It was the eleventh hour and at the very least, it was high time that it happened. The year was 2019 when Business Joensuu was launching its first GROW with Joensuu growth coaching event for companies. For Auto Aatamila the coaching provided concrete evidence of the benefits of digitalisation and the importance of the customer experience.

The Joensuu-based Auto Aatamila is a family business where cars have been sold for more than 40 years.  The company was founded by Juha “Jussi” Aatamila in 1977. In 1998 the business went to his son Kalle Aatamila in a corporate acquisition.

Already in 1997 Auto Aatamila was one of the first car businesses in Finland to have its own website and a progressively up-to-date list of used cars. Kalle Aatamila nevertheless admits that he was surprised by the speed of digitalisation.

“If someone would have said ten years ago that car deals soon take place completely remotely by people lying on a living room sofa, I would have sharply disagreed.”

This is now the sign of the times: Finns are buying their cars used, and they are increasingly doing it online. The vehicle is delivered to the buyer’s home. The customer expects expertise, reliability, and ease from the car dealer. Many customers who come to a car dealership want to make an appointment, often outside regular opening hours.

“All of the important tools are digital-based: car dealer software, electronic signatures, decisions on credit, registrations. Life online is 24/7”, explains Kalle’s wife Mia Aataamila.

Mia Aatamila, who was excited by Business Joensuu’s growth coaching, describes the situation a few years back as a wake-up call.

“The company had been selling cars for decades. In 2001 we invested in our present location in Raatekangas in Joensuu. We imagined that everyone knew who we were. Gradually it dawned on us that not even the local people were familiar with us, or even knew where we were located. We got a strong understanding that something had to be done about the matter.”

Hands on

When Mia Aatamila was going to GROW with Joensuu in 2019, she certainly had some development plans of her own as well. One of the best benefits of the growth coaching was the clarification of the goals and the concrete nature of the coaching.

“There were group meetings as well as consultations with Santeri Lanér, the enterprise coach of Business Joensuu. He was my personal guide. It was also great that Santeri turned out to be a very automotive person. He really knew how to toss ideas around and to nudge people forward in the right way.”

In growth coaching, the group pondered growth scenarios, built a business plan, and were given written homework assignments. Mia Aatamila describes the bout of coaching as a hands-on experience. In addition to sparring at a personal level, she appreciates the input of the other entrepreneurs who were being coached.

“Entrepreneurs deal with the same challenges, no matter what field they are in. Coaching was also a very enjoyable way to network with people.”

“It takes more than two to open a knot”

From growth coaching Auto Aatamila moved on smoothly to the Business Joensuu Digi.Grow service. The service offered a handy understanding of how digitalisation could be reined in to support a company’s business activities.

“A perfectly natural continuity to growth path coaching”, Mia Aatamila says.

Keeping up with developments in digitalisation requires an entrepreneur to have an understanding of what digitalisation involves. Aatamila praises the practical nature of Digi Grow. We learned plenty about doing things ourselves. We also learned important things about what services to buy from outside producers, and how to do it.

“As a small business person I feel that time is easily spent on anything but courageous planning of future achievements. There is a danger of a narrowing of thinking. It takes more than two people to open a knot. It really is very important to have these training and coaching events available, and for them to be nearby. The assistance and support from Business Joensuu has helped me cope and has served as an inspiration, Kalle Aatamila says.

Coronavirus reality

It is the summer of 2021, and Auto Aatamila is looking back at past events. Soon after the growth coaching and the digital studies the world was stopped in its tracks by the coronavirus pandemic. Remote business increasingly became the new normal.

Kalle Aatamila sees consumer behaviour as a reflection of the time of the coronavirus.

“There was a clear spike in demand in our sales in Uusimaa. Many families had already given up on their second car. Then came the coronavirus and the use of public transport had to be restricted for health and safety reasons. A reliable second car suddenly became necessary. We found ourselves supplying more customers with cars under such circumstances.”

Another phenomenon that contributed to the growing demand was the increase in domestic tourism. Having a car of one’s own was seen as a handy way to travel. And whereas the coronavirus caused delays in the delivery times of new cars to extend to several months, quality used cars were available at short notice.

Auto Aatamila has a strong market position in North Karelia. With digital technology, sales are also growing outside the home region. After the digital sale process, when it is time to deliver the car to the home of the customer, Lauri Aatamila has been the one to hop into the driver’s seat in the past six months.

Entrepreneurship is an attractive option. However, Lauri Aatamila says that he will spend the next few years learning about international business at the Karelia University of Applied Sciences.

Lauri’s brother Leo Aatamila is also studying commercial science in Tallinn. Entrepreneurship is said to be quite a suitable option there as well.

The help and support from Business Joensuu has helped me cope and has served as an inspiration

Text: Sirkka-Liisa Aaltonen/Viestintä Ässä Oy
Photos: Jarno Artika