Pello-based Potma Oy has shown sceptics that the world can well be conquered from a small village in Lapland. The honeycomb panels manufactured in Pello sail in luxury ocean cruisers around the world.
– Leave from here?! That has never even been considered, Reijo Lassila, CEO of Potma, laughs at the question of whether he has ever considered moving business and operations out of Pello.
The Lassila family has lived in the Tornio River Valley since at least the 16th century. When Reijo Lassila took the lead of Potma, founded in Säkylä, in 2003, it was clear that the factory would stay in the beloved homeland.
The beginning was not always easy though. Potman’s product, a paper-based growing pot, did not have enough markets. In order to keep the company alive, the company had to quickly come up with a new operating strategy.
As a result of careful product development and market research, an aluminium honeycomb structure was created on the basis of the original product. The structure can be further processed into different kinds of load-bearing panels.
The honeycomb panel made of aluminium is lightweight and at the same time extremely stiff. It is therefore very suitable for mobile elements with different weight constraints, such as ships, trains and elevators.
In 2005, the company took a big risk and invested twice as much as the annual turnover to build a new production line. The risk paid off. The shipbuilding industry became Potma’s largest customer base and turnover of the business started to grow rapidly.
– We were lucky enough to get the investment decision quickly. Local public actors are well acquainted with the business field and are able to serve businesses in person. It creates mutual trust and enables flexible services, Lassila praises.
Lapland is a good place to live
Potma is currently undergoing a generational change. Lassila’s sons Antti and Matti have taken on the role of leading the business. Antti works as a marketing manager and Matti as a factory manager.
Antti travels to customer meetings from Oulu, but Matti has returned to live in his home village after his studies. They both think Pello is a good place to live and raise children. The opportunities for outdoor activities are excellent, the air is clean to breathe, the forest is always close and the longest free-flowing river in Europe runs next to it.
– Many signs indicate that people have faith in the future and the vitality of the village. A new school is being built in the village, a new kind of business has been started and a new bowling alley has recently been opened, Matti Lassila lists with satisfaction.
He believes that there are many people in southern Finland who would like to move to the north if they found a suitable job. Potma too hired a returnee last year.
– It was a win-win situation. We got a qualified person to work with and he got to move back home.
Committed staff is in everyone’s best interest
According to Lassila, a comfortable living environment with low housing costs also facilitates recruitment more generally. The company currently has 15 permanent employees, two temporary employees and one summer employee.
– We may have fewer applicants than in larger cities, but the recruitment success rate is very high. People here are down to earth and committed. The employee turnover is very low, which hopefully tells that people are happy working with us, Antti Lassila says.
Lassila believes that the well-being of the staff is an important foundation for the company’s success because it reflects to so many areas.
Potma takes care of its staff, e.g. by paying a voluntary pension and arranging decent occupational health care. A few times a year, joint recreational activities are organized, for example in the form of a theatre trip or a trip to watch a national level ice hockey match.
Investing in personnel is part of Potma’s principles of sustainable business. The company is ready to invest in staff training in the long term. According to Lassila, skilled and committed employees are in everyone’s interest.
Sustainability also shows in caring for the environment.
– As a company based in Lapland, clean nature is part of our everyday life and we know how to appreciate it. Our products are environmentally friendly and all waste from the factory is recycled accurately. Lightweight aluminium panels reduce the load on ships and thus reduce emissions. We consider all of these issues closely during the product development, Antti Lassila says.
Border brings choice and certainty
When logistics works, the location of a specialist company like Potma doesn’t matter much in today’s global marketplace.
Potma’s location in the Tornio River Valley near the border is an advantage in many ways, not least because of the logistics. A concrete example of this was obtained at the end of 2019 when the transport industry went on strike in Finland while a European customer was waiting for a large and urgent delivery. The goods were delivered to the customer on time through Sweden. This ensured the transaction and customer relationship.
– Most of our production is exported, either directly or indirectly. There are several logistics companies in Pello and there’s also a lot of transit to northern Norway and to the south. It gives us a lot of opportunities. We often get the goods to Central Europe even faster than when transported through Finland, says Matti Lassila.
Northern identity gives courage to internationalize
According to Reijo Lassila, there are three important factors in a successful business: quality, delivery time and price. Two of these need to be in order for customers to remain satisfied.
– For us, quality and delivery time are the basis of everything. If shipbuilding stops somewhere because they don’t get their materials on time, it gets pretty expensive on both sides. Our work is to solve customers’ problems and that is why we want to keep all the threads in our own hands.
Lassila believes that Tornio River Valley’s long history of cross-border trade and other cross-border co-operation has helped Potma seek bold growth and internationalization. It has never been a problem for him to leave into the world, even though he still wants to live in Pello.
– We have such identity here in the Tornio River Valley that we see opportunities and, most importantly, we also dare to seize them.