Asia, South America, Europe. Jarno Valkonen travelled around the world for 17 years, carrying the responsibility for gigantic pulp mill projects. But a couple of years ago, he simply had enough of travelling. Should I start a company from zero or acquire an existing one? This is the question Jarno Valkonen had on his mind when he opened the door to Business Joensuu.

– I had browsed through the sales channels for available companies. I thought I would get things rolling faster that way than by starting from scratch. I visited some of the potential companies. Auto-France Oy was one of them, entrepreneur Jarno Valkonen describes the early stages of his business.

Juha Elomaa, the former entrepreneur of Auto-France Oy, provided car maintenance and repair services on Joensuu Aspitie from 1994 onwards. At the end of 2021, Elomaa was willing to sell, and Valkonen was willing to buy. They started preparing the transfer of ownership guided by Business Joensuu.

The Flying Valkonens

Making a speedy transition from the international mechanical engineering business to running a car repair enterprise may at first sound like a big change. In the case of Jarno Valkonen, the truth is quite different. His father Pekka Valkonen is a well-known name in folk racing, rally sprint and ice racing. An interest in vehicles runs in the blood of Jarno Valkonen.

– From a very early age until the age of 23, I used to drive karting, rally sprint and ice racing at the national level. I then continued with motor sports alongside other work, Jarno Valkonen explains.

Knowledge and skills

In 1999, Jarno Valkonen graduated as a vehicle mechanic from the Vocational College in Varkaus. He became familiar with installation work, including work done with heavy machines. Later, he also completed a degree in mechanical engineering as an evening student in Varkaus. Valkonen moved to Joensuu for family reasons. His partner tipped him about Business Joensuu.

– When I met Business Specialist Jouko Piirainen from Business Joensuu for the first time, I already had the profitability calculations with me. Jouko asked me who had done the calculations. Well, I had done them myself, as I was used to calculating everything as a mechanical engineer.

When putting the numbers together, the business expert and future entrepreneur quickly found a common ground. In hindsight, Valkonen is grateful for the fact that they reviewed the business plan as well as profitability and financing calculations thoroughly and critically.

– The advice and support provided by Business Joensuu has been of crucial importance. Without their expert help, I probably would not have dared to embark on the road to entrepreneurship.

A skilled team

Already under the ownership of Juha Elomaa, the company’s insightful slogan was ‘Auto-France Oy – for innocent cars’. They still wanted to commit to the good name and slogan, and to continue specialising in French car brands.

– Specialisation in French cars is just the right focus. Under the previous owner, a loyal customer base was created, consisting of owners of French vehicles. We want to hold on to that customer group. Of course, Auto-France maintains and repairs vehicles of all brands. We offer a full range of services related to car maintenance and repairs.

In addition to the entrepreneur himself, Auto-France currently employs two mechanics, Aleksi Elomaa and Toni Kalpio. Valkonen is proud of his team members. They are not a group of beginners.

– Aleksi is a true guru of electrical and electronic systems. Toni, on the other hand, is a multi-talent in the automotive sector. They both have years of experience.

Towards profit in a considered manner

Jarno Valkonen’s goal was to hire a third mechanic immediately after starting up in June. Business Joensuu assisted in the recruitment process. The war in Ukraine changed the situation; North Karelia, the home-court of Auto-France, is not immune to the fluctuations in world politics.

– The effects of the uncertain world situation are visible. Customers are more cautious, and in terms of services, demand is mainly focused on essential work.

Several times during the conversation, Jarno Valkonen mentions the importance of listening to and understanding the customer.

– It is important that the customers do not have to queue up for the service. A car is a necessity for many, and people cannot wait for the service and repairs for weeks on end. We also want to keep the pricing clear. We give a price estimate before the work is even started.

Jarno Valkonen communicates fluently about Auto-France’s services, operating methods and customer-oriented approach in social media.

– Marketing is an important part of the whole picture. I was looking for a cost-effective way to implement it. Business Joensuu and the DigiGrow services helped me in this, too. Thanks to DigiGrow, I now have Google Advertising and Facebook under control.

‘Thanks to DigiGrow, I now have Google Advertising and Facebook under control.’

Text: Sirkka-Liisa Aaltonen, Viestintä Ässä Oy
Photo: Risto Takala