The Story of Europress: 40 YEARS OF GROWTH
Europress has come a long way since the budding environmental awareness of the late 1970s and become one of the leading actors of the cleantech and circular economy fever experienced in the European corporate world in its own field of equipment manufacture. Throughout its 40-year history, the company has grown and evolved under the firm lead of Matti Turunen.
Early days at the offices. Matti Turunen on the left and Markku Aalto, who later continued his career elsewhere, on the right.
1970s: Sales skills and environmental awareness
Before establishing Europress, Turunen worked at the sports department of Stockmann, where his skills were noted. Turunen impressed his supervisor with his skilful sales pitch on the differences of football boot studs to customers. Later on, he worked for moving company Viktor Ek, where he became also familiar with waste handling equipment.
The idea of selling waste compactors through his own company was conceived together with Markku Aalto, co-founder of Europress. They were driven by a will to do their part in resolving problems resulting from growing waste mountains. The two young men established Europress on 9 December 1977, and ran it by themselves for the first three years.
In the beginning, waste compactors were angular and the container was detachable. Product design and combi models were launched in the 1990s.
The first waste compactor called Europak 150 was sold to Kesko in Kuopio to address Päivärinnantie 18 for a sales price of FIM 48,100 (approx. €8,000). At that time, the concept of waste compacting was still new and sorting rare, but times have since changed. Today, the same address features sorting of recyclable materials at both K-Citymarket’s own waste collection point and Rinki-Ekopiste provided for use by consumers. There are several fractions to sort and there are a total of six waste compactors delivered by Europress at that nostalgic address.
In the beginning, the products sold by Europress were subcontracted in Finland. During the first year of business, eight waste compactors were sold.In the second year, the number of sold units nearly doubled. The momentum continued into the third year, when the persistent entrepreneurs delivered 31 waste compactors. The third year was about making their mark and turning the business into a profitable one.
The first years were not easy. Sometimes, inconvenient bus trips had to be taken to deliver sales contracts for signing. During one sales trip, the tyre of their Fiat had to be patched three times.
Despite the various challenges, they met their goal. The risk taken by the young entrepreneurs paid off. The third year was a profitable one and set off growth.
Europress’ first service vehicle on a customer call.
1980s: New forms of service
Since the two first years, Europress has been in the red only once in 1995 in the aftermath of the paralysing economic recession. But a lot had happened before that point allowing the company to overcome the related challenges and to lay the foundations for future growth.
Once the business started to make profit, the duo did not rest on their laurels. As early as 1980, they launched the leasing business, which was a ground-breaking solution. It took exceptional courage, however, and solid faith in what they were doing.
“We were so crazy that we got an audience with the deputy managing director of Kansallisrahoitus, even though he was usually reluctant to meet with new entrepreneurs,” says Turunen when thinking back to those exciting times.
The winds of change were also blowing with regard to servicing activities. Equipment servicing had been a part of the service offering since the beginning, outsourced from Helsingin hydrauliikka. It was time to set up their own service department. Servicing was offered included in the leasing prices – something new as well. In the beginning, the service department employed two men who served customers all over Finland, so the service activities of Europress have been nationwide since the very beginning!
In 1984, Europress expanded its operations by launching its own production in the municipality of Pohja, where suitable facilities were available. Welders and a design engineer were hired. The design engineer also served as a production manager who ran the daily operations of the plant.
In the beginning, the product range included a couple of angular models for cardboard and mixed waste. Slowly, more time and effort was put into product development and design and the range was developed to match the needs of the growing market.
Domestic production and high-quality design grew into a source of pride and the core of company operations over the years. Today, the number of production employees has increased from the original seven to approximately 50 and over a dozen experts work in the plant management and design department. But let us take another look at history, since the plant location has changed a couple of times over the years.
The Pohja plant in the 1980s. In-house production operations were launched here.
