With less than a thousand guilders in savings, no materials or customers, and absolutely nothing but rock-solid confidence, Frans Ruigrok founded a company in 1952 now known as Heras. This series of articles will you into the history of our company. We look back on exciting times marked by pioneering and innovation. Our trip down memory lane starts at the Kattenstraat in Eindhoven, where it all began.
A fighter, unwavering in his belief in his own potential, with an almost unbreakable confidence in the future and a razor-sharp business instinct. That is what defines Frans Ruigrok, founder of Hekwerk Industrie Eindhoven, later known as Heras. On 1 April 1952, only 23 years old and fresh out of military service, with no diploma in his pocket, Frans Ruigrok started a business working from a garage at the Kattenstraat in Eindhoven. Times are tough and there were many entrepreneurs trying to break into the market, but only a few succeeded, Ruigrok was one of them, determined to make his company a success.
Dreaming about fences
The idea of standardising the production of fences is something Ruigrok came up with as a young man. Why not manufacture fences like you manufacture sewing machines? And keep a stock of models that are high in demand? Why not build a factory and have specialised installation crews? For each standardised fence, you can calculate the material volume, machine hours and installation hours needed in order to supply a ready-to-use product. With this thought he started his company.
Counting every penny
Despite Ruigrok’s revolutionary ideas, those early years can be described as a struggle. Money was tight. On client visits, Ruigrok put one cigar in a tube to present to the client. Wood waste, supplied by landlord Seerden, was used to fire the stove. Seerden’s daughter, a 17-year-old girl named Nellie Seerden, later Van der Linden, helped out with odd jobs – for free. Her first paycheck was a ticket to the opera La Traviata in Eindhoven. She was very fond of Mr Ruigrok, as she still calls him despite their long working relationship. After all, it’s not appropriate to call your employer by his first name, is it?
The first client of Hekwerk Industrie Eindhoven was Philips. Ruigrok’s father, who worked in the same sector as his son, was already working on fencing for Philips and had a crew working on site. He didn’t mind his son taking away business from his client. Initially, Philips was not too keen on the idea, but foreman Jan van der Wielen managed to convince Philips otherwise. Field worker Marinus van de Boogaard was one of Ruigrok’s new employees. ‘We used to go from the Philips workshop to the Kattenstraat, where there was absolutely nothing,’ Van de Boogaard remembers. ‘Except for some second-hand equipment, bought from a smithy for next to nothing and a handcart that we used to get our equipment to where we would be working.’ This is how Ruigrok and his men, taking turns riding the bike and pushing the handcart, got to a job in Valkenswaard. They eventually arrived at their destination, but getting there alone took a day!
Improvising with material
The quality of the material at the disposal of Ruigrok’s first crew was poor, to say the least. This required a lot of improvisation from everyone involved. Mesh, bar iron and I-beams were processed in a very primitive way. Bar iron was cut to measure using a saw from a timber yard which, in retrospect, was very dangerous. A second-hand eccentric press, purchased for NGL 1,400, proved to be an excellent investment. In an eccentric press, the force derives from the weight of the flywheel, which generates the power to strike the chisel through the iron. As each screech the flywheel picks up speed it gains momentum. The bars, uprights, pilasters and other parts of the fence can be cut or sawed off at the required length. However, customers were not exactly lining up at Ruigrok’s doorstep. Time for Ruigrok and his crew to roll up their sleeves.