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Heras crosses the borders with its fences

Heras has a rich history. In a series of articles, we look back at some of the key developments in our history. In part 7, you discovered how Hugo Groeneveld, successor to Heras founder Frans Ruigrok, continued to shape the company while driving innovation. In part 8, Heras fences are exported all over the world. 

Heras crosses the borders with its fences

In the 1960s the first attempts are made by Heras to reach across Dutch borders. Heras tries to gain a foothold in Belgium in 1964, but it soon becomes clear that this will require time and patience. After four years, business has grown to such an extent that Heras Hekwerk Belgium is founded, followed by Germany in 1970 and England in 1986. In 1991, Heras opens a sales company in France. 

After taking Europe by storm, Heras is ready to venture into new, non-European markets. The question is which markets to target? In any case, countries with a lot of money and with a need for fencing, but without the expertise or resources necessary to accomplish the task on their own. Countries in the Middle East, for example. By coincidence, there’s an order circulating at Heras from a contractor commissioned to build an airport in Saudi Arabia. Although Heras is unable to supply the required solution in the English-language specification, the order turns out to be very important for Heras because there’s a name and address written on it and in those days, you needed an invitation from Saudi Arabia to get a visa.

Negotiating with the sheikh

The Saudi Arabian company is approached by Sales Leader Herman Wijn: ‘We would like to make you an interesting offer but you have to invite us first.’ A telegram arrives inviting Heras to Saudi Arabia, based on which a visa is issued. Wijn spends fortnight learning as much about the country as he can, after which he packs his bags and gets on a plane. After weeks of nail biting and negotiating with Sheikh Hassan ben-Ladin, the company places a gigantic order, but Heras has nothing on paper. Wijn: ‘Over the past weeks, I’d developed a trust relationship with the sheikh and was afraid to shatter our understanding by asking him to record our agreements in writing. Had I pressed the issue, then I probably would have missed the boat. They did promise to provide us with a letter of credit, and they promised to pay in advance.’

Dutch fence builder in Saudi Arabia

Field worker Marinus van de Boogaard was stationed in Saudi Arabia for a long time. It was one of the best experiences of his life. ‘We stayed in barracks and watched videotapes that were sent over from Netherlands. That was pretty much all there was to do. With nothing else on our hands, we spent our days off working too. At one point, temperatures rose to as high as 55°C, so I decided to work at night using a motion tracking spot light as a light source. I had a crew of local workers working behind me with their own spot light. When I noticed their spot light had stopped moving, I went over to see what was going on and to my surprise I found the entire crew fast asleep.’ Heras’ Arabic adventure comes to a halt in the 1980s. By now the sheikhs with whom Heras has been doing business have been replaced by their sons, who no longer want to be dependent on the ‘fence builder’ from Holland.

Tough competition

Businesses must grow if they want to stay healthy and competitive. Taking over other companies, flotation or opening branches in the US are all ways for Heras to achieve growth. But that’s not what Heras wants. Heras’ aspirations lie with developing and growing its own company and products. Eventually the decision is made to focus on Europe and be a European company. The EU’s 1993 open trade policy, a Europe without frontiers, does not change the way Heras does business. Groeneveld: ‘But the competition has become fiercer. Fortunately, we have a leading position in this competitive force field. We have a high market share in our home market that we are committed to defending. We will never let the competition beat us.’