Kuusamo Log Houses was established in early 1998, but the story behind the company begins much earlier. How did it all begin, and how has the two-man company grown into a reliable and financially sound log building operator employing more than 50 people?
The future path was actually set as early as in the late 1980s. That was a time of furious building at the Ruka ski resort in Kuusamo. The Orjasniemi brothers Simo and Arto decided to get in on the booming construction trend and make the most of their lands close to the growing ski resort. The first detached duplex built on their lands was also the last, as they had to wait for utilities for a whole year.
– While waiting for our water connection, the peak of the demand at Ruka went by and we were left with an unused house, recalls Simo Orjasniemi, Kuusamo Log Houses owner and board member.
At the same time, a worsening economic depression did not make things easier – devaluing the Finnish markka increased the debt burden overnight and forced the Orjasniemi brothers to reconsider their future plans. To cover the losses incurred due to the depression, the brothers decided to start a company for designing and building log buildings.
– Arto already had experience in the design and sales of villas and saunas, so we decided to get our own equipment and start working for ourselves. We simply had to think of something, Simo Orjasniemi summarises.
SIX-HOUR SHIFTS BY LAKE KITKAJÄRVI
The brotherly business got going with villa and house construction by lake Kitkajärvi on the backyard of Simo and Aija Orjasniemi’s home. Aija Orjasniemi recalls a particularly fond memory about the erection of the first log building, as they almost ran out of construction materials at a critical time.
– The last tree was felled on our own yard, allowing us to finish the cabin and ship it out. So, we started at the very root level in business, recalls Aija Orjasniemi.
The high-quality log buildings started to sell, and the operation was moved into a hall by Kitkajärvi lake the following summer. Arto designed the products and closes sales, while the older brother Simo was responsible for milling logs. People ordering log saunas wanted theirs by Midsummer, so the Orjasniemi brothers were busy.
– When we started in the early 1990s, construction was slower than it is today. Jobs needing to be done sort of piled up, and so we worked around the clock in six-hour shifts in the busiest early summer days. So we worked for six hours and rested for six hours. Then we went back in for another six-hour shift and let the other pair get some rest, the Orjasniemi brother say.
Aija and Arto often worked the first shift, and Simo and Taisto Hertteli worked the second.
– It does seem like a lot of work in hindsight, but we have fond memories of those times. Those were tough and tight times, but getting through those, we know we can get through everything else too, says Simo Orjasniemi.
COMBINING THE FORCES OF TWO PAIRS OF BROTHERS
The Orjasniemi brothers used timber provided by the local Pölkky sawmill for their buildings. As demand grew higher, the Orjasniemi brothers and the Virranniemi brothers Jouko and Antti, who ran the sawmill, realised that they could synergise well by combining their efforts. Pölkky was producing some logs at that time, with a focus mainly on the making of log frames.
– Pölkky was lacking in design and sales, and we needed raw materials for log construction. Combining operations under one roof went quite smoothly, and we haven’t had any big problems working together since, says Simo Orjasniemi.
– The need for investments has been lesser than what it would be if we had operated independently. We get almost all of our timber from the Pölkky sawmill, so we have been able to focus on the development of log frame production.
KUUSAMO LOG HOUSES GREW QUICKLY
When Kuusamo Log Houses was established in early 1998, the jobs of the Orjasniemi brothers changed greatly. Arto Orjasniemi took over as the Managing Director, and the Virranniemi brothers became board members.
– Our turnover for the first year was roughly 6 million Finnish markka, but we started growing quickly after that and hired more people, Arto Orjasniemi explains.
As Production Director, Simo Orjasniemi was responsible for logistics, production schedules, raw materials, and personnel. Simo retired in 2021 but is still a board member.
Aija Orjasniemi has been handling financial and human resources affairs for Kuusamo Log Houses together with the accountant’s office since the early days. Her job description has become something of an all-around Office Manager, including some management assistance.
– You can’t get bored doing what I do, and I really like the diversity of it all, says Aija Orjasniemi.
Read more about what Arto and Jouko think about their 25-year-old company here.
MOVING OVER TO AUTOMATED PRODUCTION CHANGED THINGS
Arto Orjasniemi remembers the old manual machines they used to work with.
– Log cabin plans were drawn with AutoCad, the schematics were printed out for the production line, and the machining spots were checked using these drawings. The places that needed machining were measured with tape measures, says Arto Orjasniemi, describing how he had to get involved with making drawings when things were at their busiest.
The first significant Kuusamo Log Houses investment decision was made at the turn of the millennium with the acquisition of a Passimo production line.
– That was a big change for us! Designers then started using HirsiCad. We moved from manual production to automated production, letting our tape measures finally rest, says Arto Orjasniemi.
For four years, Kuusamo Log Houses production was done on the Passimo line only, sometimes in three shifts. The line has been updated over the years, and it is still in use alongside more modern lines, using the same basic technology that they started with.
QUALITY OF LIFE FOR 25 YEARS
Many things have changed over the years, including the raw materials, as massive logs have been replaced with non-settling laminated logs, production lines have been developed, the company has grown, and the employee count has risen. Kuusamo Log Houses has however always held on to its goal of achieving moderate growth, and the company has not taken any big risks but rather focused on developing their own strengths.
– We’ve accumulated capital and buffers little by little; thanks to that, we can now face these challenging times with our minds at ease, Arto Orjasniemi summarises.
With the help of Finnish persistence and determination, the company that has undergone strong growth has always been financially strong and solvent. A key factor for Kuusamo Log Houses has been committed personnel.
– We have very little churn compared to other similar companies, says Aija Orjasniemi.
Kuusamo Log Houses continues to operate as a family business for the coming quarter century, and the owners are actively involved in the company’s operations. Arto Orjasniemi still works as the Managing Director. The owners, Simo Orjasniemi, Jouko Virranniemi, and, due to succession, Petteri and Tuomas Virranniemi operate in administration. Financial Officer Mervi Lainto represents Pölkky Oy on the board.
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