Skellefteå companies world champions of sports equipment

Several of the world’s most famous sporting competitions, as well as thousands of public spaces worldwide, use equipment that has been made in Skellefteå. Smart management and astute investment have contributed to the gold medal export success of Nordic Sports, Latitude 64 and Fugu Sports.

Nordic Sport is one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of athletics equipment. The Skellefteå company’s products can be seen in all major competitions, including the Olympics, World Championships and European Championships.

“We feature somewhere in all of them. The organizers have to buy in the equipment for the competitors to use, and our javelins are world-leading and used by all the top athletes in the throwing events,” says Nordic Sport’s CEO, Emma Lundkvist.

Founded in Arvidsjaur in 1972, Nordic Sport originally made skis and ski poles. However, after the arrival of fiberglass skis on the global market a few years later, the then owners realized that they would have to diversify. At the same time, the Sandvik steel company discontinued its sports division, which had made items such as javelins and steel crossbars for jumping events, and this business was taken over by Nordic Sport.

“From this foundation, the company continued to build up its range, and we now supply everything that can be found in an athletics arena. Athletics represents 80 percent of our business, and then we also have football and ice hockey, which are primarily focused on the Nordic market,” says Emma.

In 1975, the business’s offices moved to Skellefteå, and the head office, with its sales, purchasing and finance departments, is now based in the Anderstorp region of Skellefteå. The production side of the business remains in Arvidsjaur.

Record year in prospect

Around 70 percent of Nordic Sport’s products are exported. According to Emma, the major competitions, such as the Olympics, World Championships and European Championships, are not the most profitable customers.

“They pay very poorly, and sometimes not at all. Selling to events with a slightly lower profile is much more profitable. We have just shipped off a consignment of athletics equipment to the Pan American Games, which is a huge event on those continents, and we have also supplied equipment to the Indian Ocean Games in Mauritius. These represent better business than, for example, the Olympics,” says Emma.

“We also have distributors all around the world who regularly buy our products. Our biggest customer in Sweden is the City of Stockholm.”

Nordic Sport currently employs 17 people. The company’s turnover has been between SEK 30 and 40 million over the past few years, and 2019 could be another record-breaking year.

“During the first quarter of this year, our sales were significantly higher than normal, and if we continue along this path, this will definitely be a record year.”

What is this due to?

“We have gained several new customers during the past six months, and this seems to have produced results.”

As a business on the global market, there are both pros and cons to being located in Skellefteå.

“The downside is transportation. However, this is offset by the savings we make on premises and staff costs, which would have been higher if were based in a large, metropolitan area,” explains Emma.

Discs in demand

Latitude 64 was founded in 2005 by the Bergsby quartet of disc golf enthusiasts Svante Eriksson, David Berglund, Tomas Ekström and Johan Åström.

“We had already been training and competing for a number of years, and, one day on the disc golf course in Bergsby, we began talking about how we would like to have a go at making our own discs,” explains Svante.

Working together with the Skellefteå company Industriplast, they developed a test mold and began to make discs.

“We collaborated with them for a couple of years before we decided to go it alone and bought our own injection mold,” says Svante.

Their work was successful, and, over a period of several years, their turnover increased by between 50 and 100 percent.

“We started the business in a cellar in Bergsbyn, but have subsequently moved several times to larger premises. In 2017, we had a turnover of SEK 71 million, and we now operate from a premises of a couple of thousand square meters in Hedensbyn,” says Svante.

“One major reason for our success is that we were one of the very first companies to begin making discs after the patent of our American competitor Innova expired in 2005,” Svante continues.  

“The market was intrigued by what we, as non-American manufacturers, could come up with, and we continue working to ensure we are at the cutting edge with regard to materials and the quality of flight.”

90 percent for export

Around 90 percent of Latitude 64’s production is exported, the majority to USA, which is where most of the players are.

“Our products are sold through a plethora of niche stores and sports equipment stores, both online and in selected physical stores; the bigger the sport gets, the more stores there will be that are interested in stocking discs as part of their range,” explains Svante.

Who is it that uses your discs?

“Everyone, ranging from beginners to professionals. During the past five years, two of our sponsored players have won the World Championships for men. There is a real scramble for the best players. Ten years ago, the players were loyal to one brand, but manufacturers now have different teams from year to year.” 

More collaborations

Recently, new competitors have appeared, which has resulted in a tighter market. However, Svante and his colleagues know that the industry appreciates Latitude 64’s products.

The Skellefteå company collaborates with Finland’s Westside Discs and the American company Dynamic Discs, and last winter they embarked on a partnership with another former competitor. 

“The Finnish-American company Discmania had previously been collaborating with Innova, but they contacted us to ask if we were interested in producing their best and most expensive range of discs, which was to be launched in the spring. It’ll be fun to see where this partnership takes us,” says Svante.

He thinks that Skellefteå is a good town to work in.

“We have a good working relationship with the municipal real estate company, from which we lease our premises. We live in a town where shipping companies have short decision-making processes, and we get the service we need,” says Svante.

Their work is their hobby

In 2003, Kenneth Marklund and Håkan Eklund decided to make a business out of their great passion – climbing. Today, climbing holds made by the Skellefteå company Fugu Sports can be found all around the world.

The original idea was to create training equipment for climbers, and the fact that the first product resembled a blowfish (‘fugu’ in Japanese) provided inspiration for the name of the company. However, Kenneth and Håkan soon switched to producing climbing holds, and focused at an early stage on making them for playgrounds and activity parks.

“We traveled around, visiting schools and preschools, and we were able to make some sales while also acquiring reference pictures, so this provided a good way for us to spread the word,” says Kenneth.

With the help of Region Västerbotten, Fugu Sports came into contact with the Norwegian playground manufacturer Norsk lek og park, which became one of their first customers.

“They still buy from us today. It’s great that they’ve been with us right from the start,” says Kenneth.

Increased demand

Kenneth and Håkan were there when KFUM Skellefteå launched its climbing activities in 1989, and the duo still go climbing more than 200 days per year. The desire and the ambition to keep reaching greater heights not only applies on the climbing wall but also in their work. In 2005, they joined together with Hags Aneby, which supplies playgrounds all around the world.

“They were a customer of ours for ten years before they decided to move their entire business to Poland,” explains Kenneth.

Today, the Skellefteå company sells its climbing holds online – for example, via Addnature’s website – and via catalogs that are aimed at schools and preschools. Fugu Sports also supplies holds to the Finnish company Lappset, which makes playgrounds and playground equipment that are sold globally.

“Our products can be found all over the world – for example, they even have a retailer in Australia,” says Kenneth.

An investment in manufacturing artificial boulders has also proved successful. Fugu Sports designs these in accordance with the customer’s wishes – for example, with overhangs or cracks – and then adds a surface layer to give them a rock-like appearance.

“Demand for this product has gone through the roof – we have gone from doing perhaps one of these per year to now, where each project overlaps the next one,” says Kenneth.

In the past three years, the demand for Fugu Sports’ products has increased dramatically.

“This corresponds to the first broadcasts of Ninja Warriors on Swedish TV. Since then, climbing has no longer been just for dedicated enthusiasts – now lots of other people are using climbing walls instead of going to the gym. The entire industry has been on the rise in recent years, and the upward trend looks set to continue,” says Kenneth.

 

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