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40th Anniversary of PostBeeld

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At the end of June PostBeeld owners Rob Smit and Caroline Groenhof and current staff celebrated the 40th anniversary of the founding of the company and the opening of the first PostBeeld shop in Haarlem.

In 1996 Rob had the foresight to place the company’s website on the Internet. In 2016, Rob posted an interesting article on the company’s postzegelblog.nl website outlining part of the company’s history to that date. Here’s the English version of that article:

“At the time, this was not as obvious as it may seem. Very few small businesses had a website, let alone a webshop. Even for large companies, the website was often no more than a business card and even domain names of their own brand name were not always registered. See the example below for klm.com in 1997. Google did not yet exist. To find something on the internet, Altavista or Askjeeves worked best.”

KLM website 1997
"In 1995 I had already thought, considering the possibilities of that new medium, that the future of PostBeeld would lie on the internet. I had always been interested in new technology myself. When the first Texas Instruments programmable calculators came on the market in the 1970s, I immediately bought one. In 1979, when I was 18 and in higher education, I bought my first computer - a Tandy TRS-80 with 16k memory!

Despite the fact that Tandy then had shops all over the Netherlands, there were only two places where you could buy computers. Eindhoven was too far, so I went to Amsterdam with my mother. There was a choice between a model with 4k or 16k memory, a difference of about 300 guilders (then the currency in The Netherlands) in price, but I still went home with the 16k model (at a cost of something like 2300 guilders) and immediately bought a dot matrix printer for 1200 guilders.  It was a lot of money that I had earned trading stamps. Of course I could also have bought a collection of stamps for it, but I felt that this purchase was wise.

In retrospect, it was indeed one of the best investments I've ever made. At school I did learn some programming in Basic, but having my own computer at home gave me much more programming knowledge and, above all, a basic understanding of how computers work and what you can do with them. As mentioned, I was at that time trading stamps and quickly built a stamp database. I wrote down the numbers of what I bought and sold. In the evening I sat down at the PC, retrieved the database via a cassette player from a cassette tape, typed in the changes and wrote it back to cassette tape. I always had an overview of what I had and of how much I had sold each stamp."
Tandy TRS-80
"In 1983 I opened my shop in Haarlem. The TRS-80 was already hopelessly outdated by then, so a computer with a built-in hard disk and floppy drive was put on the counter, followed in early 1984 by a second in the office, connected to each other via a real network. The TRS-80 still had its own programming language and could not communicate with other computers. In the meantime there was MS-Dos, which made it possible to exchange data between different computers. In 1984 I started building a new database with descriptions in English, the basis of which is still used for our internet site today.

When the internet came into the picture in 1994/1995 I had a shop in Haarlem and a shop in Hoofddorp. The PCs in both stores exchanged changes in stock every evening, so that even then it was always possible to see what was in each shop. We also printed stock lists per country or theme at the request of customers and sent them to collectors in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, where we also advertised. The customer could then order from the stock lists, which we naturally processed via the computer. In fact, the database and the working method were already in place for an online store. In 1995 I decided to close my shop in Hoofddorp and to sell via the internet from the Haarlem store.

As mentioned, the database was already there and an internet site was quickly built. No shopping cart yet, no images yet, but a choice of tens of thousands of items that could be found quickly through search options by country, theme, year or price. That was absolutely unique at the time, especially in this industry. The euphoria in the company was therefore great when it started to take off and we even soon received an order from Argentina. As a small local stamp shop, we were now able to help customers all over the world. Internet was great!

A lot of time was invested by me and my employees in further website development and construction. A shopping cart was soon added to the website which made shopping even easier, in 1997 we started adding images. The website was made in several languages. Then in 2002 we introduced Freestampcatalogue.

The rest of the story has actually been visible to everyone thanks to the internet and is still visible via the WaybackMachine (https://web.archive.org/). Below is an overview of what the front page has looked like over the years."
PostBeeld 1998
PostBeeld 2001
PostBeeld 2005
PostBeeld 2011
"In the past 20 years we have had considerable ups and downs in development. In most cases it came down to us having lots of ideas, but finding it difficult to realise them, or with major delays or problems. Our current website runs on a tailor-made Magento system in combination with a back office system that runs on Expression Engine. This combination has already caused many headaches, and we even ran into serious problems last year (2015) when our developer dropped out because the PostBeeld project was seen as too complex and extensive for the company. We now have a developer who spends most of his time working with PostBeeld, which means that we can now apply our new ideas. This is necessary because we still have many plans for further development."

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