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J.W. Suominen Oy.

J.W. Suominen Oy

P.O. Box 25, SF-29251 Nakkila, Finland 358-39-375400; Fax 358-39-72419

Worldwide Nonwovens Sales: $61 million (220 million Finnish marks) Key Personnel: Heikki Bergholm, managing director; Jouko Penttila, marketing director; Esa Palttala, production and purchasing director; Dr. Simo Makipirtti, R&D director; Kristiina Lilja, finance Plant: Nakkila, Finland Processes: Carded Thermal Bonded (polypropylene, viscose), Chemical Bonded (polypropylene, polyester), Through Air Bonded, Hydroentangled (polyester, viscose and blends); also spins own polypropylene and polyethylene fibers Brand Names: Novelin (carded polypropylene for coverstock), Fibrella (medical and technical), Noven (structured fabrics for garments and furniture) Major Markets: Coverstock, Medical (wound care, gowns, drapes), Waddings (domestic only) Notes: Finnish nonwovens producer J.W. Suominen has certainly been out of the headlines lately. With its spunlaced capacity expansion last year complete and the less glamorous work of developing and marketing new fabrics just taking shape, it has been a quiet few months newswise for the company. And that is just the way Suominen likes it, for the time being anway.

"Actually, we are quite happy not making any big headlines right now," managing director Heikki Bergholm told nonwovens industry. "Big stories or not, our business is going along very well right now." This translates into a 5% sales growth in the past year (from 200 million Finnish marks in nonwovens sales in 1989 to 220 million last year) and an on-schedule adaptation of its new spunlaced capacity.

Mr. Bergholm reported that product began running off of the 7000 metric ton capacity, 3500 mm wide hydroentanglement line early last year and reached all of its targeted goals by late 1990, early 1991. "We are satisfied with how we have been able to enter the market with the products we had planned, including medical applications, surgical textiles and wound care." The spunlaced products are also finding applications in industrial and institutional wiping cloths, especially in areas of low linting and high solvent resistance. It will, however, be another two or three years before that capacity is completely absorbed, so there are no other immediate expansion plans at Suominen.

One of Suominen's strongest marketing points is that it is a European spunlaced fabric supplier in a market led by Du Pont and Chicopee from the U.S. "What's special for us is that we are a European source, which makes us different in that we are not so vulnerable to currency fluctuations. With the stronger dollar currently," he added, "some European customers are looking for local sourcing."

Despite all of the investment and talk about its new spunlaced capacity (it now has a total spunlaced capacity of 10,000-11,000 metric tons a year), Suominen continues to do 60-65% of its business in the European coverstock market. Any gain in the medical spunlaced nonwoven field has been offset by a loss in its domestic waddings business. In addition, Suominen has expanded to do some business in the U.S. and Asia, but both remain peripheral markets with little expansion possibilities at the moment. Its sales mix still remains 90% Europe, 10% the rest of the world, especially for coverstock. "In the longer term, the three different world markets will have products produced mainly where they are used."

In a business where diversity and international expansions are the rule, Suominen proudly remains an exception with its one plant and marketing and sales office in Nakkila, Finland. That is unlikely to change in the near future "We are a European company and we service all of Europe," Mr. Bergholm emphasized. This apparently is done quite well from its one site way up in Finland.

"When you serve a quite concentrated industry like nonwovens, most of the sales require quick feedback and response for your customers," he said. "Then it is better to have all marketing and selling efforts very close to your production facilities. We realize that this is unique in this industry, but today's information systems are so developed that it is no problem to be in direct contact with customers around Europe."

Coverstock will remain the core business at Suominen. "In the carded area we feel we are the most capable company in Europe," Mr. Bergholm said. This has been complemented by the efforts in the medical area and in wipes, which all sell to similar converters and utilize basically the same suppliers.

Mr. Bergholm is satisfied with this product mix. Admitting that there has been a recession affecting the European nonwovens industry, he pointed to the interlining and automotive segments as particularly hard hit businesses today. "The poor business gives those companies more time to develop their marketing opportunities," he said, only partly tongue in cheek.

Suominen is not revealing any significant capacity expansion plans, other than saying in the carded nonwovens area it has invested in upgrading its present lines through productivity and new technology investments.

Acquisitions are another area in which Suominen stands out from its nonwovens brethren. As part of the Finnish Lassila & Tikanoja Group, Helsinki (the nonwovens business constitutes about 20% of group turnover), Suominen has not indulged in the acquisition banquet of the past decade. Mr. Bergholm explained that philosophy during a recent interview.

"In all acquisitions there must be something that you are looking for, especially in a business where you are serving converters and you cannot buy or sell market share. What you are doing in many cases when you buy a company is buying old, unused capacity. We will not do that unless we find a perfect fit for our business."

Until that fit comes along, Mr. Bergholm prefers to invest in what the company already has. "My approach, at least until now, is that the best way is to invest is in hardware, not companies, to not try to buy something that's impossible to buy."

The future at Suominen will undoubtedly remain conservative and, in all likelihood, out of the magazine headlines...just as they like it. "We like to be the most skillful company in Europe in thermal bonded coverstock and in the medical spunlaced applications where we are involved," Mr. Bergholm concluded. "We believe heavily in long term commitment and, in this business, that means you invest in the equipment and people and customer relations that got you there in the first place."

Hardly headline material, but certainly the story at Suominen in 1991.
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Title Annotation:nonwoven fabrics business
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:company profile
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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