COVID times in companies: from sudden stops to new developments22.11.2021
High quality, excellent service, open-minded attitudes – these are the strengths of many companies in the Tampere City Region. The COVID times have been challenging, but also opened many exceptional opportunities for business development.
Sofiakylä – Nokia, Finland
Sofiakylä (“Sofia Village”) is a private care home offering services for people with learning disabilities and special needs. Sofiakylä is “the second home” – a permanent home for adults, and offering temporary stays for people of all ages. The company’s focus is on the residents’ wellbeing.
– We are here to fulfil the dreams of our residents. Also, we raise awareness about learning disabilities, says Riitta Peltonen, entrepreneur and CEO of Sofiakylä.
Peltonen’s daughter Sofia was born with a severe learning disability, so Peltonen herself knows very well how life is in a family with a special needs child. It is Sofia who also inspired her to found the company in 2010, although she was not in the healthcare industry to begin with. As a result, Sofiakylä has a fresh view on all their activities.
– We are not stuck on the traditional dos and don’ts of a care home. Instead, we try things first and only after that we decide, what is or isn’t possible, Peltonen says.
Sofiakylä is a part of Hovikoti Group, an expert of care and wellbeing services in Finland. Additionally, HoviCare offers elderly care services in Singapore and Bali. In Sofiakylä, there are three houses and a cafe. There is room for 50 residents, and nine places for temporary stays. Sofiakylä’s good reputation has brought residents from far and near.
Light at the end of the tunnel
It was a shock in Sofiakylä when the COVID pandemic began in Finland. Some services were cut down, and strict instructions were made to avoid the risk of infection. Suddenly there was no need for the substitute staff, so they sought employment elsewhere. Later, that resulted in a staff shortage once the company was reopening services.
Deterioration of the financial situation was mitigated by Business Finland’s corona funding. With it, Sofiakylä was able to develop for example staff training and familiarization, and the company’s marketing contents.
– The help from Business Finland has been very important. Especially the familiarization is truly worth investing in, as it always emerges when staff’s wishes are asked, says Peltonen.
According to Peltonen, there is light at the end of the tunnel now. The entrepreneur has been asked, whether there are any plans to expand Sofiakylä further. The answer is no as long as the current staff shortage continues, later maybe.
– In any case, there is an enormous need for places for people with learning disabilities. I’m also interested in the global aspect, says Peltonen.
Mattila Bros. – Ylöjärvi, Finland
Mattila Bros. (a.k.a. Veljekset Mattila) is a meat refinery founded in 1958, with a lunch restaurant and a factory outlet in Ylöjärvi. The factory has an artisanal heart: all of their smoked products are still made in a smoke sauna.
– Of course, nowadays it’s a big smoke sauna with steel surfaces and automation, but we are still putting wood in the stove there. Our production is traditional, but not old-fashioned, says CEO Tero Sivula.
Mattila Bros. aims to become a flexible and diversified operator in the food industry, and they keep a close eye on changing consumer preferences. Smoke-cured ham is their best known product – and that is not very likely to be changed. Product development of white meat is interesting, though.
– Consumption of red meat has not increased any more in Finland. When it is eaten, the trend is towards better quality and more ethically produced meat, says Sivula.
That’s why Mattila Bros. offers products of the Free Piglet brand, where piggeries have committed to improvements in animal welfare. The origins and housing conditions of every single animal is known. All this means that finished products are a bit more expensive.
– Consumers often state that they prefer ethical production, but are they actually willing to pay for it? We are well aware that some ethical products have disappeared from the market because they have been deemed too expensive, says Sivula.
Mattila Bros. will make their first convenience foods this year. In the artisan spirit of the factory, also this range of products will be done quality first.
Updated and looking forward to 2022
There have been both ups and downs during the company’s over-60-years history. The COVID pandemic has certainly been one of the downs, because it slowed down business in their main customer base: hotels, restaurants and catering. Sales decreased, there were lay-offs and economizing where possible.
On the other hand, the COVID times have allowed a large scale business development. Sivula says their factory was turned upside down: processes and products were reviewed and reconsidered, looking for the most sensible lines of action. As a result, a lot of changes were made.
– Looks like the measures are working, our production is increasing and some new recruitments are made in product development. The renewed Mattila Bros. 2.0 is ready to go!
Mattila Bros. also received Business Finland’s corona funding and invested it in a project to build a supply chain. It will be connecting local food producers, consumers and professional kitchens.
Gastro-keittiöt – Pirkkala, Finland
The second generation family business has been specializing in kitchen furniture manufacturing and supplying since the very beginning. Hence the name Gastro-keittiöt (Gastro Kitchens). Additionally, the company is capable of making anything if it is made out of wood.
Gastro’s customers are mostly construction companies and other businesses, but consumers buy the company’s goods for their homes as well.
– Gastro is not the place with the lowest prices, but we excel with our service. There are plenty of details to consider when planning and making a kitchen renovation. We know how to take all of them into account, says CEO Lasse Pohjanen.
Adapting to the customer’s wishes goes smoothly and quickly because Gastro is manufacturing a major part of the furniture themselves. There is also a network – built in three decades – of small and trusted construction businesses. If a customer needs a painter or an electrician, it is easy to find one through Gastro’s network.
– When an entire kitchen renovation is available “from one door”, it usually saves customer’s time, money and trouble, states Pohjanen.
There is a Gastro Kitchens webshop (in Finnish), and the company sees it mainly as a marketing channel and a source of inspiration for potential customers. Sales are also made via the webshop, but it is not unusual that the customer visits the store after having surfed their webshop.
Towards the future with positive attitudes
At first there was a sudden stop in all the company’s activities when the COVID pandemic began. New plans were made, and soon things started rolling again. Gastro received Business Finland’s corona funding for development work.
– We managed to keep everyone at work although our order book thinned temporarily. We rearranged our appliance store and optimized our production, says Pohjanen.
Now the order book is back to normal again, and there are permanent benefits from the strengthened production. Home renovations have been booming during the COVID, which has mildly increased the kitchen furniture demand, too.
Gastro sees that the future is bright, although it’s not possible to foresee all the consequences of COVID for the business.
– We have a positive approach, and we have always tried to avoid being on a knife-edge. That’s how we stay flexible if need be, Pohjanen says.
Author: Päivi Stenroos