This company is as Norwegian as it can get. The executive director Joakim Helland sits in his office in the middle of the fjords of Western Norway. The view from his desk is breathtaking. You can see the body of water and the rocky hills through the window. “This is what I see every day,” he proudly told Invest Estonia.
These surroundings are part of Helland’s family story. 75 years ago, Joakim’s grandfather Johan Helland founded a furniture factory in this very village Stordal (now in Møre og Romsdal county). His motto in business was: “Slowly up and forward, never back”.
Over three generations, the small production grew into a big player in its unique field – furniture for the elderly. Mostly through public bidding, Helland Møbler sells seating and other amenities to Northern Europe’s hospitals and care homes. Just like health, sustainability is a staple in the company. “The most environmentally friendly furniture is the one that lasts for decades,” Helland said. Hence, they use water-based lacquer and glue, certified wood to prevent deforestation. The waste timber is used to heat the factory.
Except that the factory is not here in Norway anymore. Gradually, over the course of ten years, Helland has moved all the production to another village – Nõmme in Western Estonia, keeping only the marketing department and the management in his hometown.
All the chairs, tables, sofas, beds, wardrobes and kitchen cabinets are now built by the coastline of the Baltic Sea, in a factory wedged in the forest.
Although far from each other, Nõmme and Stordal have something in common. The culture is similar, it’s easy to work in both, Helland discovered.
“When I looked at where to open our factory, I considered Lithuania and Latvia, then Estonia,“ Helland said. “I found out that even if production in Estonia is more expensive than in the other Baltic states, Estonians deliver on time. They show up and keep their promises.”
Helland has invested 4.5 million euros in Estonia, and the plans for the future are ambitious. They are expanding their activities in Germany and opening online retail for private customers. Helland is also looking into combining science with furniture production, integrating monitors that would analyze the health data on the person sitting on an armchair. It would help hospital and care home staff predict heart attacks months in advance, Helland explained. Even though many changes are happening and the firm is growing, the material and their way of working remain rooted in traditions. It’s part of the company’s value systems to only use certified wood – birch from Estonia and oak from neighbouring Western countries. Earlier, their plywood came from Russia, but since the start of the war in Ukraine, Helland switched to Latvia.
Why Western Estonia?
Transportation is an important factor in the wood industry. With Estonia’s long coastline, the country is like a window to the Baltic Sea, as emphasized Mihkel Kärg, Invest Estonia’s head of the regional network and investment advisor in West Estonia.
Besides, the Northern countries have the advantage of lush quality forests. Half of Estonia is covered in trees. The landscape has given the locals good know-how on how to use this material and create value from it. The wood industry is major! Every third employee in Estonia works in an area related to wooden products and furniture. The highly competitive sawmill industry imports wood from abroad and the local companies are able to create additional value from the wood. “Estonia’s sawmill industry and mechanical processing are some of the best in the world,” said Kärg.
In any case, as a forest-loving nation, Estonians are happy to use wood reasonably and for a good cause. Helping the elderly get better care is certainly one of them.