“If you head to Action for one thing, make sure it’s socks”

If there’s someone who knows Action inside out, it’s supplier Charlette van der Drift. The brain behind the wildly popular underwear line Ziki is 67 years old and was on board back when Action was founded in 1993. We talk to Charlette about what it was like then, what it’s like now, and what it will be like in the future.

Charlette, how did Action find you? Or did you find them?
“Before I was in the underwear business, I worked for a socks company. And as I’d also had a tights business before that, my knowledge of materials and fabrics stretched far and wide. The people at Action heard that I was the right person to get in touch with. That’s how I ended up sitting – literally – at Action founder Rob Wagemaker’s kitchen table.”

And things went well?
“Yes, we seemed a good match. We started delivering stock lots of socks. With Action growing quickly, we moved from the kitchen table to some garages in Medemblik. I remember it like it was yesterday – the office brimming with samples, and every now and then a section of the table was cleared for me to show my socks. I went on to start my own business, and have moved on from socks to underwear.”

How do you know when a particular product is right for Action?
“As a supplier, you need to have some Action DNA in you, and act as an extension of Action. When I’m having a drink outside on a terrace somewhere, I always look at what people are wearing. I also think, are they a potential Action customer? That’s when your mind turns to business ideas.”

Where are you focusing more of your efforts?
“Differences between countries. A French woman looks at a product, likes the look of it and buys it. A German grabs a product, feels the quality and then heads to the till. A Dutch person looks at the price straight away. We have a saying: if we can sell a product in the Netherlands, we can sell it anywhere in the world. That’s why I’m forever thinking, is that a product Action can sell? Is the quality good? And can we offer it at the very best price without selling the product short?”

What characterises Action in your opinion?
“First and foremost, I think the Action formula is fantastic. It’s really great. Nobody leaves the store without having spent at least five euros. Action once ran a German ad featuring a man with bags packed full to the brim, and the tagline: ‘I only came in for some tape’. That sums it all up beautifully. Try buying just one thing in an Action store – you can’t. You never go home with just a couple of products.”

What do you think is the strength of our partnership?
“That everything happens naturally. We have differences of opinion every now and then – on pricing, for example – but we always work things out. We also have the same goal: the customer. Like Action, I’m always focused on the customers. We want to keep the quality and the price just right for them.”

What product are you most proud of?
“It has to be the men’s Ziki boxer shorts. They have become an iconic Action product. I received such a nice email the other day from a man who thought his grandson’s Ziki boxer shorts were amazing. He wanted to know whether they were also available for adults, so they could both wear the same. That sort of thing makes me happy. Or emails from people living in Suriname and asking whether it’s possible to ship over a few boxes of boxer shorts.”

And one final question… What do you tend to buy at Action?
“Plastic food containers and bags of sweets for my son – he has a real sweet tooth. I also like to check how my products look. When there are too many black items, I sometimes put some of the more colourful items at the front or I make sure everything is aligned that little bit more.”