A legend passes but the legacy lives on

by Tania Wannenburg
Roger Jnl 1 16

An international carpeting legend leaves a legacy built on excellence and quality flooring.

Roger De Clerck, 1924 – 2015, textile magnate, founder and CEO of Beaulieu International Group (BIG), passed away on 23rd October 2015 in his hometown of Wielsbeke in Belgium, aged 91.

Regarded as one of the most influential captains of industry in Belgium, and globally in flooring, Roger De Clerck – father of Belgotex Floors’ Anne Colle – built an international textile empire that spans five continents in all four corners of the globe.

A passionate, controversial, sometimes aggressive businessman, Roger, together with his wife and the Lebanese Katchadourian family, established one of the largest global flooring networks – now known as the Beaulieu International Group.

Roger can be credited with having democratised the carpeting industry worldwide, offering affordable flooring to the masses. In the 1960s carpet was considered a luxury.

Dividing his empire among his six children in 1991, Anne Colle became head of Beaulieu Kruishoutem before setting up Natal Nylon Industries (now Belgotex Floors) in South Africa in 1983, Jan De Clerck received Domo in Sint-Niklaas, Luc De Clerck became head of Berry Group in France, Francis De Clerck head of Ideal Group, Mieke De Clerck head of Beaulieu USA, and Dominiek De Clerck took over the original business Ter Lembeek.

The division of De Clerck’s properties inadvertently set the siblings up as competitors. Four branches of the company – excluding Domo (Jan De Clerck had fallen into dishonour with his father) and Beaulieu USA (Mieke wished to remain autonomous) merged in 2005 to form the Beaulieu International Group. Belgotex Floors in South Africa is a member of this group.

Boer to Businessman

As the second son of a flax farmer, Roger De Clerck earned the nickname “Boer Clerck” (which he detested). He was often seen as the “Godfather” of carpeting in Western Europe. In 1959, he single-handedly spawned an industry that saved the Wielsbeke region following the collapse of the flax farming industry. Roger bought a few fabric-weaving looms and from his farm Ter Lembeek began to supply raw materials, and thus work, to the dozens of home weavers in the region.

News quickly spread of the superior quality and attractive pricing of the upholstery, and by 1962 Roger’s ambitions had expanded to aspirations of full-time employment for his best weavers to produce woven carpets. This marked the birth of Beaulieu, named after an historic site near Aire-sur-la-Lys in northern France.

In 1976, Beaulieu built a gigantic carpet factory, Kruishoutem, and the company grew through organic sales and acquisitions. By 1982, with the European market saturated, he began exporting, extending his reputation of quality and affordability to the international market.

A master of vertical integration, and an unparalleled teacher, Roger’s revolutionary business approach and vision laid a foundation of excellence that, to this day, leads the flooring industry worldwide. His sphere of influence included former US President George W. Bush, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachov, ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany, ex-President Jacques Chirac of France, and former South African President FW de Klerk. At one stage he provided employment to over 6 000 people.

The Birth of Belgotex

The entry of Belgotex Floors into the South African flooring landscape back in 1984 quickly challenged the market share of the established Romatex Carpet Group.

Belgotex’s market share grew from strength to strength on the back of its innovative products and technological advances. Over the last 30 years, the company established itself as one of the leading carpet manufacturer through continual capital investment in technologically advanced equipment that facilitates superior product development. The hands-on, dedicated management team and private family ownership allow for quick decision making, while the company’s structure provides for critical flexibility to explore innovative ideas. Belgotex has become synonymous with fashionable, market-leading products with the latest international trends and colours. This reputation, coupled with customer service, consistently produces annual growth, with exports exceeding 25% of their current turnover.  

Legacy in South Africa

Roger’s legacy continues locally in South Africa, with Belgotex Floors established as one of the leading carpet manufacturers on the continent.

The company, which is still owned by the Colle family, is chaired by Anne Colle’s husband, Stephan, with Anne and their son Edward Colle as Executive Directors.

Of Roger De Clerck’s 24 grandchildren, only two are still active in the flooring business – one in the US and the second being Edward Colle.

Edward’s mandate, guided by his parents, together with the dedicated management team and staff of Belgotex, is to realise Roger De Clerck’s vision of excellence and quality flooring worldwide.

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