While in Finland citizens can feel a little coughy because of street dust, in Shanghai, China people might not see further than a few metres ahead of them. There are dozens of cities in the rapidly growing country that have more inhabitants than the whole of Finland.
“You can really feel the smog in your lungs,” says Johan Brandt, the CEO of Lifa Air. ”The problem is serious and people talk about it daily.”
Lifa Air, founded in Finland in 1988, heard the Chinese consumers’ call for air purifiers, but alone the company would not have had the resources to conquer a whole new market. Chinese Edifier joined along through Golden Bridge programme by Finpro*.
Brandt explains that the multimedia audio manufacturer had been looking for a new business segment in the hope of further growth, and they had acknowledged the potential of air cleaning. After their first date things proceeded quickly. In August last year a joint venture called Lifa Air (Dongguan) Air Purification System Co Ltd was founded, the ownership of which is divided 30 per cent and 70 per cent between Lifa Air and Edifier respectively. The first products were presented to the press in October, and consumers have been able to buy them from January onwards.
The company targets the Chinese middle and upper middle class.
“The customers are city people who worry about the quality of the air they breathe and who have the purchase price, about a thousand dollars, to spare,” Brandt describes.
The air quality of your home on a mobile phone
The air purifier system that has landed on the Chinese consumer market consists of an air purifier and a measurement and control unit called Lifa Smart. Lifa Smart constantly measures, for example, the amount of particulates and carbon dioxide in the air, and it controls the air purifier according to these parameters. The indoor air quality can be monitored with a mobile app.
Lifa Air’s own business revolves around professional devices. Brandt points out that one of the essential differences between professional and consumer markets lies in their volume.
“Edifier has the skills and resources for mass production; Lifa Air provides the knowhow.”
In addition to the joint venture in China, LIfa Air has offices in Dubai, Hong Kong, and New York City. Approximately three quarters of the revenue comes from abroad. The professional solutions have been sold in more than 50 countries, and Lifa Air has a network of distributors in 30 countries.
Brandt says that once the Chinese need has been met, consumer products will hit the markets elsewhere. The most promising areas are Europe and the Middle East: not only do they need air purification, but they also have a suitable legislation and infrastructure.
“For example, in Dubai the conditions are challenging with plenty of skyscrapers and sand flying around. The air simply has to be cleaned.”
Brandt sees immense opportunities for expansion. Also India and Pakistan are countries with plenty of people and big metropolises – and bad air quality. Latin America boasts an abundance of similar cities, but Brandt thinks that finding customers in the area might be a different story.
The internet of things changing the market
Brandt says that the biggest competitor of Lifa Air’s professional solutions is simply doing duct cleaning mechanically. In terms of devices, the intensity of competition varies product by product.
The competition is harsher outside of Finland. Making successful business in Finland was one of the prerequisites of Lifa Air believing the same could happen abroad.
“If the carrots do not sell in your local market, they will not sell elsewhere either,” says Brandt.
Lifa Air was founded in 1988 by two brothers, Pentti and Vesa Mäkipää. The company continues to be full-on Finnish: the professional products are designed and manufactured in Finland, and all subcontractors are Finnish too. The minimalistic design is distinctively Scandinavian in style.
Nowadays Lifa Air has nearly thousand employees, and growth is happening both in Finland and abroad. New team members are currently being recruited. Brandt himself joined the company a little over a year ago, and the founding brothers are both still involved, Pentti Mäkipää on the board of directors and Vesa Mäkipää as the president of the Asian region.
There are plenty of plans for the future, but Brandt is not yet willing to go into detail. He does say that new devices and solutions to help decrease workload are being developed all the time.
“IoT, the internet of things, will change a lot of things. Currently we are looking into different ways of making use of it in air purification.”
*Part of Business Finland since 2018