• Wed. May 22nd, 2024

Retirement of Jan Heuvelmans marks the end of an era

He held it off for a long time, but now that he is certain that his “Refoam” panels are in good hands with the Joosten Group, retirement has come for Jan Heuvelmans. The artificial turf industry loses a remarkable figure and one “we should all take as an example,” Joosten Group Director Raymond Brouwer notes.

This is because, despite being 75 years old, Heuvelmans was still very much involved until the very last moment. “We just shipped the first full container loads to the U.S. and I am hopeful that a project – currently underway in development in Germany – will also be the forerunner of many more beautiful things. Joosten Refoam will certainly contribute to the international expansion of the entire group,” he says proudly and with satisfaction – proud because twice in his career. Heuvelmans has launched shock pads and shock-absorbing panels from recycled foam, satisfied because it has now become the norm that both sports fields and playgrounds cannot do without these kinds of products. “The future of artificial turf is currently at a crossroads. Will non-filled artificial turf fields and dry-turf become the norm, yes or no? And what will be the future of artificial grass yarns made from recycled end-of-life turf? Whatever it may be, neither can do without a shock pad.” And with sustainability more important than ever, the future of “his” Refoam products looks even brighter. “It’s Italian design for fall protection and drainage, but with a focus on the affordability of the solution. It will last at least 25 years.”

Funny, driven, passionate

However, the commercial successes are not why Brouwer, Director of the Joosten Group, regrets that Heuvelmans is retiring. “Jan is a special person. He is very passionate, always available and takes everything on. He does it all with a joke and a laugh, which keeps things light. That’s unique, certainly in a world where young people view authority differently than the older generation and do not appreciate much anymore the need for working hard if you want to achieve something.” Brouwer makes the appropriate comparison with top sports. “Entrepreneurship and selling are top sports. If you want to achieve a certain goal, it will take dedication and teamwork to make it possible.” Knowledge alone is not enough. “On the one hand, Jan was jovial, driven, open and always up for a joke. On the other hand, I have also experienced how driven he was in a negotiation with our supplier, of all people.” How much Heuvelmans will be missed was evident on his final day. Representatives from all Joosten Group branches had travelled to the head office in Bemmel, the Netherlands, for an official farewell. But the pensioner noted that the appreciation shown goes both ways. “I had been doing business with the Joosten Group for a number of years before we agreed in 2022 that they would take me over. The entire period that we have known each other has always felt very good and warm. It felt like family.”

Family

Heuvelmans makes the comparison almost casually, but it is actually the common thread that has run through his career. He started at Schmitz Foam, a family-owned business from Roermond, and was thus part of the introduction of shock pads for sports. “I knew the Schmitz family prior to when I sold my own business. They invited me to come and work for them.” When his employment ended in 2011, Heuvelmans started his own company and built up a good relationship with the Italian company Apetek. This business is also family-owned and also specializes in shock pads and shock absorption panels from foam residues from production processes in other industries. When a fire in 2013 almost destroyed the entire factory and forced Apetek to file for bankruptcy, Heuvelmans helped them to find a new site and to restart production. In passing, he came up with a new brand name for the products and reshaped the corporate identity. Refoam was born.

"Jan is a special person. He is very passionate, always available and takes everything on. He does it all with a joke and a laugh, which keeps things light. That's unique, certainly in a world where young people view authority differently than the older generation and do not appreciate much anymore the need for working hard if you want to achieve something."

A well-known successor

Heuvelmans’ successor is André Piels. “We have known each other for a long time, as we were colleagues when we both started in the shock pad industry.” Piels has also tread his own path in the industry ever since. Until recently, he chaired the Shock Pad Working Group of the ESTC. The EMEA Synthetic Turf Council is the trade association for the artificial turf industry in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The working group was instrumental in developing a European standard that allows for the better comparison of shock pads from different manufacturers. “That is an important development for both the industry and the market, because, combined, there were too many laws and regulations in the various countries,” Heuvelmans says. “By harmonizing the requirements for entire Europe, manufacturers can now offer their products more fairly and better on the different markets. Buyers thus have a much wider choice. At the same time, they can better compare the technical data of the different products.”

Although he accepts that his time has come, Heuvelmans regrets having to leave the market at a time when the interest in shock pads is picking up. “People finally agree that shock pads, in addition to comfort and safety, also help to extend the life of the artificial turf carpet. Moreover, they minimize environmental pollution by microplastics.” Thanks to the shock pad, only a thin layer of performance infill is required. “That layer is now really only a few millimetres thick, and, due to the cushioning effect of the shock pad, will migrate even less quickly.” Because of these positive contributions, the demand for shock pads has increased enormously. Heuvelmans secretly would have liked to continue selling for a few more years. “Fortunately, our supplier recycles the foam residues from various industries, which is why they always have sufficient stock, even though companies nowadays produce much more economically and therefore have less residue foams available.” The Refoam panels, which come in both straight and puzzle shapes, are made entirely from recycled foam.

Full agenda

With his time in the artificial turf and shock pad world over, other family commitments are calling. “My wife is a bit younger than me and still works. She has already made it clear that she is looking forward to someone cooking for her from now onwards.” The golf course also beckons. “In addition, I have started playing bridge and I want to play billiards again more often.” For the last time, his (former) colleagues at the Joosten Group try to rub him up. “Real pub sports!” they cheer in the background. Heuvelmans is not bothered. “I am also going to work four hours a week at the local tourist office, telling people how beautiful and special the city of Roermond is and how to find their way around.” He doesn’t have to do it for the money, as his hourly rate is set at EUR 4.75 per hour, which is the standard for pensioners who volunteer. “Just enough for two cups of coffee with a local pie somewhere on a terrace after work,” those in the background cheer again.

A nicer farewell

“We will miss Jan,” Brouwer made clear in his speech. “However, we will hand him his own key because he will always be welcome.” The general expectation is therefore that Heuvelmans will not close the door indefinitely. “He finds it difficult to let go of his thing and will have to learn to switch off,” Piels remarks. “Having that said, those are also very nice qualities that characterize Jan so much.” In May, the Joosten Group will take Heuvelmans and his wife out for dinner, and this autumn, the entire staff of the Joosten Group will have the opportunity to say a final goodbye. As a thank you for his services, he has also been offered a tour of the European partners. “So that you can say goodbye to them all in a fitting way with your wife, who also knows many of our partners,” Brouwer explained.

It will be a beautiful “walk down memory lane” and one where the last pieces of the puzzle will finally fall into place. “As a child, I used to take the train from Roermond into Germany without my parents knowing. In those days, you could do so, as your mother couldn’t call you to find out where you were hanging out,” he revealed at his farewell, to the hilarity of the attendees, who were significantly younger and, likely, have grown up with the cellphone as an essential tool. Together with his wife, he is going to see and experience once more what a healthy dose of curiosity, audacity, joviality and perseverance has brought him – not as a salesman, but as a human being.

Guy Oldenkotte

Guy Oldenkotte is senior editor of sportsfields.info and has been covering the outdoor sportssurfaces market and industry since 2003

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