Lahnakoski Oy AB
From local one-man show to European industry leader
In the 1930s, a one-man company started manufacturing hay rakes for the local farmers in the little village of Lahnakoski. Today, the company is Europe’s leading producer of wooden oars.
Making an oar can involve up to fourteen different steps. Careful quality control is important for Björn Sandström.
In a small village in Finland’s Ostrobothnia lies a company with a long history and interesting journey behind it. The company Lahnakoski, which borrows its name from the village, has transformed from a one-man show in the 1930s into an industry leader.
“As with many other old companies, we don’t precisely know where it all began but sometime in the 1930s my grandfather’s father started a carpenters’ shop just a stone’s throw from here,”Björn Sandström recounts Lahnakoski’s history.
These days, Sandström, representing the fourth generation in the family-owned company, is CEO and continues to build on the life’s work of his ancestors.
“In 1936, my grandfather’s father bought a steam engine from the neighbouring village. We consider that to be the founding year.”
In the beginning, they manufactured all types of farming tools and household items for the local area. They made doors, windows and furniture, but the workshop became best known for its hay rakes. In 1954, the company moved to the location where Lahnakoski’s plant is today and the operations took off quickly with the nest generation at the helm.
Success through flexibility
Today, the plant has a selection of 275 products and each year, hundreds of thousands of products leave the plant for export to almost 30 countries.
“We want to serve our customers. While our competitor might have 5–10 products in their range, we also make a number of different special paddles, flagpoles and boat masts,” says Sandström.
The plant with its 15 employees has been expanded more than ten times and significant flexibility defines the operations. They train new employees on site, maintenance of machines is taken care of by the personnel and Sandström himself often works on the shop floor. Thanks to this, and many other factors, but above all a strong will, oar production still lives on in the region.
“Many have said that we should move our production abroad, but here we are.”
Being local and carrying a social and environmental responsibility are important for Lahnakoski. All the energy for the timber drying kilns comes from the chips left over from the manufacture of wooden oars and paddles, and despite a highly seasonal business, Sandström wants the employees to have work year-round.
“I wouldn’t dream of doing it any other way.”
Favouring local companies is a priority
The same thinking applies to transportation partners: Ahola Transport has taken Lahnakoski’s product to Sweden and Norway for decades.
“We favour local companies and that is why Ahola was an obvious choice, but the price needs to be right as well. For us, the most important thing is for the transport company to understand our needs,” says Anita Laakso who is in charge of transports and sales at Lahnakoski.
Communication and the opportunity to give feedback if things aren’t working are also important.
“We’re pretty demanding, which is why it is important that they listen to us. With Ahola, our opportunities to impact transports is much greater. If something happens, we get a fast response and information,” says Laakso.
During the autumn season, a fully-loaded truck from Ahola Transport rolls out with Lahnakoski’s products each week. The products head both to shops and boat manufacturers. Björn Sandström hopes that the collaboration will continue and gives us an anecdote about how the exports, also handled by Ahola today, started up for Lahnakoski back in the day.
“My grandfather’s brother won a trip to Sweden in a lottery. So they went off to Sweden and brought some oars with them. That is how our exports began.”
Lahnakoski manufactures everything from classic wooden oars to modern SUP paddles. What matters most is the quality of the wood.
High quality requirements for wood
Today, the oars sail away as far as Mexico. Long-standing traditions and high quality, as well as customers’ nostalgia for wooden oars, have contributed to Lahnakoski’s success.
“Even though it might be hard to believe, the availability of wood is the biggest challenge,” says Sandström.
The oars require the best wood and knowing what wood is suitable is an art form in itself. Just around one per cent of the wood produced by sawmills meets the quality requirements.
“But we have good, long-standing relationships with our suppliers. Most of the wood comes from forests in southern and eastern Finland,” says Sandström.
The main competitors in oar manufacturing can also be found close to home in Finland and the Baltics. In Sweden, production has died out due to a lack of high-quality wood.
“You can’t make oars if you buy a truck full of wood but end up with just a wheelbarrow of raw material that is good enough.”