Who are you?
My name is Paul Rijkhoff and I've worked at Schiphol for more than 20 years. On 1 May 1995, following the opening of Schiphol Plaza, I opened a shoe repair shop and a shop selling luxury travel goods. But, before that, I used to shine shoes airside with a team of 20 men. So that's my background. Anything to do with shoes, it's in my blood. In 1999, I opened my first shoe shop under the name Paolo Salotto Shoes.
What do you do now?
We run three Paolo Salotto stores: Shoes, Leather Goods & Travel and Outdoor & Travel. We also have two Seal & Go locations in Departure Halls 2 and 3. Although I'm essentially based at Schiphol, I'm proud of our Seal & Go operations at some 16 other airports all over the world.
Our business has really done well in recent years. Over that time we've had a lot of good times, but we've had a few difficult moments too. For example, there was once a fire at Schiphol Plaza, and we've also had to contend with the SARS virus, the outbreak of war in the Middle East and the ash cloud over Iceland. And, clearly, we've also been hit by the recession.
Our team consists of some 60 permanent employees. Together we try to be as innovative and forward-looking as possible so we can continue to grow. We also manufacture our own shoes and our B2B shoe operation is doing well. For example, we have 120 different designs for cabin and ground staff! Without these loyal customers, we wouldn't be here. We're no pop-up store. Service and a personal approach are an essential part of our business! We aim to give our stores an international ambience, but with a friendly, local feel.
What have been your best moments at Schiphol?
When you've been here 20 years, you've done the lot. Together with the airport, we're part of a team. It's a win-win scenario. If Schiphol's doing well, so are we, and vice versa. And if times are hard, you have to pull together as a team and be really enterprising. And I'm really proud of the fact that it works and has worked time and time again.
My daughter Sharada has been working with me for some years now and gives me a huge amount of support. We run the business together, and Sharada has overall responsibility for the Paolo Salotto stores.
Also, you constantly have to liaise with stakeholders and get them on board. And I think one of the things I'm good at is getting stakeholders to agree and getting their consent so we can move forward together. I started out as a simple shoe-maker and ended up being able to grow a fantastic business with a really loyal team of staff.
What makes Schiphol so special?
I love Schiphol and everything that goes on here. It's so dynamic. Everything happens at such a fast pace and there's a lot of innovation. New business models have to be tried out all the time. It's also a very friendly place to be. It’s basically a big village. People gossip like they do in a village, for example. Everybody knows everybody else. Which is great. And our staff like it too, so they don't usually mind working outside normal working hours.
Running a business at Schiphol is far more challenging than in Amsterdam, for example. Take shop-fitting, for example. You have to comply with all kinds of security rules and regulations. Over the past three years we've upgraded all our stores. We're constantly trying to keep our stores up to scratch, which is sometimes a real challenge! Looking for the right solutions and dealing with the opposition that we sometimes come up against when we expand ensures that we're always one step ahead of the competition. No pain, no gain, is what I say!
Do you ever visit other places at Schiphol?
I regularly eat at the Sheraton with clients and I often take them on a tour of the area. As a businessman and as a traveller, I see a lot of Schiphol. For example, I often use the HMSHost outlets but I also go to Schiphol-East. It's an important work area for me, so I go all over the place. You realise that, quite apart from Plaza, Schiphol is expanding massively. Things are happening so quickly that sometimes I can't keep up with them.