The pandemic and the war in Ukraine are causing a spike in creativity within the industry. Also for Kris and Katrien at Krismar, who are building luxury motorhomes and horse trucks down to comfortable 2-horse, coordinating from Zwevezele. A conversation about vision, swift action taking and family.
In the new modern building at the foot of the Hille industrial zone, we sit down with the inspirers of Krismar, Kris and Katrien. Krismar, meanwhile, consists of Horse Trucks, Motorhomes, and Stables. The company counts about 250 employees, spread across the sales and service point in Zwevezele, Belgium, and three factories in Hungary. On top of that, they can count on an extensive dealer network in Europe.
Just 15 years ago, the couple built their first horse truck because they believed it could be done, and they wanted to do better. The trucks took blood, sweat and tears, but also convinced them to continue. Gradually, all components were integrated into a unified design and the range expanded to include two horse trucks for B driving licenses and life trucks for other applications such as cycling and motorsport.
The expansion of the range is customer-driven. The customer leads the way and is both the rider – and parents – who needs to transport a horse for the first time, as well as the seasoned athlete who travels to multi-day or even multi-week competitions.
The bulk of those customers rides in show jumping, a discipline in which the couple themselves feel very much at home. “We both grew up in the world of show jumping, Katrien recreationally and regionally and myself at LRV level,” Kris Callewaert explains. “The love for the discipline is in the layering of the sport. You need basic dressage so everything goes according to plan: control, sensitivity to the aids and balance. I like to see horses that are beautifully and athletically shaped, have an intelligent look and run electric, light-footed off the ground. An intelligent horse that thinks along with the rider and wants to compete for the intended result.” Today, they no longer ride themselves, succession is assured with their eldest daughter Alexy and her boyfriend Mathieu, but they still breed and train young horses at their stable in Ruiselede. The horses find new homes in all corners of the world. Krismar Stables is mainly leisure. “Partly thanks to the daily efforts of our great team at the stable,” Katrien adds.
As competitions are increasingly run internationally, comfortable and luxurious horse trucks have increasingly found their place. From autumn till spring, when the weather is arguable, more riders flock to southern Spain to continue experiencing the sport. “The competitions are held at increasingly greater distances. The horse being transported in the most comfortable way goes without saying,” Katrien states. “The well-being of humans and animals is very important because we are convinced that a relaxed drive, with a minimum of negative stress, is beneficial and even a necessity to perform at competitions. By working with specific materials, which give the horses a safe feeling, temperature control, soft flooring and providing the space with air and (blue) light, we aim for a relaxed animal. The right design is very important for well-being, also for the horse.”
Design being very important to the couple can be noticed immediately in the line that is reflected throughout the range. In particular, they let themselves be inspired by the automotive world. “Even when choosing the car you use every day, you want to feel: that car suits me, that’s my style,” Kris continues. “There is a connection with it. We like solid and sporty cars and we wanted to transfer that to the trucks. We worked for years to get that design on point. Today we can talk about a KR line, which you can find in the Exclusive, Professional, 2 Horse, trailers and motorhomes.”
That design, furthermore, always goes hand in hand with functionality. “Everything that is needed for a car, we find a way to integrate into the design. We strive for that level and achieve it. When we customize trucks, we first check whether it is a feasible concept. Sometimes we bump into the limits of mechanics and or legislation. A truck can only be so long, wide and high of course.”
Family is very important to Kris and Katrien. They see it in their own home and that of their clients. It’s also a feature of equestrian sport that Kris touches on time and again: you experience it together. Grandparents, parents and children out together to experience the sport, he loves it. “The sport keeps families together. There is also the necessity of course. It is on location, equipment is needed and therefore investments, both in time and financially.”
“Within the family, meanwhile, Alexy, the eldest daughter, has joined the sport. She rides for Krismar Stables and drives around promoting us. You feel her interest in our business is there. She has now started at university college in a business bachelor. The story will continue.”
Work and private do not balance but are intertwined. The entrepreneurs both grew up in a world where work always came first. Everything else is built around it. “It’s an intense life and presumably not everyone can cope with such a lifestyle. The work doesn’t stop, but we don’t want it any other way either. Every day we are brainstorming and striving to optimize,” summarises Katrien.
As a company too, they are a family of 250 people they want to keep together and happy. This is not obvious, Kris knows. “People have different ideas from their colleagues with whom they work daily. Regularly, we sit together to confirm what the goal is and what direction we are going. If someone sees things differently, we take time to discuss.” Kris and Katrien are well aware that the Krismar group exists partly because of the commitment, knowledge and experience of their people, and are very grateful for that loyalty.
The human factor has become more critical than ever in an increasingly automated world. Talent is increasingly sought after and harder to find. There are about 40 vacancies within the group. So keeping the KR family happy and ensuring continuity is very important, the couple confirms.
“For 2023, we plan to expand the range and further expand our facility in Zwevezele,” Katrien explains. “An additional garage will be added and a car wash. This way, we want to serve people even better in terms of service, by offering the possibility to upgrade, downgrade or completely replace the fleet. The site will also run entirely on its own energy sources and provide ten public charging points.”
Building an electric truck is unfortunately not yet possible, as it only becomes profitable with high mileage. “Our trucks usually drive around 10,000 à 20,000 kilometres a year and are used a lot when stationary, which requires a lot of investment for the battery. An investment that we don’t think will pay off for the time being but are monitoring closely,” Kris explains.
War and corona
The past few years have been interesting, first with Covid-19, then with the war in Ukraine.
“A lot has changed. Before Covid-19, we had a constant flow of production and during the pandemic, suddenly a lot of bottlenecks appeared in the supply chain. That was a bumpy road,” Kris candidly explains. “In the beginning, it was intense because the world really stopped for a moment, but actually that quickly recovered.”
“The war in Ukraine is a completely different story. A schedule and supply that always seemed very logical to us suddenly wasn’t. Announced supply in April was headlong postponed to autumn only in March. At that point, we had to change some of our production to keep running. One such change was, for example, the diversification of our product. We started building the two horse truck on the Ford chassis. Additionally, we reversed the workflow of the horse truck to build all the enclosures while waiting for the chassis. We hadn’t seen that bottleneck coming. In other areas, we did feel that pinch and took up a large amount of stock, mainly linked to building the cars.”
The ultimate goal with Krismar is to serve everyone and have customers who decide today, drive away tomorrow. With the investments of the last few years, they are already working hard to make that happen.