Interimage was founded by Judith Markovits in 1988. It came as no surprise that she chose a career in the promotional products sector. Joop Markovits, her father, sold business gifts and was one of the first Dutch entrepreneurs to import products from China.
The Markovits family, consisting of Joop, Riet and their five children – Judith, Rebecca, Rachel, Manó and Miklos – was unlike any other family, as their game of choice after mealtimes did not include typical games such as Frustration. Instead, Joop Markovits would frequently bring out new gadgets from China for his children to give their opinion. What did they like about them and why? What improvements could be made? He also brought them along to help out in the factory, teaching them all about the promotional industry from a young age.
Joop had made quite a name for himself in the industry. In the 1970s, it was Joop who was responsible for starting fads such as clickclacks. He discovered the game while on holiday in Italy and saw his kids fight endlessly over whose turn it should be next. In no time at all, he had applied for a patent and started up a production line. Millions of clickclacks were sold in a matter of months.
Miklos, the youngest member of the family, came to work at Interimage by coincidence in 1989. ‘My sister ran a stall by herself at the Amsterdam Fashion Fair, introducing garment bags to Dutch consumers. So I went along to help her sell them. After the event, Judith received a call from Mr van Eekelen at Babouche, asking whether the guy with the curly hair could drop by again. And that is how I won my first customer.’
In 1992, Miklos, aged 22, took over at the helm from his sister. ‘I had no idea what to expect or how to run a business. My father was always there to support me though, even in ways that I wasn't aware of. He told me to get an appointment at the bank in order to arrange a loan. So I did. He didn't want to accompany me and told me I had to do this by myself. I knew roughly what our sales and costs were, but I had no business plan. I was astonished when I was granted the loan. Later I discovered that my father had agreed to act as a guarantor.’
Miklos quickly turned Interimage into a specialist company focussing on custom made products, items tailored completely to the client's requirements. To achieve this, he spent a considerable amount of time in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China in order to find manufacturers and promotional products with a difference. ‘I was working seven days a week. On weekdays, I'd work as a salesperson, my evenings were spent processing the paperwork and I used my weekends to prepare shipments. I used my car as my office and had one of those enormous phones to keep in touch with clients.’
In 1996, an order placed by Chiquita provided the breakthrough for Interimage. Miklos: ‘Thanks to Chiquita, we were given the opportunity to demonstrate that we could offer an extensive range. From pens to luxury bags in the right size and colour. The scope of the order was international. Manufacturers from Spain to Finland and everywhere in between were able to order our bags. It was almost too much for a business with four employees, but the spin-off made it much easier for us to expand afterwards.’
Chiquita was quickly followed by an order for Dutch clothing chain WE. At the time, small playing discs known as ‘flippos’ were all the rage. ‘We designed Flippo shirts under a licence from Smiths. Each week, we were required to produce two new designs and 10,000 T-shirts. The process from design to product had to be completed in just one week. I spent all my time drive back and forth in my car. Luckily I had that massive telephone!’
In the years that followed, Interimage was able to add big names such as Plus, Sara Lee, Unilever and Douwe Egberts to its client list and to inspire further trends with products such as the ‘FC Knudde’ mugs, Dracco magnets, marbles and Fabeltjeskrant (Daily Fable) puppets.
In 2008, Interimage was voted Distributor of the Year, an industry award granted by PromZ Magazine and industry association PPP (Platform Promotional Products). ‘That marked a very special milestone, for our company but also on a personal level. Before he passed away, my father made me promise that I would uphold the family's reputation. The award gave me the feeling that I had made good on that promise.’
Interimage now employs a workforce of 28, consisting of 24 Dutch nationals and 4 Chinese nationals. In addition to custom made products from China, Interimage now also includes a team dedicated to expedited deliveries. This team processes orders for the standard promotional products but obtains them from manufacturers and importers in Europe.
Nevertheless, custom made products will remain Interimage's core business. ‘Our strength is our creative team who develop products for our clients, based on our knowledge of manufacturing processes in the Far East. It is a continuous process and we will keep developing.’