Jalo Helsinki kills fire with style and Tom of Finland
Safe doesn’t need to mean boring, thought the folks of Jalo Helsinki in 2010. Now, five years later, smoke alarms designed by Finnish artists are for sale in different corners of the world. In April Jalo Helsinki will release a series of designer fire blankets, one of which features the much talked-about Tom of Finland.
Mikko Järvenpää was looking for a smoke alarm for his house, and he found himself wondering why none of them seemed to be decorative. Why couldn’t something that important and wide-spread be beautiful as well?
The thought came back to him, when he was contemplating entrepreneurship together with three other Aalto University students. All of them had a strong urge to start a company, but choosing the field wasn’t easy. Smoke alarms provided them with the opportunity to commercialise a product that can save lives.
Järvenpää says they started out with a cocksure attitude, instantly thinking about the international market.
”In the beginning we held a disillusioned belief in our own success,” he admits.
The majority of the expenses of founding the company, from starting the production and getting the product certified, were covered by the founders themselves. The investment didn’t bear fruit instantly; for the first three and a half years they couldn’t afford to pay themselves any salary whatsoever.
”Had we known how much time and money it all would take, we wouldn’t have jumped into it. Fortunately we didn’t know what was coming,” Järvenpää says now.
Tom of Finland stops fires
The currently available smoke alarms, Kupu and Lento, are designed by Harri Koskinen and Paola Suhonen. The product has retailers all over the world, but the most sales happen in Germany and France. In Germany the product sells multiple times more than in Finland.
Järvenpää points out that in Central Europe smoke alarms are a well-known product, which gives it a better starting point than in, for example, Russia.
In April the product selection will expand, when Jalo Helsinki launches its line of designer fire blankets. One of the designs is of Tom of Finland, the same character that gained international attention when printed on stamps last year. Järvenpää confesses that the reason for choosing Tom of Finland was his fame.
A beautiful appearance isn’t an excuse to compromise the usability of the product. Jalo Helsinki’s smoke alarms can be installed with a simple sticker instead of having to screw it into the ceiling. It can also be both tested and silenced by simply touching its surface.
”Our main objective has been to make the product as easy as possible to use,” Järvenpää explains.
Although the brand is strongly Nordic, the product can be customised with international retailers in mind. A Japanese designer has already designed a smoke alarm for Jalo Helsinki.
New ideas are constantly being developed: ”We’ve been asked for CO detectors and a model that uses wall power instead of batteries,” tells Järvenpää.
Chance gets the product moving
From the original four-man team, two are left to be in charge of Jalo Helsinki. In addition to the owners, there are eight full-time employees in, for example, sales and product development. The production itself is in the hands of a Chinese subcontractor.
Järvenpää describes the situation as fluid. What expertise is on demand and at which moment varies, and a lot depends on international partners.
”New markets open up when retailers see us at international fairs and get interested. A lot is up to chance.”
According to Järvenpää, the expansion of exportation is slowed down by the fact that requirements and necessary certificates vary by country. On the one hand, obtaining the certifications makes it harder to enter new markets and brings extra costs; on the other hand, it helps demonstrate that social responsibility and environmental issues are taken into account to an expected standard.
Järvenpää thinks that being Finnish can be beneficial for the image of the product in many countries.
”In Japan, for example, the attitude towards Finland is very positive, and Finnish society is seen as an ideal example. In Russia, in turn, where smoke alarms aren’t common, Finland holds a strong value in terms of branding.”
Text: Anne Salomäki
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