Doing business successfully: interview with Sarah Dockx
Sarah Dockx was 24 when she started at the bottom rung of the family business. Together with her brother Joeri, she developed Dockx into an independent Belgian player in vehicle rental, removal services, archive storage and combined logistics operations. Sarah is now Managing Director at Dockx Movers, where she combines her passion for entrepreneurship with a large family.
What's it like running a business with your brother?
SARAH (37) "Joeri and I have such a close connection that we have the freedom and confidence to be completely honest, even when one of us is about to veer off course. We make each other stronger. Joeri excels at innovation and creating customer value, while I'm better at process efficiency and reorganisation. We decide on a strategy together, but we each do our own thing. Both Dockx Movers and Dockx Rental have separate accounting and marketing departments."
"Our dad was never fully convinced that a family business could run smoothly, but we're proving the opposite. That said, we do keep an eye out to make sure our family ties do not hold us back in our entrepreneurship. We're prepared for certain scenarios, through an external sounding board who knows our family dynamics well, among other things." But the conclusion remains the same: without Joeri, Dockx would not be where it is today, and without me, it wouldn't be either."
You're at the helm of Dockx Movers. What is it that makes its services so strong?
SARAH "Dockx Movers has an incredibly passionate team. Our people will run through a brick wall, both for each other and for the company and its customers. Every employee is an entrepreneur within their area of expertise. They are always ready to deliver that extra effort to make sure everything falls into the right place. Mindset and passion are more important than experience."
"Over the past few years, we've been working hard to professionalise Dockx Movers, and everything we do is now right on point. We're at a stage now where we're ready to scale up. You could compare it to a spinning wheel: as soon as you've cranked it up to the right speed, it will keep on spinning, and all you need to do is give it a strategic little nudge every now and then. We're looking to further intensify our cooperation with Dockx Rental, because that combination of DIY removals and full-service removals is what makes us into the largest removals company in Belgium. We're also by no means ruling out acquisitions or new locations."
How do you view the future of removals?
SARAH "One thing the coronavirus crisis taught me is that Dockx provides essential services. Just like bakeries will always sell bread, people will always need removal services. Our sector certainly isn't immune to automation, but picking up a wardrobe, loading it onto a van and unloading it elsewhere will always require human effort. In China, experiments are taking place involving exosuits: wearable skeletons that give you extra strength. They're prohibitively expensive for now, but who knows, they might be a common sight in ten years' time."
What tips do you have to guarantee the success of a family business?
SARAH "No shine without friction: you'll never get anywhere without a bit of debate. Don't fear failure. The more errors you make, the more you learn about the direction you should be travelling in. Start at the bottom of your company, so you know exactly what your employees deal with on a daily basis. Grow your confidence, but get external support too: taking advice from someone who has an objective perspective on the matter is always a good move."
You've got three sons between the ages of one and five. How do you combine your family with entrepreneurship?
SARAH "Just after I'd become a mother, I missed my family while I was at work. And when I was with my kids, I missed my team. I'd gotten used to devoting all my time to the business, but suddenly, I could no longer do so. Finding the right balance between work and family has been the biggest challenge I've faced. Both of these aspects of my life are closely intertwined. Would I have been able to achieve more without kids? Probably. But I made a very deliberate choice to have a family."
"On top of that, running a business is not too dissimilar to keeping a family ticking over: solid agreements and clear communication goes a long way. I draw energy from my work, but to no lesser extent from my family. And when things do get a little too hectic, they can always go visit grandpa for a while — he lives just around the corner and has a fascinating collection of miniature cars (laughs)."
Before joining the family business, you worked at a shipping company for a while and helped out at a restaurant. What was your dream job growing up?
SARAH "I wanted to do something with music or the environment. As a child, you'd often find me trekking through the woods with a binbag or spending hours rearranging sticks and stones in streams so the water could flow freely again. Contributing to the greater good has always been important to me, and that's exactly what I'm trying to do as an entrepreneur too. We recently organised a collection for Moeders voor Moeders (Mothers helping Mothers), for example, and we're also investing in a more sustainable fleet year after year as yet another way to do our bit."