Pelti-Ässät Oy

Hi, there! Please tell a bit about yourself.

Hello! My name is Jorma Laakkonen. I’m 44 years-old, I have three kids, one wife, and one dog. Most of my professional life I’ve been in the roofing business. After finishing my army service I went looking for work, so I picked up the telephone guide and contacted a bunch of companies that sounded interesting (my background is in construction). The one that answered and gave me a job was a roofing company. It was luck, because it wasn’t my particular goal to work on roofs, but I ended up liking it very much; you can be outside and the view is great! (laughs). It’s been so long that it feels familiar and safe. And now I’m one of the owners of Pelti-Ässät Oy.

How many owners are there?

We’re three. There’s Pauli (the founder), his son Teemu, and myself. Pelti-Ässät also owns 51% of a subsidiary company called Kate-Ässät Oy, of which 49% is owned by another guy, Keijo Piikmann. So we are two companies, in fact.

When did Pelti-Ässät Oy begin, and what does it do?

It was established in 2002 by Pauli Kuokkanen, an entrepreneur who’s built several companies. Back then the job was installing handcrafted tin roofs, which is premium work that requires skilled workmanship. At the time, Pauli observed what other companies were doing and he said “I could do this so much better!” so he went for it. He’s a self-made man, very strong-willed, which you must be if you want to succeed. He was after a high level of quality, and he demanded that from all his workers. He’s planning to retire in a few years, and his son Teemu and I will carry on. We are a bit softer than Pauli (laughs), but we maintain the tradition of top quality and craftsmanship. We still do metal roofs, but we have also expanded into bitumen membrane roofing, and maintenance: all the fixing and repairing, snow cleaning, washing, safety gear installation, coating and painting. Many services, all focused on roofs.

How’s competition?

There’s lots of competition, because it doesn’t take much skill to build a cheap, simple roof. But the type we make is double-folded seam, which in practical terms is handcrafted work, very high-end. Same as with cars: you can get a cheap car, or you can get a high-end automobile that will drive longer without breaking, and offer better quality and safety. That’s what we do, we offer better, more durable solutions.

Who’s your target?

Apartment buildings, big shops, malls, industrial warehouses. We specialize in roofs in central Helsinki; I can look at the map and quickly point out fifteen jobs we have done there. Look: (at this point he opens a map in his iPad Pro and shows me an aerial view of a building in Yrjönkatu, which is completely covered by white protection material) this photo was taken by Google when we were doing the job. (laughs) We are proud to have done the roofs of the Helsinki Central Railway Station and the Ateneum Museum.

Wow. Are you involved in the new hotel at the train station too?

Unfortunately not. We did submit an offer, but didn’t win the bid.

Why not?

Because customers tend to go for the cheapest alternative. (laughs) In this case, the project is worth more than a million euros, so it’s understandable that they go for the offer that saves them as much as possible. But we gave them the reason why we think they should choose us: we may not be the cheapest, but we have the best roofers. Our people know how valuable their skills are, so their salaries are high. We don’t cut costs there, we stick to our values in our everyday work. We want to be here one-hundred years from now, with customers choosing us, even if we’re more expensive than the rest, because they know they can trust us. That’s how you build a brand.

Your price difference is on the human side.

Exactly. The price of materials is known, everybody knows how much the metal and the bitumen membrane cost. But what we do here is handiwork, there’s little machinery involved, and it requires very skilled workers that must be paid accordingly. And for us it’s not a problem to pay a good salary if we find the right people.

How many people work for you?

Between the two companies we have some 60-65 people. During the winter season we have 40 or so, because there’s less work, especially in seasons with less snow. Roofers take their vacations during the winter as well, because the summer work is so intensive.

Are they employed temporarily or permanently?

It used to be temporary, with people coming and going, because there’s work in spring, summer, and autumn, but not so much in winter. But now we try to organize our business so that there’s work all year round, so we can keep all of our workers permanently. Otherwise it becomes difficult to get good workers every spring. The challenge is to have good business and work during the wintertime.

Is it dangerous, being up there?

It looks dangerous, but it really isn’t. It sounds like a paradox, but the higher you go, the safer you are. You’re feeling the height, so you instinctively stay away from the edges. In fact, accidents happen while working on roofs which are only a couple of meters high, because of overconfidence. Then you may fall and get hurt. There’s also danger when working on small roofs, like the ones you find in front of buildings, for example, where there’s no place to anchor the safety equipment, things like that. Other injuries happen when dealing with the very hot bitumen membrane. I myself have burning scars from that.

Ouch. What is “bitumen membrane” by the way?

It’s a material like asphalt, applied on roofs to create a waterproof, protective cover. It’s a very cost-effective solution, especially for large surfaces, very flexible and adaptable to different kinds of roof features. It has evolved a lot in recent decades, but installation requires professional skills.

Working on old roofs, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen?

(laughs) When we take old roofs away, there’s just the structure, all the wood and insulation, old newspapers and beer bottles. But there’s something special that happens every time we work in apartment houses. In each project, there’s always a tenant watching us and wanting to know what are we doing there. Then they tell us their life story, and all the things that happened in the building! It’s so funny, we always get a laugh with our colleagues, because we always get that one person with the interesting stories.

How’s the process of designing the work to be done?

That’s not so much my department. There’s always a supervisor who creates a plan, so when we start we have quite a good roadmap of what we’re supposed to do. But of course the aesthetic aspect is interesting. Like the work in the Central Railway Station, that’s so special, we are so proud of that job.

Is the company doing well?

In 2016 out turnover was 1.8 million. In 2019, after the cold season, it’s going to be about 6.1 million. So yeah, we are steadily growing.

Any setbacks worth mentioning?

I would say 98% of our projects go well, but we make mistakes like everybody else. In one case we really screwed up in a very important phase of the project, and the whole thing went bad. But we faced the facts, stopped blaming each other, and honestly apologized to the clients and the entire project team. We also bore financial responsibility for the damage. Afterwards, all the clients and the team forgave us, and we are still working with them, so I guess they understood nobody’s perfect and what matters is how you handle the consequences. We strive every day to minimize the bad odds as much as possible.

How do you get customers?

We are established as a brand already, people know us after many years, so there’s no need to market so much. But for the new company that does bitumen membrane roofing (Kate-Ässät Oy, that we launched in 2019) we’re doing marketing and social media.

You only operate in Helsinki?

For now, but we are looking for big projects all over Finland. Oulu is interesting at the moment, for example. They’re a strong city, they’re building a lot.

Is it expensive to work far from Helsinki?

Not so much. We don’t need to move a lot of hardware, and the supplies come directly from the manufacturer. Our costs are always human: we need to pay for the transportation and accommodation of the roofers.

What plans for the future?

To keep finding good roofers to work for us, which is always a challenge. Selling is not difficult, we can always sell more, but only if we have good personnel. And to keep expanding the bitumen membrane roofs, and the roof maintenance businesses. To make sure there are good roofs over people’s houses.

This is the Pelti-Ässät website and this is their Instagram. Photos © Jorma Laakkonen.
DISCLAIMER: This is a sponsored story.

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