A spotlight on the history of Heras: part 4
Heras has a rich history. In a series of articles, we look back at some of the key developments in our history. In part 3 we covered how Heras founder Frans Ruigrok turned his dream, the standardised production of fencing, into reality. Part 4 focuses on how Heras develops into a professional sales organisation, a period in which the company’s turnover reaches unprecedented levels.
From pioneer to market leader in fencing
The change of name from Hekwerk Industrie Eindhoven to Heras Hekwerk and the relocation to a new site in 1958 marks the end of a period of pioneering for founder Frans Ruigrok. Heras is now a growing enterprise with an annual turnover of more than one million guilders and a workforce of 23 employees. It’s also expanding its operations nationwide.
Philips, Ruigrok’s first contract customer, provides Heras with a sound financial basis and, in some years, accounts for 30% of its total revenue. Everywhere where Philips opens a new branch, which is in more than 40 locations throughout the country, Heras is commissioned to install the fencing. What kind of company did Herman Wijn join when he was appointed sales leader in 1960 as the 23rd employee on the payroll? A company that is alive and kicking, energetic, with hardworking and motivated people. A place where people don’t moan, but work day and night in a healthy, positive atmosphere. It’s still a lot like a large smithy, but with top quality equipment and products. Heras is already market leader in that respect.
Wijn begins with setting up a professional sales organisation. He examines the working methods of both the back office and front office with critical eyes. He divides the Netherlands into four areas and hires additional sales people to cut back on travelling time. The sales manager also draws Ruigrok’s attention to the dangers of having only two large customers, Philips and the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM). ‘Having one or two customers that represent most of the business makes us too dependent,’ says Wijn. So Heras implements a policy that focuses on adding one other large customer a year to Heras’ portfolio to even out the business and this policy proves to be successful. Philips and the NAM are followed by companies such as Heidemij, Grontmij, the Dutch Railways and the Government Buildings Agency. Philips’ share in turnover drops to around 1.5%.
Major leaps forward Heras’ revenues are growing by leaps and bounds, in some years by no less than 40%. In 1960, sales figures reach a new all-time high of one million guilders, a tremendous amount in those days. But Heras does not rest on its laurels. Wijn: ‘Our way of manufacturing fences was catching on and our way of working was very goal-oriented. The standardised production of fencing, product development, modernisation of equipment – all this was actively encouraged through weekly innovation meetings which were held on Mondays from 6.00 to 10.00 p.m. This approach allowed customers to see, at a glance, what we had to offer. It did not take long for us to convince them that we offered by far the best total package in terms of quality, dimensions and surface treatment for their specific situation.’
Ruigrok is aware of the fact that he isn’t the most social of people. He isn’t a guy who gives his employees a pat on the back for a job well done and asks questions like ‘How is your wife doing?’ Nor is he actively involved in making social provisions for staff. However, when someone points this out to Ruigrok, he is given complete freedom to make improvements in this area. At the end of the 1960s, a Works Council is set up where all possible social arrangements, from profit sharing schemes to pensions, are discussed and there was never a strike in Ruigrok’s time.