“The Finnish luxury means authentic experiences”

​Last autumn, a team of Laurea’s Master’s degree students participated in The Mark Challenge, an international luxury business pitching competition. In January, a prestigious jury selected the winning team of Finland’s event organized by Laurea. The winning team will travel to Monaco in May to participate in the finals of the competition.

The main sponsor of Laurea’s event is the Finnish lifestyle brand Balmuir, offering the opportunity for the student team to go to Monaco.

Laurea’s Master’s degree student team may even compete in the finals if they send their business ideas to the international competition and the ideas are successful in the semifinals.

Targeting international markets first

Balmuir, established in 2007, specializes in exclusive interior decoration and gift items, fashion accessories and natural cosmetics. From the very beginning, the company has targeted international markets, and its products are currently sold in more than 70 countries.

- When I established Balmuir, my principal aim was to create for myself an exciting, international job that allows me to express my creativity, says Heidi Jaara, the founder of Balmuir.
- At first, I didn’t think that in ten years’ time, I would have more than 40 employees.

In its early days, Balmuir concentrated solely on B2B sales, and it did not establish its first own store until 2017 in Helsinki. The first customers were from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway.

- From the very beginning, we have invested in our visibility at international fairs and events. That way, we managed to secure large international department stores as our customers, such as Liberty in London, TSUM in Moscow, Jelmoli in Switzerland and NK in Stockholm, Heidi Jaara lists.

After Helsinki, the next Balmuir store will be opened in Stockholm in May, after which Balmuir is planning to take its new store concept more widely out to the world.

The values are Finnish

- We never say it ourselves that Balmuir is a luxury brand, founder Heidi Jaara says.
- I’d rather say it’s everyday indulgence. I want our products to feel lovely; I want everything that one sees or touches to be infused in everyday indulgence.

Although the name Balmuir originates from Scotland, Jaara says that the company’s Finnish heart is reflected, above all, in its values: quality, reliability, versatility and authenticity.

- For us, authenticity is everything, she emphasizes.
- And if you talk about Finnish luxury, be it tourism, fashion or food, I think its essence lies in authentic experiences. We are an authentic experience on your skin.

Another important principle for Balmuir has always been responsibility. Balmuir expects all its suppliers to adhere to the company’s values, and it has selected as its partners only family-owned businesses with a passion for making quality products. The manufacturer of Balmuir’s scarves is an Italian company in business since the early 20th century, and bed linen is manufactured in Portugal by the fourth generation of the same family business.

- We have also aimed at developing our suppliers, and sometimes we’ve provided financing for them, if deemed necessary, Heidi Jaara says.
- Responsibility also means that we are genuinely concerned about our suppliers and do not purchase anything from agents.

“Listen to your customers and do things differently”

- This is not an easy business, and international success is not an easy feat. The market has been on a downward spiral for the last 10 years, but Balmuir has been growing all the time. This means we must have done something right, says Heidi Jaara, who is leading Balmuir together with her husband Juha.

One of the things done right is Balmuir’s close collaboration with its B2B customers. An example of this is watch cases that Swiss customers wanted Balmuir to add to its collection – and Balmuir started developing them in collaboration with its customers.

- This is something that I would advise also other entrepreneurs to do: talk to your customers more, Jaara emphasizes.

Before establishing Balmuir, Heidi Jaara worked at Nokia for 10 years in functions such as procurement. Consumer business was entirely new territory for her.

- My advice to students thinking about taking their business abroad is to always do things differently, she says.
- If you think about many successful growth enterprises, in many cases their roots are in an entirely different industry – just like me and my husband entered the B2C business as outsiders. Doing things in a different way than anybody else does is the secret of how it is possible for a company coming from this tiny country to conquer global markets.

Modified 4/4/2018 9:47 AM

​Heidi Jaara. Photo: Aki Roukala