Would you need some building materials for a house or a waste water system? What about various kinds of tools to buy or to rent? Need a new kitchen or household appliances or proper work shoes? Need to fuel up your vehicle? Or, if you're a hunter, perhaps you need cartridges and some food for your hunting dog as well? In these and many other needs, Kaupparinne Oy is the place to go. Kaupparinne is a unique shopping centre in Rasivaara of Rääkkylä. It is a service centre punching above its weight that keeps on growing and developing.
“Harri Mikkonen, how can I help you” says Harri Mikkonen, the entrepreneur of Kaupparinne Oy when answering his phone. Mikkonen and his sales team have a busy summer behind them. The high flow of customers at Kaupparinne arouses curiosity. In the whole of Rääkkylä, there are no more than about a few thousand inhabitants. Over the past 20 years, the number of residents has dropped by more than one third. Where do all the customers visiting Rasivaara come from?
- We have succeeded in expanding our customer base outside Rääkkylä, in the directions of Joensuu, Hammaslahti and Kitee, say Mikkonen, the shopkeeper.
From an employee to entrepreneur
Harri Mikkonen got his Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Joensuu. After the studies, he gathered work experience working in hardware stores in Joensuu. With his wife, originally from Rääkkylä, Mikkonen ended up buying a piece of land for a house in Nieminen of Rääkkylä. Mikkonen left the job he had at the time at a K Group hardware store and spent a year doing renovation work.
When Teppo Mononen, the former owner of Kaupparinne, met Mikkonen, he saw someone who made things happen and asked him to become a salesperson at Kaupparinne. In 2014, Mikkonen became a shareholder in the hardware store. In 2020, Mikkonen became the sole proprietor of Kaupparinne through a corporate acquisition.
Keeping the service promise
“We have succeeded in expanding our customer base”. Let's look at what the entrepreneur said in closer detail. Ultimately, the capacity to expand consists of various elements. According to Mikkonen, excellent service is the most important ingredient. Good service is based on the professional skills of the sales staff. And it is equally important that a customer entering the shop is sure to find a salesperson who they can ask for help. It tells a lot about the level of trust among customers that Kaupparinne also sells a lot of building materials by e-mail.
- This autumn, we are looking for a fourth salesperson to a permanent post. The summer seasons in particular are so busy that we need a lot of sales staff – flexible people with a keen eye for customer needs. In the summer, summer employees are also a great help.
At Kaupparinne, well-functioning shop and storage facilities are an essential part of good service. The flexible transport and lifting services are also widely acclaimed.
Another strength is the wide range of products at Kaupparinne. The history of Kaupparinne extends back to the early 1950s. In the beginning, the company operated as part of the K Group. Over the years, the chain changed to Rautanet. Later on, Kaupparinne chose the freedom of a private operator.
- As a private hardware store trader, we can keep in our selection exactly the kind of products and brands that we have found good and that our customers want to buy.
It is not exaggerated to call Kaupparinne a unique shopping centre because the service range also includes an automated SEO fuel station. Kaupparinne has also leased out a part of the premises to the bakery Kotileipomo Anu Hyttinen, which also runs a café.
The word spreads through the grapevine and social media
The entrepreneur of Kaupparinne talks about the carefully considered investments he makes in marketing. In the local media, he advertises about, for example, the traditional Kaupparinteen Keväthulinat spring event.
- Keväthulinat has always attracted a good crowd. There are a number of suppliers involved in the event. This spring we collaborated with the municipality of Rääkkylä and Business Joensuu. During the Covid-19 years, we had to skip the event a few times. So, last spring we made a visitor record.
Being active on Facebook also gives additional boost for marketing. And the word spreads through the social media and grapevine when satisfied customers tell their acquaintances about the good service they have received.
- Even this autumn, we have sold all kinds of building materials not only to Rääkkylä but also to Kontioranta and Hammaslahti, among others. I believe carpenters are also recommending us to their customers.
- Indeed, Rääkkylä is not a municipality winning in net migration – at least not yet, Harri Mikkonen says.
The comment includes a small wish about the flow of people reversing. However, when it comes to the future of Kaupparinne, Harri Mikkonen does not depend on wishful thinking.
- We must be actively developing new things, considering customer needs and taking care of the service experience. When developing new ideas, entrepreneurs are often left to their own devices. That's how I felt, too, until I talked with Business Coach Timo Hartikainen at Business Joensuu. He gave a hint about GROW growth coaching programme.
Harri Mikkonen believes that, without Hartikainen's encouragement, growth coaching would never have become more than an intention for him.
- Growth coaching was a good experience! A peer experience. It was really nice to have a chance to discuss with other entrepreneurs and hear about their challenges and solutions. Now my head is teeming with new ideas for diversifying the offering of Kaupparinne.
“We must be actively developing new things, considering customer needs and taking care of the service experience”
Text: Sirkka-Liisa Aaltonen, Viestintä-Ässä
Photo: Jarno Artika