The market for educational laptops is booming. The Dutch market leader is attacking the Belgian market, the Belgian making love to Dutch schools. ‘A lot is still possible in the Netherlands.’
Early September. In a photo on the Facebook page of the KTA in Bruges, fifteen students hoist their Chromebook (a laptop according to the Google standard) with a blue cover over their heads. ‘We write our digital story together’, it sounds, with a thank you for The Rent Company. This Dutch company is the market leader in its own country for the supply of Chromebooks or laptops (the Microsoft variant) to secondary school students.
It serves 500 of the 800 to 900 secondary (secondary) schools that ask their pupils to have their own laptop. Before 1 September 2019, it was still shy of supplying Belgium from the Netherlands, now it is going all-in: a Belgian company, a new office in Lubbeek near Leuven, and the claim that it already supplies 25 schools with 3,000 students.
It is an attack on Signpost, which is leading the Belgian market for hardware in education. Although Signpost CEO Arne Vandendriessche is brooding on a countermove. His company is in contact with 17 Dutch secondary schools to start a laptop project from 1 September 2021. Although the ambition goes much further: ‘We want to be active in a hundred schools in the Netherlands by 1 September 2022’, it sounds firmly.
Opponent to be feared
Vandendriessche has an opponent to be feared. The man behind The Rent Company, Ronald Van den Boogaard, is a veteran of the market. He has been working on his company since 2004. Dutch education continues with screens in the classroom. In primary education (primary education) schools usually purchase laptops themselves, in secondary education their own device is common. The school determines the model and parents can choose whether to buy it through the school’s IT partner or buy it elsewhere.
The switch to a private device has been going on for eight to nine years, Van den Boogaard estimates. To the extent that the end point is in sight. ‘I see two more years of growth. There are 800 to 900 schools that have a laptop project. ‘ There are 1,450 secondary schools in the Netherlands. The market is almost two thirds taken.
We sell comfort and convenience.
Vandendriessche is convinced that he can still get his foot in the door. ‘A lot is still possible on the Dutch market. The Dutch suppliers do not really work to measure, their offer is very standardized. ‘ Some schools, such as in technical education, require more flexibility in terms of equipment and software. ‘We will mainly focus on schools that place demands on the student’s laptop. We also distribute 900 software titles. ‘
Vandendriessche has the nobility for his plans. Over the past five years, Signpost has managed to grow to 65,000 active laptops for students, spread over 250 Belgian secondary schools. But the company must at the same time cover its Belgian flank. The market is even more open here. Signpost only supplies 250 of the 950 Flemish secondary schools, although it is striving to grow to 500 schools next year.
The market is ripe for competition, says Niel Van Meeuwen, who must give The Rent Company a foothold in Belgium. ‘Three years ago we first received a question from a number of schools, who felt that there was little choice.’ Home education during the lockdown has put the theme higher on the agenda, says Van Meeuwen. Vandendriessche agrees. ‘No education at home without your own laptop. The corona crisis has accelerated things. ‘
Although The Rent Company and Signpost both rent or sell hardware, they don’t want to distinguish themselves through brands or models of laptops. The way to make a difference is through good service provision to schools and parents. ‘We don’t just sell a device,’ says Van Meeuwen. ‘We take the entire logistics process out of the hands of schools and parents: we take care of invoicing, we supply the device with the necessary software pre-installed, we arrange a replacement device in the event of damage, we have replacement parts if necessary.’
The Dutch suppliers do not really work to measure, their offer is very standardized.
Students simply use their device intensively, Van den Boogaard notes. The Rent Company had to do 31,000 repairs on 155,000 active devices in the previous school year. ‘No wonder. Students use the device eight hours a day, take it home from school, and throw it there with their school bag in the corner. ‘ The mission is successful if neither the parents nor the school have to lie awake in the event of damage, Van Meeuwen concludes. ‘We actually sell comfort and convenience.’
‘Delimited IT hour a week does not work’
The KTA in Bruges started the search for a permanent IT partner for a laptop project at school in September last year. The school has been working with laptops for seven years, but the need only became acute two years ago, when a supplier of handbooks for hair care indicated that it was going digital. ‘Our school wants to teach every student digital skills, which we don’t think will work in a defined hour a week. We therefore decided to continue. ‘ The school chose Chromebooks from the Dutch The Rent Company. The company provided the best conditions for price, warranty and service, it sounds.
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