The wood product industry is often thought of as an industry with high volume. However, the industry also includes firms specialising in small production runs and customer-focused service operations. Vankkapuu Oy is a family business that has operated for over three decades. With operations in Simpele and Joutseno in the Finnish province of South Karelia, the company has found its place in the wood product manufacturing market through specialisation, flexibility in product manufacturing, customer-focused operations and ensured delivery.
In 1985, construction foreman Antero Vanhatalo was working on railway electrification heard when he heard that the Jäppinen brothers’ boatyard in Simpele was for sale. Having dreamed of owning his own company, he seized the opportunity. — At the time, the company manufactured Jäppi boats, which were quite well-known. We soon ramped down the manufacturing of the boats, changed the company name and set our course for new products in carpentry. — The forest industry in South Karelia needed a lot of pallets and wooden caps for the ends of paperboard rolls. In our role of a subcontractor supporting basic business needs in the forestry industry, we began to develop customised products in collaboration with clients to meet the industry’s needs.
At the same time, we opened our own wood and construction supplies store alongside our planing mill in Simpele. We still operate this store. — We renovated our buildings to better suit the needs of the planing mill producing panels and sheets. The store allows us to get a sense of the consumer market and its needs. The 2000s were a time of investment at Vankkapuu Oy as new facilities were built at Simpele and Joutseno. — We handle orders for every possible need of our wood processing customers, says Mikko Vanhatalo, M.Sc., who became CEO in 2009. Our principle is that no project is too small, and on the other hand, we will sometimes make 200 cubic feet of the same product in one go.
The consumer market wants finished products
Mikko Vanhatalo took over leadership of the company in 2008, right in the midst of a deep economic downturn. The wood trade has since recovered alongside the growth in domestic construction. — The market has moved towards finished products in the last ten years. Customers want installation-ready, quality products more than ever, and these production runs can be quite small.
— When customer requirements grow, we try to respond to them by offering surface-treated and pre-cut products, even installing the products in place when needed. Here we are assisted by our network of partner companies. While the big companies focus on raw material production, we small players process the materials further for our customers. In my opinion, this work distribution has been a success, says Mikko Vanhatalo. Vankkapuu Oy’s business is based on serving a few large clients and a large number of smaller customers.
Premanufacturing for industrial construction is growing
According to Mikko Vanhatalo, construction companies have begun to use an increasing amount of pre-manufactured, pre-cut frame material. — Once a construction company tries this pre-manufacturing, it sticks with it because it yields such significant savings. Processed, ready-made, packaged products withstand long transport journeys.
The growth in industrial wood construction can be seen in the growing numbers of pre-cut construction elements requested from the element manufacturing industry. The demand for pre-cut frames is likewise growing. We respond to these needs by making and packing products to allow the installation time at the work site to be as short as possible.
According to Vanhatalo, the green values prevailing on the market can be seen in the growing use of wood and in other customer choices. — For example, when selecting materials for a terrace or pier, heat-treated wood and wood treated with organic materials are becoming increasingly popular. The third alternative is larch, which is known for its particularly durable heartwood even when untreated.
— Wood construction has clearly become more interesting in people’s eyes, and more information is available than before. Although knowledge about wood itself has certainly not increased, people are now more familiar with wood products. For us, it is important to meet the customer through products. — More often than not, sauna benches tended to be made from aspen. Now, people have 10-12 different Finnish options to choose from, with thermal wood showing the strongest growth.
New wood products hit the market
Mikko Vanhatalo believes that family businesses are stronger at an appropriate company size and with a flat organisational structure. — This has changed into a customer-focused service business where the share of services grows alongside the demand for pre-cut, surface-treated products. In short, there is a growing demand for products that save time at the construction site.
— For example, a new product suited for multicolour ceiling panelling and textured walls is being launched onto the market. In addition to construction, wood products also have a lot of opportunities in interior design. Interior designers and architects are important partners in the launching of new wood construction product innovations.
The main products of Vankkapuu’s wood processing are pallets, roll caps, cores for rolled paperboard and further processing and end products targeted at the sawn timber consumer market. The company serves the consumer customer segment at its wood and construction supply retail shop in Simpele.
Vankkapuu Oy is a family business in its second generation. It employs about 25 people, and had a turnover of about EUR 6.5 million in 2017.
This article is part of a series by Markku Laukkanen and Mikko Viljakainen. The series presents a variety of best practices and trends in the Finnish wood industry. The aim is to spread information about best practices and solutions in the Finnish wood industry to increase its competitiveness and make Finnish expertise more widely known. The articles will be published in Finnish and in English. They will be made freely available for use as source material and for publication as they are. The articles will be distributed as Puuinfo newsletters and will also be published on the puuinfo.fi and woodproducts.fi websites. The article series is funded by the Ministry of the Environment’s Wood Construction Operational Program.