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From intuitive and adventurous entrepreneurship to a strong strategy
Hendrik Vandermarliere has always been something of a maverick. As a child, there was nothing he liked more than horsing around with his friends. As a student, he studied at the Leuven University Sports Centre, and he also was a paratrooper officer.
Intuitively and seemingly by chance, he established The Outsider, a versatile company organising sportive, recreational and adventurous outdoor activities, operating catering businesses and employing about 40 permanent staff members at various locations.
The higher purpose of Hendrik’s ventures? “Offer my customers a pleasant, carefree day they will remember for a long time.”
From cave to raft and beyond
“It all began during my studies, about 31 years ago,” Hendrik recalls. “I organised an outdoor event and opted for a caving initiation session. At the time, caving was not yet as popular as it is today; all you had were the Caves of Han-sur-Lesse. The event was a success; participants wanted to go caving with their scouts group or football team, and before I knew it, I was guiding several groups. This is how the idea of founding a company emerged. My father told me I was crazy and that people would not phone me to crawl through a cave all day. But he did give me his blessing. And so I set to work.”
Hendrik launched The Outsider together with his girlfriend, a friend and his girlfriend. “We bought a little school in Comblain-au-Pont, at the confluence of the rivers Ourthe and Amblève, and converted it into small hotel with seven rooms and four dormitories. In addition to caving, we also offered kayak tours, mountain bike tours and rafting trips. We gradually expanded our activities, and our business soon boomed. My partner left the company and other people joined the business. We continued to focus on schools, but increasingly on youngsters, groups of friends, families, individuals and companies as well.”
“Emmanuel Titeca has been a huge help in strategic terms. Our account manager Els Decru is much more than an accountant to us.”
An adventure in Flanders
After ten years of adventures in the Ardennes, Hendrik and his colleagues decided to extend their activities to Flanders. “At that time, ‘adventurous entrepreneurship’ was unthinkable in Flanders. We found a barge in Nieuwpoort which could serve as a base of operations. That is how our subsidiary The Outsider Coast began.”
Ten years on, Hendrik set his sights on a location in Oudenaarde. “A wonderful site in the natural floodplain of the Scheldt, with lots of wetlands. We drew up a masterplan and were authorised by the municipality to create an adventure camp including a wetland route, a barefoot path, a climbing tower, a climbing hall, a catering establishment and an event hall. And of course the cable park, where you can water-ski and wakeboard. We are currently developing another adventure camp next to the new sports centre of Aalst, along the wonderful river Dender, which you can navigate up to Wallonia.”
On land, in the water and in the air: carefree experiences
You have probably understood that The Outsider has expertise in many different areas, operating several hospitality facilities in Flanders and Wallonia. “The Outsider team also serves as an event and travel agency for nature trips and teambuilding activities. Want to ride a dog sled through Norway or climb Mont Blanc? The Outsider will make it happen. We are not bound to our own locations for team events. We gladly work out a customised idea.”
“It would be wrong to think that The Outsider is only aimed at adventurers. We organise activities for people of all ages, regardless of whether they are sporty. We want EVERYONE to experience a carefree day. Our instructors have been trained and gladly share their knowledge; this educational aspect of our activities is an important asset of The Outsider. During kayaking, for instance, we explain the different techniques. The Outsider also offers a fully personalised package for people with reduced mobility and people with disabilities. They can make use of our sit-ski and fun tubes, small inflatable seats pulled over the water. Our instructors also accompany people with disabilities during ski trips.”
Hendrik loves the great outdoors and has focused on nature and the environment from the very beginning. “We make sure that we don’t harm nature and try to raise awareness. In all of our activities, we deliberately establish a link with nature. The Outsider allows children to play outside, get dirty and test their limits. At the same time, they gain some wonderful experiences. The Outsider engages in nature conservation. This year, for example, we have planted 120 trees at our site in Oudenaarde. The entire team pays attention to sustainability and ecology, e.g. with water-saving measures, solar boilers and solar panels.”
“The Outsider has organised several teambuilding activities for the Titeca Accountancy staff. A nice example of cross-pollination.”
Work and play go hand in hand at Titeca
The Vandermarliere and Titeca families go a long way back. “I was in the same class as Vincent and Miguel at secondary school in Roeselare. I often went to their home and they often came to my home. Our parents were well acquainted.
Before establishing The Outsider, I had a talk with Henri Titeca. He provided me with guidance for starting up a cooperative society. Titeca Accountancy has taken care of my accounting from day one. We go way back!
For each expansion and the development of our subsidiaries, we asked Titeca Accountancy for advice. Emmanuel Titeca has helped us enormously in strategic terms and enabled us to develop The Outsider from day one into the current more complex structure. Undoubtedly a win-win relationship.
Our account manager at Titeca Accountancy, Els Decru, is much more than an accountant to us. She has been with us from the start and knows the ins and outs of The Outsider. She points out where we can make improvements. She advised us to join our forces and do things like marketing, communication and safety policy together. That has made our partnership very strong.
We also consider Titeca Accountancy’s legal specialists as a huge asset. We have organised several Titeca Accountancy team events, a nice example of cross-pollination.”