long time, but now we are seeing that the offshore market is having a hard time. Fortunately, we do not focus entirely on this industry and as such are not dependent on the offshore market. But still, it is difficult. The low oil price is unfortunate for the V-POD. Due to the low cost, companies are less interested in saving fuel. However, we expect that when the oil prices rise again saving fuel will become more important again. Meaning that the V-POD will be of interest to those companies.”

Focus on the segment

Next to the V-POD, Verhaar Omega BV will introduce by the end of this year a whole new series of Z-drives. Is this a competitor for Verhaar Omega’s own V-POD?

Verhaar: “Yes, on the one hand we create competition for the V-POD with this new Z-drive, but on the other hand some companies just want a Z-drive propulsion. Companies are familiar with the product and don’t want to switch to a solution like the V-POD or just need a direct diesel driven solution. In this way we can serve them both.” As with the V-POD, Verhaar Omega BV will produce the new Z-drive up to the 2,500kW segment. “Again, this will be the maximum power rating. We focus on this segment in the maritime industry, like work boats, tugs and offshore supply vessels, because that is where the demands are coming from.” 

With the V-POD and the new Z-drive Verhaar Omega BV is expanding its product range further and wants to get a larger market share. In order to grow Verhaar Omega BV is looking for new employees, like mechanical engineers, service managers and service technicians. “Service is our top priority and is always been one of our strengths and we want to keep it that way. Service made Verhaar Omega BV big and in the future service will play an important role for the growth of this company as well.”

Carlijn van Zuylen

This article was previously published in Maritime Holland edition #3 – 2016.

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