It is impossible to reach a stable state: all-affecting change is impossible to avoid. Bad times are around the corner unless business is making profit, says Jani Tarvainen, Managing Director of Kuljetusliike J. Tarvainen Oy. You have to look outside your own bubble and open your mind.

The majestic headquarters of Tarvainen in Kaukolantie in Reijola, Joensuu, is quiet on a September morning. Cars and men are on the move. The market area is Eastern Finland, and construction is something that the clientele has in common. In fact, under the umbrella of construction, there is room for much: from private individuals, construction supplies providers and construction companies to new construction and renovation, lifting of entire buildings and waste recycling logistics.

– The plot of land is the same one where my grandfather Kauko Tarvainen started the business in 1948. He worked with cars in the army. After the wars, he bought one truck from the army’s surplus stock, Jani Tarvainen explains the company’s history.

Market redistribution

Jani Tarvainen’s father Jouko Tarvainen continued to lead the company in 1969. The backbone of the business was in timber transportations in the forest industry. At the end of the 1970s, the company started to transport abroad. Boats and bulk goods were transported mainly to Sweden and Denmark. In 2001, seven of Tarvainen’s cars were navigating in international traffic.

– The situation changed with the expansion of the EU. Competition got tougher when Eastern Europe entered the market, and it was not always healthy. The wage level fell so low that at the Finnish cost level, it was no longer possible to compete with other operators. We started reducing international transportation business one car at a time. At the beginning of the 2000s, we started to actively look for alternatives and a new direction for business, Jani Tarvainen says.

A leap to new things

In 2006, Jani Tarvainen was returning from a drive in Denmark. He stopped in Vantaa to say hello to an acquaintance at a repair shop. A crane car had ended up in the workshop yard in an exchange. The friend tempted him: “Here, Jani, buy a good and cheap crane car.” He kicked the tyres and pondered about it. Tarvainen had not operated a loading crane in his life.

– On the way home, I called my brother Juha-Pekka, who was also a partner in the company. What if we saw where this crane business could go? The deal was made, and the next autumn, my brother and I learned to use a crane car.

The Tarvainen brothers offered crane service to local construction companies. Afterwards, it was clear that it was there where the momentum of the lifting business was at.

– In 2007, they published an advertisement on the Karjalainen newspaper offering transport and lifting services. There has not been a quiet day since then.

Demand for transport and lifting services increased sharply. In 2008, Tarvainen already had three crane cars. In the same year, the company decided to give up all foreign transportation.

Changes were triggered by the start of lifting operations. The father’s limited partnership stayed operating in the background as a fleet management company, and brothers Jani and Juha-Pekka founded their own limited liability company.

Knowledge and competence

– I remember the guidance counsellor lessons from secondary school. Whatever career quiz I took, I always had the same result – a transport engineer.

The draw to the industry and entrepreneurship was undisputed. That’s how I first ended up getting an education in transport technology engineering, continuing from it to logistics engineering at the University of Applied Sciences. I got my papers from Jyväskylä in 1997.

The shared entrepreneurial path with his brother continued until 2018. That’s when Juha-Pekka Tarvainen started to focus on real estate business.

The management of the company became entirely the responsibility of Jani Tarvainen, who was in the habit of finding motivation outside of his comfort zone. One high-risk and demanding development was the digital leap implemented eight years ago.

– At the end of 2014, we introduced an electronic ERP system.

Through the ERP system, we were able to start using vehicle locating. Communication between the organisers and drivers was transferred to smartphones. Working hours are recorded electronically.

– Digitalisation brought significantly more levels of communication. The ERP system keeps a log of everything. In 2018, financial administration was integrated into the system. The next step in the development will be the creation of customer interfaces. Customers are already asking us if they could order interchangeable platforms with an app.

The digital leap involved a lot of work and also included risks – and initially also caused resistance.

– We made the right decisions in the selection of our partners. The workload was enormous, but the end result was worth it. If we were still in the old screen paper and pen system, we wouldn’t be able to handle this kind of shipment amounts as we do now. Digitalisation has played an important role in making our growth possible.

Food for thought

In January 2020, Jani Tarvainen joined Business Joensuu’s GROW growth coaching.

– Again, this was a jump away from his own bubble, moving away from the comfort zone. And the leap of faith was worth it – peer support at its best.

Tarvainen says that the best part of the coaching was the entrepreneur network involved.

– He quickly noticed that, regardless of the size or sector of the company, all companies eventually struggle with similar issues. It was amazing how openly it was possible to discuss things there – the atmosphere of trust emerged quickly.

In the case of Tarvainen, the impact of the growth coaching was deeper than the length of the coaching. A shared time discussing common themes gave ideas and got the wheels turning in the entrepreneur’s mind.

– It is all about self-confidence and faith in your business. You need to see where things are going and how changes can affect your progress. Is business built on solid foundation, which risks can be taken? There is a lot to think about.

To the next level!

The transport and lifting services sector is strongly capital-intensive. The company’s balance sheet is easily based on the company’s annual turnover. Organic growth is possible but slow.

– Almost anyone can be a simple freight transport driver. Lifting is a different matter, reminds Jani Tarvainen, who chose the path to this specialisation in his company.

In the summer of 2022, the company finalised a significant business acquisition. Tarvainen bought Kuljetusliike Jorma Määttä Oy in Joensuu.

– We bought motivated and skilled personnel, increased market share, eight new vehicles and more than 100 interchangeable platforms, Jani Tarvainen lists.

After the merger, Tarvainen has 20 expert employees. His fleet includes 15 trucks. 11 of the trucks are equipped with a loading crane and seven with interchangeable platform equipment. He owns a total of 150 interchangeable platforms. During the financial period before the acquisition, Tarvainen’s turnover was approximately EUR 1.2 million. After the purchase, the target for the first full financial year is to reach EUR 2.5 million.

“It is all about self-confidence and faith in your business”

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