Nico Bouwhuis - 50 years at Arco

Working for the same boss for half a century! This is an absolute milestone. Yet, this is not entirely accurate. After all, Nico has outlasted the boss. Nico Bouwhuis has seen several managing directors come and go in the fifty years that he has been working at Arco. They were all members of the Van Ast family.



“When I began working at the Van Ast Frame Factory (Lijstenfabriek Van Ast), the managing director was Gerrit van Ast, the cousin of Wim and Wout. I was fifteen years old at that time.” How did he end up there? “That was very straightforward. My father has asked me: would you like to continue studying or get a job? Without waiting for a clear answer, he arranged a job for me in no time. Just like three of my brothers, who have worked at Van Ast over time, I was welcomed there too. That was how things were at the time and it was just fine.” Nico was one of the nine sons of the Bouwhuis family. A few more and they would have been able to form a complete football team. They needed food on the table, quite a lot in fact with so many hungry boys. “We did not have much at home, so we had to work.” He very much liked his job. “As an odd-jobber, I visited the outworkers to collect frames, for instance. That could sometimes take forever, as I inevitably had to drink coffee first. At a certain address, I even received a piece of candy bar every time, for my travels on the bicycle. The fact that I was away for so long was never an issue. People were not so much in a hurry back then as they are nowadays. It was a more easy-going era.”




In the 70s of the previous century, the frame factory was acquired by Arco Furniture Plant (Arco Meubelfabriek), then managed by the brothers Wim and Wouter van Ast. Nico moved right along. It was not a big move, as Arco was right next door. “I became an “assistant in machinery”, assisting the people operating the machines.” At the time, Arco was making traditional furniture. This changed into modern design in the course of the 70s under the leadership of Wim van Ast. The image of the company changed significantly and Nico adapted to that evolution. Wim van Ast remembers: “I noticed that Nico began dressing differently. First, he stopped wearing a tie. A little later, he began wearing trendy clothes.” The influence of the modern Arco also became visible at Nico’s home: “We have been using Arco furniture for years. I bought it at the time as a birthday present for my wife Marja.” It was a sizeable present, confirms Nico: “I performed a lot of overtime in shipping, loading lorries and so on. It was hard work. Sometimes, I did not come home until 7 o’clock in the evening. At that time, the working hours ran from 07:30 to 12:00 and from 13:30 to 17:30. However, you had to continue if the work was not finished. Fortunately, overtime pay was generous.”



Nico got to know several generations of van Ast reasonably well over the years. “They all have somewhat the same character, the Van Ast family. Real Achterhoek people, like me.” And yes, they always had the last word. That is not so strange, considering they are the boss. “They have always cared well for me, and have been interested and helpful. When you have been there for so long, you become almost like family” . Together, they have experienced good times and bad times. Twice, they have experienced an economic crisis. “The crisis at the end of the 80s was severe. I was about to get married at that time, and we had just bought a house... Several jobs disappeared, but I was lucky. I was able to stay.” Arco survived the crisis at the time thanks to a large order from Ballast Nedam. It can be compared somewhat to the mega order from Apple, on which Arco’s workers are working feverishly at this moment. “It is fantastic that such a global firm has tables made by us in Winterswijk!” Nico is brimming with pride. Just like that time when he went for the first time to a trade fair where Arco was exhibiting its product range. In the 80s, that was the furniture trade fair (Meubelbeurs) in Utrecht. Later, they all went to Cologne in a bus, along with our spouses. “It was a fun outing, exciting even. I was curious how the Arco stand would look. Those trade fairs overwhelmed me: There is such a range of products and competition! It makes me proud to see Arco in such a location. That we made all this together!” Other highlights of those years were e.g. staff trips to Berlin, Dresden, and Prague. And the dealer day in 2009: “We had cleared out the warehouse entirely for the party. A marching band accompanied by all visitors marched through the entire plant: just beautiful.”


Nico still loves working at Arco, now managed by Jorre van Ast, the fourth generation in the family business. Nico prefers to work very gradually towards his approaching retirement. He does not want to retire all at once. “It would make me miss all this too much!”

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