The East of Scandinavia not only offers breath-takingly beautiful nature, but also a small, but busy promotional products industry and a business environment that is characterised by a high awareness for quality as well as reliability and honesty.
The 2019 World Happiness Report of the United Nations declared Finland as the happiest country in the world for the second time. The survey is based on self-assessments that the citizens of a country submit about their own satisfaction – and that is obviously very high in Finland. What is the reason for this? The breath-takingly beautiful nature, which the country that lies between Norway and Russia is blessed with in abundance? Over 70% of the surface of Finland is covered with forests and with its over 188,000 lakes in relation to the land mass, Finland boasts the largest area covered by water worldwide. “A high number of Finnish people at least have a small house somewhere in the countryside and a boat – we simply feel at home between forests and water,” said Lauri Honka, Mastermark. Or is the happiness of the Finnish population due to a social system that in comparison to others is pretty egalitarian? “Everyone can simply look up what everyone else earns,” reported Honka. “Fines, for example speeding fines, are also imposed based on the offender’s wages – Nokia board members have sometimes had to pay amounts equal to the price of a car.”
Is it due to the Finnish welfare state that does very well in the European and worldwide comparison, due to the constantly praised education system – the illiteracy rate is the lowest in the world – or the fact that Finland is one of the most advanced information societies worldwide (the country ranks second in the Press Freedom Index 2019 of the NGO Reporters Without Borders)? It is probably a bit of everything and the small country that was one of the poorest nations in Europe until the late 20th century, is evidently doing a lot of things right. This also applies for the engineering and research sectors: Many technical and digital innovations of the last decades originated from Finland. Finnish companies play in the top league when it comes down to high-tech and engineering. “We are often forced to be smart,” stated Honka. “After all, a high wage level prevails here and due to the large distances transport costs are also expensive. So, we have to organise the processes and infrastructure as efficiently as possible and push the development of intelligent technologies.”
A number of famous and frequently imitated architecture trends and design ideas also come from Finland – from Alvar Aalto’s revolutionary modernism, to Eero Aarnio’s Ball Chair, through to the poppies of Marimekko.
“We are what we say we are”
With a population of 5.5 million inhabitants and a low population density Finland has a correspondingly small promotional products sector. No reliable figures on the size of the market are available and with the exception of the small PWA Expo in Helsinki that is organised by the Swedish suppliers association there is currently no trade show purely for promotional products, an industry association doesn’t exist either. “There are perhaps a handful of promotional products companies that are nearly as big as we are,” reported Honka, whose company turns over 18.4 mio. Euros a year. “Most of the players are very small or only sell promotional products as a side line. Furthermore, many distributors import goods themselves or buy from European suppliers – hence in the case of the latter it is definitely worthwhile establishing contacts to Finland.”
Especially since the Finnish have a pronounced quality awareness – high-quality, durable products are considered to be more important than the lowest possible prices. What’s more, there is a very pleasant business climate that is characterised by commitment and reliability. “Finnish people are reliable, genuine and totally honest,” stated Seija Lukkala, Globe Hope. “We are what we say we are. Customers can trust that we deliver on time and do as we promised.” The German exhibition service provider and consultant, Klaus Beyer, who has been supporting promotional products companies in working the Scandinavian market for decades, also praises the Finnish mentality: “I have organised diverse exhibitions in Finland with European suppliers. The distributors that we invited to attend always arrived precisely on time, so that we were able establish many contacts on one day – these are excellent prerequisites.”
Hence, there are plenty of reasons for establishing contacts to Finland for both suppliers and resellers – and perhaps they will even begin to understand the secret of the frequently talked about Finnish happiness. See the following pages for a portrait on two Finnish companies.
// Till Barth
Whereas elsewhere business decisions are taken while dining or golfing, in Finland one is also quite glad to unveil things while doing so: It is namely not unusual to meet up with business partners in the sauna. After all, this is an essential cultural asset. According to the tourism platform visitfinland.com there are over two million saunas in Finland – with a population of around 5.5 mil. people that corresponds to a sauna per household. In addition to the customary wood-panelled rooms in private households and the classic wooden cabins in the middle of nature, fans can even indulge in the sweat-inducing pastime at great heights: In the ski resort Ylläs in the north of Finland the highest summit can be climbed in a cable car sauna and the big wheel in Helsinki also has a sauna gondola. The visitors don’t necessarily have to be naked – swimwear is also allowed – they don’t have to endure the traditional process of hitting their bodies with bundles of birch branches (vasta) either. Only the subsequent diving into icy water or jumping into snow shouldn’t go amiss if the optimal effect is to be achieved.
Enjoy the midnight sun in a summer house with a lake view – that is more or less a compulsory programme for all of the Finns and tourists travelling to Finland. It is no surprise: With its almost 200,000 inland waters, Finland is one of the regions that has the most lakes in the world. The fact that this abundance is held in high esteem by the Finnish and the numerous activities in and on the water – whether (ice) fishing, swimming, boat trips or ice skating – reflect their deep closeness to nature. However, the many lakes also fulfil an important function – they namely serve as water reservoirs: For example, the Päijänne Lake, which boasts the second longest tunnel in the world that spans 120 km, provides around 1 mil. people in and around Helsinki with drinking water.