Vónin: A Balanced Approach to Rapid Growth

Vónin has evolved into a remarkable success story—focused on designing, developing, manufacturing, selling and servicing top-quality fishing gear and aquaculture equipment in a growing number of countries.

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Working on pelagic gear at Vónin in Fuglafjørður. Image credits: Maria Olsen.

Much has changed since a group of fishermen started repairing trawls at a small, Fugla­fjørður-based net loft back in 1969, named Vónin. Those were the humble beginnings of what would eventually grow into a major international gear maker for commercial fishing and later also a leading aquaculture equipment specialist.

The business has moved forward at steady pace over the years, at times in larger steps, at times more slowly. Today operating from 20 locations spread over eight different countries to cover the entire northern hemisphere from Newfoundland to the Far East, Vónin’s workshops, offices, manufacturing halls and storage facilities can be found in the Faroe Islands, Norway, Scotland, Greenland, Denmark, Canada, Lithuania, and both Atlantic and Pacific Russia. 

“The careful selection of places of operations have played an important part in our overall business development and also reflect our strong culture of prudence,” Vónin CEO Hjalmar Petersen noted.

Last year’s gross sales for Vónin Group totaled more than 600 million dkk (81 mln. eur), out of which the Faroese market represented about 160 mln. dkk (21.5 mln. eur)—that’s almost double the sales of a decade earlier. As for the number of employees, these have more doubled over the last ten years, from 191 in 2013 to 434 in 2022. Perhaps to a casual observer today, a term like ‘business expansion’ would readily come to mind when considering Vónin’s more rapid development in the past two decades or so. On the other hand, the still measured nature of the substantial growth that has taken place tells a story of its own. 

Independence

Vónin’s headquarters at the port entrance to Fuglafjørður. Image credits: Vónin.

The core of the gear maker’s business activities was long based around the fishing fleets of the Faroe Islands and later Greenland and Canada, and through several decades the business became consolidated on that foundation. The pace of development was slowly but surely ramped up, notably with expansion through acquisitions of the net lofts of Polar Seafood and Royal Greenland, respectively, in 2002 and 2006. Then a change of ownership, in 2016, brought in Iceland’s rival Hampiðjan, making some people express their concern that Vónin’s independence as a business could be in jeopardy. Some seven years on, however, events appear to have proven naysayers wrong—even as investments at Vónin continue without much meddling from the company’s majority owners. 

Indeed, why would they meddle, given the fact that Vónin Group is financially a top-performing unit under their umbrella of related companies, most of whom are primarily focused on nets and fishing gear.

“I think the top management of the collective group has a good way of letting well-functioning units carry on their work independently within their own systems while facilitating collaboration where appropriate,” Mr. Petersen said. “They have been supportive all the way yet without getting involved financially. Many of the sister companies within Hampiðjan have kept their original name and retain their own identity, and even compete against each other for business. For us at Vónin it’s important that we feel free to do our thing in the way we deem most effective; and that, in turn, is very much a product of our constant and close collaboration with our clients and some of their key personnel, who often share a similar professional background with many of our own specialists. In essence, we remain a Faroese company, our main products are Faroese-designed; and many Faroese skippers and fishermen take part in the development of our products.” 

Innovation to value 

Vónin CEO Hjalmar Petersen. Image credits: Jens Kristian Vang.

The secret behind much of the long-standing business success of Vónin is doubtlessly linked to product and service quality. Clearly, they’re not known as the cheapest supplier around; rather their reputation is one of providing robust goods and solutions that work, backed by solid after-sales service and support.

“Good quality assurance and quality control is of course one of the fundamentals in all of this,” Mr. Petersen added. 

“So already from the outset, long before there was any need to manage QA/QC in any formal way, we’ve been very emphatic and unambiguous about consistently providing top-quality products and services. Price must always relate to value for money in a way that is fair; so if someone were to look exclusively at the price of a product or service, taking it out of context without considering the value offered, they will have a hard time understanding whether or not the price is right.”

But beyond the critical element of quality versus price, innovation in product development has become increasingly important over time, driven primarily—yet not exclusively—by efficiency considerations and the ever-present need to improve effectiveness in business, whether on the client or the supplier side. 

Meanwhile issues such as environmental and social sustainability are becoming more and more relevant in the marketplace. 

“What we’re looking at, essentially, is like an evolving cycle of considerations, all linked to the objectives and values that we put in place,” Mr. Petersen said. “It may sound like some fancy theory but in reality this is just a general summary of rules and parameters that guide business decisions and practices at all levels from top to bottom—strategic, operational, technological, economic, and above all, human. That involves taking into consideration a whole range of issues of importance for ourselves and our clients and stakeholders, including highly complex issues. So these are ongoing, dynamic processes that need to be managed or controlled to some extent—you don’t want to become too fluid, nor too rigid. As in everything else, you need to find a balanced approach to make sure things work properly, as much as possible at their optimum level. That’s quite obvious.”

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