Petrol: Pan-European king of denim

Petrol: Pan-European king of denim

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine this scene: a Ford Mustang Eleonor 69’ arrives with the last fading lights of the day at a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Texas. The car parks close to the gasoline pump, and bathed in the dusty golden sunset light, a tall guy opens the driver’s door and steps out with heavy cowboy boots, classic jeans, and a grey t-shirt that reads ‘Petrol.’ This is the classic ‘all-American hero’ movie trope and the typical motor-centric DNA fashion style. This is the quintessential style behind Petrol Industries. The only catch is that Petrol is actually a Dutch brand.

How did this happen? How did a Dutch fashion brand become a global reference in motor-centric fashion? A style of design driven by heritage, designed for the future and inspired by globally accepted and massively appealing American Car Culture.

To find out, we had the opportunity to talk with Daniel Gonzalez Docal, Digital Director of Petrol Industries in charge of their marketplaces and online retailers, their webshop, and their digital marketing strategies. Their story is an enthralling tale of a clear business vision, a deep understanding of the European market, and an amazing passion for design and quality.

Selling the American Dream at a Dutch price

Petrol was founded in ‘89 in the Netherlands by Pedro van Zon, a great car enthusiast and lover of American culture and fashion. The brand began as a belt brand that offered belts ‘for tough guys,’ and quickly, Pedro saw the opportunity of evolving into a business niche that was abandoned: casual midsegment menswear. Pedro wanted to aim at this segment with a powerful combination of quality yet affordable products, topped with a clearly defined style: motor-centric DNA. Nowadays, Petrol is a pan-European brand that offers a staunch repertoire of jackets, pants, t-shirts and shirts, underwear, loungewear, polos, belts, and even socks. An entire catalog of denim clothing options for both men and boys, always with a clear motor-centric DNA style.


Let’s talk a bit about Petrol’s origins.

“Petrol is a Dutch brand that mixes what Europe needs—apparel-wise—with American car culture. We started with belts and later graphic t-shirts and then progressively added new categories to the assortment, which now contains over 20 different categories. But regardless of what products or categories we add, we always try to keep our motor-centric look and aesthetics in our products. Because we believe that most men like cars more than they like clothing,” says Daniel Gonzalez Docal, Digital Director at Petrol.


Petrol was originally a men’s brand, but women can also influence shopping decisions. How does Petrol handle this?

“Well, obviously, in the beginning, we were more of a tough-guy-focused brand. But our communication has sometimes been female-focused also because we are well aware that women—wives especially—many times are the decision-makers during the shopping process of our brand. They heavily influence the shopping decisions of their male family members or partners, or even sometimes are the buyers directly. So we cannot ignore them. We need to be there for them in the communication process, even when they are not our primary consumers. Also, there is the reality that women often act as the gatekeepers of clothing, filtering and deciding what is brought into a house regarding clothes.”


A Road to a Cleaner Future

One of Petrol's defining characteristics is a motor-centric DNA aesthetic, something that could easily be a challenge in our 'emission-free' and sustainability-driven times. Yet this pan-European brand has managed to strike a balance between catering to the look and feel of the motor-loving culture and the growing concerns about sustainability and our carbon footprint.

This balance is their Road to a Cleaner Future commitment. A legally binding commitment—as Petrol itself describes it—to introduce sustainable practices at all levels of their production and supply chains, starting from the choice of materials, to marketing and organization-wide initiatives for each product.


Being a motor-centric DNA brand must be tough in our current 'emission-free' times. Has Petrol taken this into consideration?

Daniel continues: "Of course. In fact, we have been slowly evolving the brand to fit the current environmental concerns with our Road to a Cleaner Future commitment, and to be honest, with emission-free technologies and electric car technologies nowadays—and in the foreseeable future—you can still have these amazing powerful cars that, at the same time, can be environmentally responsible vehicles.

"And as a brand that draws its inspiration from the car industry, we are obviously inspired by all these new emission-free vehicles, and we are reflecting that in our designs, products, and marketing. You can already see that inspiration in our designs, in the fabrics that we use, in the colors and in the details of the clothing. We are pretty much concerned and committed to a greener, more sustainable future, and we believe we can collectively achieve that as a society without having to sacrifice our love and passion for cars."


This is your Road to a Cleaner Future commitment, is it not?

"Yes. And it goes beyond just saying it. We have decided to create a legally binding document with our suppliers from all over the world to guarantee our customers that our products are made following a strict set of guidelines, aimed at sustainability and environmentally responsible production. And so, we have talked and agreed with each and every one of the factories and production centers that work with us to achieve and follow these guidelines. And it was an amazing experience because we could have switched to other suppliers that worked with these guidelines already, but we felt it was unfair. Thus, we chose to negotiate with them, join forces, and change how things were being done more responsibly from an environmental perspective. By doing this, we not only help our suppliers and production partners to keep on doing business but also, we truly impact the industry by introducing a change," says Daniel.


