ShipSupport: Disruption boils down to change management



Maaike de Rover from our client ShipSupport - Powered by Royal IHC, was interviewed by Emerce.

Imagine a market where billions are involved and where no one has yet made the move to ecommerce. ShipSupport, a start-up that sells ship parts online, has stepped into this gap. “We remove many links from the supply chain. That saves costs and is much faster than ordering offline,” says Maaike de Rover, general manager of ShipSupport.

ShipSupport was initiated by Royal IHC, the Dutch shipbuilder who specializes in offshore, dredging and wet mining. IHC mainly relies on the sale of ships and systems and to a lesser extent on additional services such as the sale of parts. “Shipyards prefer to sell the car than to be the garage, but the latter is very important for customer loyalty,” De Rover explains. “If a ship comes to a standstill because something has broken, the costs can rise to tons per day. In addition, this worldwide market for maintenance and repairs is extremely large, with a potential of around two billion euros on an annual basis. At the moment, however, only a fraction of this is being brought in. To gain market share, a completely different approach was needed."

A-brand suppliers and easy ordering

A few customer journeys were therefore carried out by IHC a few years ago. This showed that the customer wants access to A-brand suppliers regardless of their location and needs a simple, digital way to order parts. ShipSupport has emerged from this. The platform is a one-stop shop where products from multiple suppliers can be purchased, not just those from IHC. “ShipSupport has been set up as a start-up. We fall directly under the CEO, but otherwise operate completely separate from IHC. That is necessary, because we kick against quite a few holy houses. We relieve the customer by bundling their online orders and the logistical processing thereof. We deliver worldwide, from Pakistan to Nigeria, from Sydney to Anchorage.”

Maaike de Rover, ShipSupport That is very complex, says De Rover. “You have to deal with often complicated and cumbersome local legislation and procedures. And then the part must also be transported to the ship, which of course does not stop. That does not make it easier to start an online webshop for shipping."

ihc news emerce

In addition, customers have a fleet with different ships from different yards. No ship is the same. They often do not know exactly how to replace a broken part. “Structured product data does not exist in this industry, nobody keeps up with it or it is totally fragmented. There is not one data standard such as ISBN with books. Customers log in to ShipSupport, click on the ship and navigate virtually through it so that they can see exactly what they need. And they can of course order that part directly. It is very labor-intensive to bring the required information together by ship, but there is certainly a business case to be made for it.”

Conservative sector

It sounds like a brilliant idea, but realizing it is not without a struggle. The maritime sector is closed and conservative. The first investment was made in September 2016 and manpower was made available for ShipSupport. The platform went live on November 1, 2018. “Most of the time, political issues such as getting the story sold internally. IHC has many different business units and offices worldwide. Ordering online has irrevocable consequences for their business. And as a new company we are suddenly sitting at the table with their customers. So in that sense there is a channel conflict. On the other hand, everyone sees that the traditional way of selling is declining. When customers order parts online, sales staff can focus on larger projects. That is increasingly appreciated.”

Next steps

IHC has invested a lot of money in ShipSupport, which is spent on building the platform, connecting suppliers, arranging product data and implementing the proposition and strategy. There is a Minimum Viable Product and the platform is now being further developed based on customer feedback. “We are also going to expand the range, collect investments, rig up the marketing and make the maritime world offline with ShipSupport. Logistics must also be better. We are going to hold stocks ourselves. We do this locally for local - we engage local suppliers for relatively simple products, so that we can deliver quickly.”

The complexity of all this is frustrating, De Rover says honestly. “But if it were easy, someone else would have already done it. What we encounter, both in terms of technology and with regard to marketing and logistics, is that we are both B2B and worldwide. We cannot participate in existing solutions. That makes the case very interesting. We are constantly inventing the wheel. If we put this right, then we are the buyer, but now we are still in the crafting phase.”

Royal IHC vessel


The growth curve takes a while and that creates a field of tension with the stakeholders. “This project is not going to fly within a year. But concepts such as SEO, SEA and even online marketing are unknown in the maritime sector. So we have to manage the expectations well and be clear about our approach."

The intention is that ShipSupport will be a scale-up at the end of this year. “We started with dredging companies, but we also want to add the navy, cruise lines, yacht builders and commercial shipping. So that requires a lot of business development."

And when is ShipSupport a success? De Rover: “If we can support ourselves. As stated, the costs still go for the benefits. And if we are recognized as the maritime platform where you can go for all your components, which brings transparency to an opaque market. This requires internal and external change management. On the one hand we break open the market, on the other hand we bring customers and suppliers together and there is transparency in the supply chain. The art is to let people think along with you. We start with the IHC regional offices and the clients there. They do realize that this is the future and would like to cooperate. It is not an easy journey that we make, but it is one that I have every confidence in. ”

Do you want to know more about ShipSupport and the experiences of Maaike de Rover? Then come to B2B Digital on May 23 in Maarssen.

Herbert Pesch
Founder and CCO of @Evident. Initiator/host for "Let's talk B2B!"

Herbert Pesch