Heras has a rich history. In a series of articles, we look back at some of the key developments in our history. In part 1 we returned to Eindhoven’s Kattenstraat, where Frans Ruigrok started his company Hekwerk Industrie Eindhoven. Part 2 focuses on the challenges Ruigrok faced as a business owner in the first years of the company’s existence.
Heras: a small player in a big market
On 1 April 1952, with unwavering confidence in the future, Frans Ruigrok founded Hekwerk Industrie Eindhoven, now known as Heras. Although his ideas to standardise the production of fences were revolutionary, customers were not exactly lining up at Ruigrok’s doorstep during these first years. It took until 1955 for the company, which at the time had 12 people on the payroll, to prove its viability.
Ruigrok believed that by standardising production of fences it would be more efficient time-wise and material-wise. So he came up with a plan to manufacture the fences himself and keep models in stock that were high in demand, but his plan required a bigger site than the Kattenstraat. That’s why in 1955 Hekwerk Industrie Eindhoven moved to a hall with 400 square metres of floor space and a large storage area. As the economy picked up, the orders started to come in more frequently. Ruigrok was presented with a new challenge: he needed to attract new staff. But finding skilled professionals willing to work for a small company was no easy feat and the people responding to his ‘Wanted: workers for hauling and excavation work’ ad were not the crème de la crème of the industry Ruigrok was looking for.
Ruigrok’s workers who were on assignment outside Eindhoven, were lodged in boarding houses. Finding boarding houses was not very difficult for Ruigrok. He simply visited the local butcher, who told him which customers order large amounts and therefore potentially had boarders. However, the boarding houses system did not make business operations run any smoother. The further away the job, the later the men started work on the Monday. So Ruigrok decided to visit local cafés and coffee houses to spread the word about his company and recruit new employees. This decision proved to be fruitful. Now Ruigrok had regional crews across the country that were able to take on work as needed. Ruigrok was a good employer and the atmosphere in his small company was pleasant. If he needed his workers to put in more hours, he was always willing to pay more.
Although Philips, Heras’ first large customer, accounted for 70% of the company’s turnover, Heras’ customer base was growing steadily. Winning the business of the army corps of engineers was an incredible feat of Ruigrok’s. It took alot of guts (and a hint of blackmail) to swing negotiations in Apeldoorn in Ruigrok’s favour. The corps were planning to build munitions storage facilities and needed fencing. At the time, Ruigrok was a small player in a big market, but he had one thing going for him: a better fence structure. A fence with a concrete block for maximum anchoring and a minimum in weight. The price: 25 guilders per meter; was eight guilders cheaper than Ruigrok’s competitor. Nevertheless, the competitor seemed to be winning the tender so Ruigrok requested to speak to the captain in charge. ‘I can offer you a much better fence, which is also sustainable and cheaper,’ he said. ‘This is the wrong way to spend tax money. If you don’t choose our fence, I think I’ll have to do something about that.’ That was quite a bold thing to say, what was the answer? The next day, Ruigrok received a phone call and the young company hit the jackpot.