The merger-fortified Unisport-Saltex became the market leader in the Nordic countries and is aiming for robust growth. Artificial turfs are selling well.
Saltex Oy, a specialist in artificial turf surfaces, and Unisport Scandinavia AB, offering surfacing products and installation for sports facilities, merged last winter to become the Nordic market leader.
The new company steps onto the playing field in a market situation where artificial turfs are still a growing product segment. The product applications have moved beyond football and baseball fields to playgrounds and landscaping. In green areas that are difficult to maintain, artificial turf is often a better alternative to natural grass.
“Artificial turf doesn’t have to be cut or watered. It’s difficult to keep natural grass in good condition in playfields in the North. Artificial turf extends the outdoor playing season to the first snowfall,” says Mikko Kilpeläinen, CEO, Unisport-Saltex Group.
In terms of indoors sport facilities, Unisport-Saltex’s strengths are in sports floors, spectator seating structures and their installation. The door is open, especially in Sweden and Norway, where elite-level handball and floorball are played on courts supplied by Unisport.
A wider vision and more muscle
“Unisport and Saltex had reached their own apexes with their own resources. The current, broader ownership base brings a wider vision and more financial resources to business development,” says Kilpeläinen.
The initial steps to the holding company called Unisport-Saltex Oy were taken in summer 2015, when the private equity firm Vaaka Partners returned to earlier discussions with Saltex Oy. Interest in the Finnish family-owned company was prompted by its good profitability, strong growth, and international recognition as a producer of artificial turf solutions.
There aren’t many junior players today who have played football on a sand field."
The idea was to accelerate internationalisation by acquiring Unisport Scandinavia AB from Priveq Investment, the majority shareholder and willing seller. The Swedish company specialising in the installation of surfaces and equipment for various sports and exercise facilities was seen especially as an expert in sales and marketing in the sector.
The corporate arrangement resulted in Unisport-Saltex, the Nordic leader in the development of indoor and outdoor facilities for various sports. The new owners of the new holding company are Vaaka Partners (the initiator of the merger), CEO Kilpeläinen and other key individuals, and Finnish Industry Investment.
Plenty of potential in Denmark
Kilpeläinen says that turnkey deliveries and maintenance bring an opportunity for additional marketing and for full-scope supply chain management. The new company can be further strengthened through additional M&A arrangements.
“At this point, our focus will be on fortifying the Nordic home markets. For artificial turf, we can expect double-digit growth in Denmark where there is more untapped potential than in other Nordic countries,” Kilpeläinen points out.
With an athlete’s experience
Mikko Kilpeläinen, former CEO of Karelia Upofloor and Honkarakenne, has a track record in leading various types of growth companies. He took the helm of the first holding company in his career with the determination of a former baseball player and alpine skier.
“My previous experience in flooring materials and the project business give me insight to the current business. Sports facility construction is a niche competence area and one in which I believe we have something to offer to our customers,” Kilpeläinen notes.
The fact that Unisport-Saltex’s business is connected with physical fitness and well-being makes it easy to commit to the new company. The company’s organisation includes many former top athletes who really understand the importance of good training facilities.
“There aren’t many junior players today who have played football on a sand field. In spite of the tight economic situation, municipalities and sports clubs are still investing strongly in the quality of sports facilities,” Kilpeläinen praises.
- Holding company established in 2015.
- Specialised in surfacing, construction and installation for sports and exercise facilities.
- Main products: artificial turfs, track and field surfaces, playground safety surfaces, indoor sports floors and spectator seating structures.
- Estimated net sales in 2015: EUR 79 million.
- Total employees: about 130.
- Main market area: Nordic countries.
- Shareholders: Vaaka Partners, FII, the previous owners of Saltex (Salmenautio siblings), Unisport founder Mikael Hjelte, and the key individuals of the company.