Wouter Torfs: ‘EU makes it easier to do business’
Published on 13 September 2021
Schoenen uit Spanje, Italië en Portugal kunnen simpelweg in euro’s ingevoerd worden.
Foto: interieur Torfs-winkel in Borsbeek.
Wouter Torfs – CEO of the eponymous chain of shoe stores – prefers to pay in euros rather than pesetas. He is also extremely satisfied that he no longer needs an agency to handle his customs formalities. Thanks to the EU.
In this series, we are giving people the opportunity to demonstrate the positive impact of the EU, and doing so for each of the 6 priorities of the current European Commission. Today part 2: An economy that works for people. With this topic, the EU is aiming to ensure an attractive investment climate and growth that creates quality jobs, especially for young people and small businesses.
The economy is an extremely important topic for the EU. After all, the Single Market is at the heart of the European project. Enabling the free movement of capital, goods, services and people creates additional opportunities for European business. The consumer, in turn, benefits from a wider choice and lower prices.
Retail chains – known as the retail sector – are an important element of that economy. They act as an intermediary between thousands of producers and millions of consumers. With 8.6% of all jobs and 4.5% of added value, retail is the second-largest service sector in the EU after financial services.
Wouter Torfs – CEO of the eponymous chain of shoe stores – is an established name in Belgian retail. He currently has 78 shops in the Flemish part of the country, 2 in Wallonia. His online store is active throughout the country. He affirms the great importance of the EU to his business activities.
Lira, pesetas and escudos
‘Obviously, the EU has made our job much easier,’ says Torfs. ‘I still remember the time before the euro, before 2002. Then we would import shoes in lira, pesetas and escudos (ed.: the former currencies of Italy, Spain and Portugal), with all the risks of a fluctuating exchange rate that this entailed. We were lucky that the southern currencies often lost value against the Belgian franc, but it could just as easily have been the other way around.’
‘The EU also makes a world of difference in terms of customs and import regulations. We used to really need an agency to take care of all those formalities for us. And that, of course, brought with it additional costs. At the moment, it's effectively super-easy to send goods across the Union without many formalities. It's also much simpler today to open a shop somewhere.’
Even with physical shops, an online shop remains indispensable.
But are free transport and returns really necessary?
The EU has developed specific measures to support the retail sector. For example, it wants to offer more flexible regulations for opening hours, promotions and suchlike. It is also supporting the small retail sector in keeping up with the rapid evolutions in electronic commerce.
And Wouter Torfs has a suggestion there. ‘The big players in e-commerce invariably offer free transport and return shipping. As a smaller player, we have to go along with that. But that's not easy for us, and it has serious effects on traffic and the environment. Everybody knows the semi-loaded white vans that drive up and down a street 5 times a day to deliver packages. The EU should make that transport chargeable so it's the same for every company. That may not yet offer a solution for parcels from China and the US, but if it were to happen within the EU first, that would be a great gain.’
SMEs in the EU: essential for the national economies
Find out more about how the EU improves our daily lives?