Together with his brother Edwin, Stephan van der Horst owns high-end interior design shop Co van der Horst. The family business has been around for 115 years, presents no less than 250 exclusive brands and does all this in a showroom of 10,000 square meters. From classic to modern to futuristic: you can build on this family business. But who actually built Stephans career?

Text: Mical Joseph
Image: Co van der Horst

What was your very first job?

"As a 15-year-old teenager, I was the youngest clerk at Co van der horst where I worked during the summer. I also went to secondary school. It was not self-evident for me to enter the family business right away and I was fascinated by art and history from an early age. After high school I studied art history in Leiden and at one point left for Germany where I ended up working for an interior design company. During my time with that company I found out that I really enjoyed interior design and was a valuable addition."

How did you end up in your current job?

"Co van der Horst was already an established family business, but I decided to join when I was 25 years old. I had the vision to tweak and improve things a little. My brother Edwin was already working for the company."

Who was your wheelbarrow in there?

"In my case the last name says it all... My father and mother have been wheelbarrows for me during my career, but not in the way people sometimes think. When I was younger they gave me the freedom to make my own choices. Because of this freedom, I decided to go into business for myself. Because I was able to develop myself well at first, I found out what suited me.

What do you remember most about your parents?

"I got that as an entrepreneur you have a huge responsibility. With a long-established business you are responsible for the employees and the families, it's important to be aware of that."

What have you learned from your brother over the years?

"My brother taught me that it is important to think ahead instead of thinking short term. As an entrepreneur, you have to look far ahead every day if you want to get your company through certain crises or 'lesser' periods. For our company to still be thriving in ten to twenty years as it is today, taking action time and time again is a plus."

What is your greatest passion in your profession?

"I get up every day to encourage the customers, suppliers and my employees. I also find innovation in the retail business very important and interesting. Concepts that we came up with ten years ago, for example, and which we then see results of now, give a kick.

You asked for my greatest passion, but there are so many things that make me wake up every day with a smile. I think it's very cool to work on the presentation of the shop, especially with home textiles. With textiles, fashion and interior come together."

What has been the biggest learning moment in your career?

"The crisis in 2008 was one big learning moment that we can obviously use to our advantage in the current period. In the period after 2008, from 2009 to 2013, we were fortunately able to save ourselves by making good decisions. The company did not stand still and we invested time and again. After that period, we were actually in an even better position than before. By being frugal, but investing and innovating, Co van der Horst came out on top.

During the (current) corona period there was more uncertainty than during the economic crisis, because with the latter you know that the valley will become more positive again at some point. This last year is unique for everyone in the world, so the uncertainty is much greater. I think it's important to give my employees and customers that bit of security. By radiating calm and remaining focused on the goals, this works well."

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

"Always persevere and work hard, and you will get there. At Co van der Horst we have a lot of trainees and we really encourage enthusiasm and curiosity. That way you learn something every day and you keep developing.

Have you been a wheelbarrow for anyone?

"I hope I have given staff and interns I supervised over the years a push in the right direction."

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