Why is it that Petrol talks about offering denim craftsmanship?

"When we talk about 'denim craftsmanship,' it is because we have been refining the perfect fit for the last 30 years. Denim is our main product. Our denim designers are really passionate people. Our Head of Denim, Dave, we call him 'Denim Dave,' is really stoked about denim design, and you can feel and see that in our product: a love, a caring, a passion for a particular look and feel.

"For example, we always try to offer a special denim finish and quality in our products, that sometimes is also an homage to the past, to beautiful craftsmanship techniques from the past of denim clothing, like a particular kind of seam, a unique type of pocket, details of quality that will showcase our denim heritage and our passion for offering a high-quality product, even when price-wise we are a mid-range brand."


Was it a COVID-related decision to go digital?

"Petrol started in 2015 with a webshop, and we added the first marketplace in 2020. And I think it took us so long because we were having such strong results offline that the company never felt it had to push into digital. However, I think COVID did push us more in the digital direction. But also, we saw that all other brands had a longer online presence, and we were betting everything into a single market: offline."

"Therefore, we decided, as a brand, to jump into the digital world, and I think it gave us an amazing advantage to do it so late in the game because we now know what works and what doesn't, and with the help from the right partners, we can now grow really fast and really strong. Currently, we are pushing for full digital growth even though we know that this year is kind of a COVID-correction year. However, we have had a positive growth rate – which, by the way, goes against the current market trend, but we would like to grow more because we honestly believe we can."


What would you say is the main obstacle to your online growth?

"I think it is the way we have our current company organization. As a brand, we are really strong in B2B because we have been gathering experience in this for many years in the offline world. But we do not have that level of organization for digital. Once we organize ourselves around digital, I think we could increase our growth a lot because we do have a lot of potential," Daniel says.

Daniel continues: "We know our trade and Petrol as a brand is a powerful player. I would say that there is a lesson here to be learned: you always need to invest first in the systems and people before you grow in digital. Because the digital world is really competitive, and yes, you can work with a lot of solid IT partners and services, but you need a solid backbone inside your company in your own systems. Finally, I think people need to realize and always remember that growing digital in turnover is far easier than growing in profit."

How Petrol Industries uses style and values to grow their online sales


Petrol and ChannelEngine: The gas and the engine combination for global success!

“Petrol has placed its trust in ChannelEngine for its ecommerce adventure. And it has been a strategic and profitable alliance. Alongside ChannelEngine, Petrol is setting up and executing a solid marketplace expansion plan. A challenge Petrol is totally committed to achieving.”


Do you think that for a brand nowadays, it is vital to have ecommerce?

“Yes. I would say that it even goes beyond that. It is not only having ecommerce where you can sell, but it also has a meaningful online presence because your potential customers will search and research your brand online through many channels: social media, websites, marketplaces, search engines, and so on. Thus, you need to be there, to be available in those same channels your potential customers will be.”


Why has Petrol chosen ChannelEngine as a partner for its digital expansion?

“I have worked with ChannelEngine before, and the reason we chose them at Petrol is not only the comprehensive technology, but also the people working at ChannelEngine. Their quality and commitment is an added value that, for us, is key. I love their innovative integration of technology and the human side makes it fun to work with them.

“We know that when we work with ChannelEngine, we work with a partner. A partner that is as committed as we are to the success of Petrol. It is not the classic relationship with a solution provider, but a colleague relationship.”


What plans does Petrol have for the near future?

“One of the things we want to do in the future is to enter the US market. We have not dealt with that particular market yet, as we first wanted to conquer Europe. And we are happily on our way to achieve that. Once we conquer Europe, we will turn towards the USA. We are confident of achieving success in America also because we have a really powerful argument: we have an amazing price-quality ratio, with incredible denim craftsmanship and an aesthetic that is globally accepted.”


Do you have one piece of advice for a company that wishes to start doing cross-border operations online?

“Each online marketplace or each online ecommerce platform is different. And it is an artisanal job to actually create and be successful with a brand online. It is incredibly difficult. Each marketplace has different and unique ways to integrate, and that’s why you need a partner that knows what they’re doing. A partner with the human touch to help you, give and receive advice, and work side by side with your brand, as we do with ChannelEngine,” Daniel concludes.


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{Note: This article was originally published in Cross-Border Magazine - Credits: Text: Frank Calviño // Photos: Petrol Industries}