Heecon’s 25 years in a nutshell
Kees Heestermans worked in agriculture for many years before specialising in horticulture in 1988. Almost immediately, he became aware that he could make a significant contribution to the mechanisation of greenhouse cultivation. He had no formal training in this area, but with his clear vision and required technical skills, he managed to build a machine for removing waste crops.
Just the trick!
Over a period of eleven weeks, he visited tomato growers in the Westland region in the Netherlands, and it turned out that his machine was ideal. Hundreds of people came to look at it, and it also attracted attention from the press. Kees did not let the machine out of his sight for a second, because even then he knew that he was on to something special. From then on things developed quickly, and Heecon was established two years later. In the early years he was helped by family members, including his wife, son and daughter. His son Martijn, now Company Director, learnt his skills from an early age; he was already helping out at Heecon after school when he was just 16 years old.
On top of contract work, there was also interest in buying the machines. This was an ideal business model for the company, as it allowed it to spend quiet periods building its products. The first machines were sold in the Netherlands in 1989. Some of Heecon’s original staff from those early days are still working for the company today. All of them are professionals who, like Kees, have turned their hobby into their career. Building a machine themselves, then enthusiastically taking it out and putting it to work, is what everybody at Heecon enjoys more than anything else. It must be part of their DNA, because even though Kees Heestermans has now officially retired from the company, he is still building machines for a range of different applications.
Always up to date on technological developments
After spending the early years at various rented sites in different locations, Heecon opened its first company premises in Meerle in 1992. Machines for removing tomato crop waste were built at the new site, alongside others for crops such as cucumbers and peppers, and soft crops such as strawberries and raspberries. The greenhouse cultivation industry was developing faster than ever, but everyone at Heecon managed to keep right on top of events, all helped by combining contract work and manufacturing. Heecon is still incorporating the latest innovations and applications into its machines, keeping the company at the forefront of latest developments.
Heecon’s international breakthrough
International success followed in the mid-1990s. The first machines were sent to the UK, and France, Greece, Italy and Spain quickly followed suit. They were also delivered to the other side of the world, reaching Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and the United States. This has taken Heecon employees to all corners of the globe, because Heecon generally installs and sets up its machines itself. The added benefit of this is that users can be personally supplied the right level of explanation and instructions for their machines, ensuring that the machines can be used to their maximum capacity without a hitch. Hundreds of Heecon machines have already found their way around the globe.
Word of mouth
Kees discovered how Heecon’s fine reputation travelled faster and further than the export of machines themselves when he was installing a machine in the USA. He noticed they were already using some older Heecon models. This kind of cross-border word-of-mouth recommendation led to a number of orders from other countries for Heecon machines. An Australian nursery owner who saw a Heecon machine in the USA immediately ordered one from the Netherlands, for example.
A close-knit team in Meer
As demand for the machines grew, the company soon began to outgrow its premises in Meerle. The company has been operating from its current base in Meer in Belgium since 2007. In 2012, Martijn Heestermans, who had already been a Joint Company Director for several years, officially took over from his father. The company’s close-knit team of 8 permanent staff, 6 freelance contract workers and a trainee all work on new greenhouse waste removal applications with passion and a great deal of pleasure.
A solid basis
The basis of our machines, which focuses above all on quality and safety, has remained unchanged for the past 25 years. A range of modifications and new applications have, of course, been incorporated over this period. A good example is the development of machines for strawberry cultivation; the latter has seen explosive growth over the past decade. Heecon began manufacturing its machines at just the right time, and is now by far the largest supplier of contract work in the Hoogstraten-Zundert-Breda area, the leading area for strawberry cultivation in the Netherlands. Fellow contract workers in other regions with strawberry cultivation also prefer to use Heecon machines.
Kees Heestermans, talking about Heecon’s success, says, “You don’t need a degree to come up with something good. It’s a question of knowing where to look and combining things intelligently, that’s how you get an excellent machine.”