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From the Heart of Finland to German market

Bellapipe Oy has invested in product development and for the last 10 years has purposefully aimed at the international market. A breakthrough has already been made and the future looks promising.

Managing director Annika Vainio and factory manager Ville Rautiainen are of the opinion that a good working atmosphere is also one of the background factors, in addition to the inventive product, why business in Germany has rolled forward well. (Photo: Rene Aguraiuja)

In 2011, Bellapipe’s factory manager Ville Rautiainen’s phone rang. The call came from Germany. “We see an opportunity for joint business and significant growth. Can you come here?”, asked the voice in English on the other end of the line.

– Of course, it interested me. We got the tickets right away and set off for Düsseldorf, Rautiainen recalls.

The inquiry did not come out of nowhere. In previous years, the contacts made in the direction of Germany had yielded results. The discussions that took place at the meetings led to the deepening of cooperation and the product development of the welding ring business. The first order of 80,000 euros in the direction of Germany was received a couple of years later.

– It seemed like a big deal. We have worked on the product and service process through trial and error. Product development took at least five years, says Rautiainen.

When 10,000 welding rings had been sold, Bellapipe’s Finnish team took the German partners to eat at a fine Michelin restaurant. It was time to celebrate our joint success. Since then, the growth has continued despite the quieter moments brought by the Corona era and the war in Ukraine, and it is expected to continue.

– It is never easy to break through with a new product to a large market with already existing practices. We have been able to do this together with our German partner. We are currently a reliable factor in the market of welded joints in Germany, Bellapipe’s CEO Annika Vainio summarizes.

CEO Annika Vainio and factory manager Ville Rautiainen visited Estonia in January. Bellapipe Oy welds the pipes of the air conditioning ducts together at the site in question in cooperation with its customer. (Photo: Rene Aguraiuja)

Business rests on two pillars

Bellapipe’s story began in Karstula in the mid-1990s. The company has been producing plastic components by injection molding for 25 years.

– We have warehouse-controlled production, which means we put things in the warehouse, even if there are no orders yet. However, we can anticipate demand. This enables fast delivery times, says Rautiainen.

Some customers find suitable products in the basic selection. For others, individual components are designed and built from scratch. It means thinking together with the customer about what kind of product would best serve their production and goals. For a new product, a mold is first developed and tested. If the product works and an agreement is reached about euros, production will begin.

As another business area, Bellapipe has developed innovative welding concepts for connecting sewer pipes and non-pressure pipes. The company has succeeded in finding solutions for such situations and types of pipes for which no easy product and operating model have been available before.

– We get feedback from Germany that it is nice to work with us. If there are complaints or the need for development is detected, we will take care of it right away and start looking for solutions. And they can also be found, Vainio emphasizes.

Strong expertise in welding solutions

In the big picture, Bellapipe is involved in protecting groundwater, the value and importance of which will be emphasized in the future. This can already be seen in Germany, where the issue has been noticed and the state invests heavily in water protection.

− Groundwater protection means, among other things, that our welded joints ensure that dirty water does not enter the groundwater from the sewer pipes that run underground. This is especially important when contaminated water is transported to treatment plants, for example, from the sewers of gas stations or chemical factories, Vainio says.

Bellapipe’s strong expertise in welding solutions has accumulated over 20 years of cooperation with a large district heating producer. Bellapipe has extended this know-how to the needs of other industries and to different types of plastic pipes.

Especially for the German market, Bellapipe together with a German partner company produces high-quality and tight welding joints. In practice, this means a complete solution, which includes a welding ring, training of welders, welding equipment and, if necessary, pipe tightness testing. Welding rings have been developed and are produced in Karstula, Taka-Wetka. There is a sales unit in Germany that also trains welders, maintains welding equipment, stores the products and distributes them to customers. The cooperation between the different units is seamless, and Bellapipe also owns a part of the company operating in Germany.

Personnel are allowed to try and fail

Flexible service and customer satisfaction ultimately rely on the people who toil every day in the company’s everyday life. Bellapipe currently employs 25 employees, about half of whom work on the welding ring side.

– We are a small and close working community. The importance of personnel cannot be overemphasized. Our employees care about their work and their handprints. They want to be proud of what they let out of their hands, says Rautiainen.

In addition to the inventive product, the good mood is also one of the background factors why German business has rolled forward well. Customer service is also invested in, and the importance of meeting the customer is also emphasized in personnel orientation.

– According to customer feedback, our customer satisfaction has been more than 4.5/5 for more than 10 years. Approximately the same numbers will also come from the personnel. This makes me especially happy and proud, Vainio says.

The willingness to develop and move forward can be seen within the company also in relation to the personnel. If someone wants additional responsibility, it is basically given.

– We look at attitude and personality and what people themselves want to achieve more than, for example, educational background. With us, you can try it and you don’t have to be afraid that it will go wrong. You can do anything as long as you learn from it. The idea is to improve and not make the same mistake twice, Vainio describes.

Bellapipe’s good working atmosphere relies on committed and competent personnel. Jenni Savela, Timo Saarinen, Tomi Kohtakangas and Justyna Rybarczyk work in Karstula on the welding ring side. (Photo: Hanna Moilanen)

Development funding for internationalization

Entering the German market has not happened with the snap of fingers. It has required conducting market research and developing market understanding. It has meant going to fairs and surveying customer needs. Production methods and the product itself have been developed.

Business Finland and Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, have been involved in the journey, and they have granted funding to Bellapipe for development and investments. The development company Karstulanseutu has been supportive and advised in the preparation of funding applications.

– I want to thank the financiers who have believed in us and our idea! The support has been a significant enabler on the journey where a small company from Karstula has grown another leg with which to leap and stand in the international market, Vainio sums up.

More business focus also creates stability for the company’s operations. For example, at the moment German businesses bring balance, while the construction market in Finland is challenging.

There is no mystical secret behind success. Bellapipe’s journey to the international market has been based on hard work, purposeful development and a touch of luck in finding the right contacts.

– It is also very important that the owners have believed in the new product and committed to it. The main owner is a person with an entrepreneurial background who dares to invest in ideas that are judged to be promising, Rautiainen adds.

The article is part of the MultiHubi project, the measure of which is to highlight Karstula know-how and products. The project is financed by the Regional council of Central Finland.