On the road with Troll
Product: Wooden furniture
Location: 57.416633, 25.882309
Address: Rīgas iela 18, Smiltene, LV-4729
Time: September 5, 15:00
Temperature: +21 C
Weather: Sunshine and cloud.
But with children's furniture maker Troll, that gets put right. The sight of their logo outside their Smiltene factory fired some vague latent memory, a sense of tiredness and joy, of being awake in the middle of the night.
And then, inside a storeroom where products were being assembled in preparation for a trade exhibition in Germany, the sight of slots and the fixtures that fit inside them clarified the memory completely: I remember putting a cot together with the Troll logo on it and commenting on the name. We had a Troll cot for our first child. It was good. When he outgrew it, we passed it onto a friend who had also had a child. Probably it is still going strong with another family somewhere else. Such longevity may not be good for short-term sales, but it could hardly be better for developing a trusted brand with a reputation for quality and durability.
"Our company name is Troll Smiltene" says Atvars Kocans, Troll's chief financial officer. "We have woods and forests all around, and that is where we get all our wood. We produce from what we have all around us. There are a lot of logs out there," he smiles, "It's a totally local product."
He points to huge stacks of timber outside to confirm his statement: the newest still have the white birch bark still on, while others have been dried and cured, cut into progressively smaller pieces to make up the different elements of Troll's furniture, everything from a humble dowel to a spectacular headboard.
"Birch is an ideal wood for our purposes because it is hard enough – tougher than pine – but it is not too heavy and gives a very smooth finish which is very important where small kids are involved. Our main focus is up to the age of three years, though some products can be used beyond that."
Paints are water based and non-toxic glues are used, and all products are rigorously tested to make sure they are perfectly safe. There is also a textile department making mattresses, changing pads and other soft elements.
If ever a company had a claim to be called a manufacturing company, it is Troll. In terms of how much of the products are produced in Latvia, and even on-site, the answer is unequivocal: everything. Rough birch logs arrive via one gate. Smooth, safe furniture leaves via another gate. In between lie warehouses, drying kilns, innumerable cutting, planing and shaping machines, a paint workshop and around 150 hands-on workers turning out 8,000 products per month.
"This maybe is what makes us different from other producers. We start from logs. We have the full process, cutting them, drying them, sawing them, moulding, drilling, sanding, painting and packing them. And at the end you have a nice, safe, natural and good-looking product. So when we look outside and see logs, we also see cots and cribs and everything else," says Atvars.
Cribs, cots and cot-beds form the core of the Troll offering, but the product line extends much further into a full range of child-oriented furniture including dressers, wardrobes and changing tables, some traditional in style, some more modern. As an example Atvars demonstrates a recent design that allows babies to be taken out of a cot for feeding and returned without having to lift them up and down. It could have saved me a great deal of back pain if it had been invented 10 years earlier.
The appeal of the products appears to be worldwide as only around 10% of sales are to the Baltic states, with annual turnover in 2017 around 5.7 million euros.
Even though products are made in Latvia, there is a Swedish parent company and this fact, plus the Troll name and Scandinavian style of the products, project a brand image that is Nordic rather than specifically Baltic.
"Well, our products come from the forest, and where do Trolls live?" laughs Atvars, "So it seems quite an appropriate name."
It also provides a happy reminder that trolls pre-date the internet age by many hundreds of years.
"We send to Australia, to Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Greece, and China is a new market. We've made a couple of shipments to China, where of course there are specific regulations and requirements for partners, but it is certainly a growing market," Atvars explains.
But the ultimate test of confidence in the product has to be: did you use a Troll cot with your children?
"I did," smiles Atvars, "I chose a very simple cot. I like simple designs. And I should add, that was before I started working here!"
On the way back home I stop at the dendrarium at Silva, just outside Smiltene. Atvars was right. There certainly are a lot of trees around here.
This series is produced in cooperation with The Red Jackets organization which unites the best exporting brands from Latvia with top-notch products, services, knowledge, and values. These are brands rooted in Latvia and the movement aims to spread the word about Latvia through its brands, exceptional people and inspiring places. Supporters of the Red Jackets movement include the European Commission representation in Latvia and ALTUM state-owned development finance institution.