1990s: Experimental era
When the Pohja plant had been in operation for ten years, the production volumes had grown to a point where larger facilities were required. Such facilities were discovered in Hakkila in Vantaa and the plant moved there in 1994. The opening of the new plant was a grand affair: the guests included Sirpa Pietikäinen who was Minister of the Environment at that time.
However, times were difficult in Finland. The worst recession in the country’s history was just barely over and business was not blooming. The move into the new facilities required significant investments. Dedicated hard work was required to keep the plant in operation while other companies toppled on all sides.
The development of operations was even taken a bit too far. The Group was expanded through corporate acquisitions and new business segments. In 1994–1996, jetties were manufactured at subsidiary Marinetek Finland Oy and cleaning business was carried out under the name of Europress Cleaning. These experiments were, however, short-lived.
While they were not successful, a valuable lesson was learnt:
“I learnt to focus on where we excel – that is the manufacture of waste compactors and servicing,” says Turunen.
Minister of the Environment Sirpa Pietikäinen at the opening of the Hakkila plant.
Long shared path
The following corporate acquisitions were strictly in line with this principle. In 1990, Helsingin hydrauliikka was acquired and, six years later, Pohjan teollisuusmaalaamo. A new era began, which has turned Europress into a uniform Group offering comprehensive services.
The acquisitions of Pohjan teollisuusmaalaamo brought in one of the longest-standing employees of Europress: Kimmo Lehtilä.
“I worked for Pohjan teollisuusmaalaamo that painted the Europress compactors. Matti tried to persuade me to work for his company, but I didn’t agree to. Matti therefore decided to purchase the whole paint shop,” says Lehtilä with a twinkle in his eye.
Despite his reluctance in the beginning, the decades spent at Europress have not driven Lehtilä away. Today, he keeps the welding workshop up and running as a foreman. Memories shared with Turunen go back to their military service times when their paths first crossed. So, perhaps their shared path as the irrepressible resources in the ups and downs of a growth company were sealed while wearing camouflage outfits.
Service technicians with their vehicles in the yard of the Hakkila plant.
Jarmo Solin (on the left) and Marko Aaltio (on the right) became Europress business partners in 1997. Later on, the number of partners in the company was increased to also include other key persons working in the company. Matti Turunen is in the middle.
2000s: Towards the global market
International expansion was started back in the times of the Pohja plant in the early 1990s. At first, products were sold across borders via local partners. By 2010, the company had established its own sales and service companies in all neighbouring countries.
At the turn of the new millennium, the focus was increasingly on achieving a pioneer position on the market. Operation modes were fine-tuned and investments were made in product development and brand building. The company and work force grew and special know-how was recruited. Smart technology development was launched and a decision was made to turn it to Europress’ primary asset.
Very soon it became clear that the field of environmental technology, which was unheard of and strange at the time Europress was established, would be the growing megatrend of the upcoming decades. Suddenly, concepts such as cleantech, circular economy, industrial symbiosis, life cycle thinking and material efficiency were on everyone’s lips.
The possibility of expanding to the global market started to loom in the eyes of Turunen and Europress’ international sales management. In 2009, the company opened its own modern plant in Kerava. New market possibilities were explored. 2015 marks the greatest single order in the company history. It involved introducing compactors to Rinki-Ekopiste waste collection points for use by Finnish consumers. This major order enabled the expansion of the plant. The participation in the field’s largest global event – the IFAT trade fair in Munich – in 2016 opened doors to many new European countries but also to Australia.
Eye on new directions
Europress has always looked far ahead. When Turunen took the enormous entrepreneurship risk at the age of just 21, not many were able to predict that the waste treatment business would turn into one of the top fields of the future. Luckily Turunen was one of the few.
Now, it is time to gaze over the Atlantic as Europress has just introduced itself to the US market at the New Orleans Waste Expo trade show. Since the company has already 160 pairs of eyes, looking in several directions simultaneously poses no problems. Near, far, west and east. Possibilities are everywhere!