Eastern Excellence

Flash back to 1991. Estonia is part of the old Soviet Union, and the number one sport in the region is motocross racing. Ando Aron and Mart Lajal are members of the local motorcycle club in the city of Tallin, but with the Soviet empire collapsing, tools and parts are hard to come by. They begin reaching out to companies in Germany and Finland, and they start importing products to Estonia. With so much demand in the area, they decide to open their own shop. Seven days later, Stokker is born. 

Over the next three decades, Stokker grew to become one of the most important equipment distributors in the Baltics. The company sells a wide array of equipment, including Ariens lawn mowers and snow blowers. Urmas Prints, category manager at Stokker, explained the company’s trajectory. 

“The collapse of the Soviet Union was the starting point for most of the businesses in our country today,” he said. “When Estonia became free, the founders of our company were able to do business with European countries and launch their own business. It took about 10 years to expand throughout the Baltics, including Lithuania and Latvia. Recently, we were able to expand into Finland and begin the next chapter of our journey.” 

Stokker now operates across four countries and employs more than 600 specialists. The company’s inventory runs the gamut from small electrical components all the way up to massive agricultural equipment. It clears more than $150 million in revenue each year, 20% of which comes from lawn and garden equipment. For the last seven years, Stokker has been an Ariens dealer. 

“The lawn and garden business is much like a family, and certain brands pop up a lot with distributors,” Prints said. “One of my colleagues met with the UK AriensCo team and shared with me information on the company. Ariens wasn’t actually on my radar at the time, but considering our connections, we looked into the company. I took a short trip to Denmark to check out the equipment and liked it a lot, so we got started together in 2015.” 

Stokker focuses on the grass products from Ariens, and its customer base is mostly commercial or prosumers. 

“Satisfaction for our customers is the most important thing,” Prints said. “The majority of our business comes from private customers who are looking for quality products and will pay a little more for backup and 24-hour support. It also comes from commercial users who service residential communities — professionals that need to have the best service and support.” 

Of Stokker’s 600 team members, at least 100 of them work in support functions. Each retail location has a service shop for repairs and maintenance on site. The company also hosts mobile workshops and other mini events that teach people how to service their equipment in the field. Prints is anticipating a shift across the entire industry’s business model when electric equipment becomes the primary choice but expects diesel-powered machines will be relevant in the region for many years. 

RISING POTENTIAL

Prints said that the Ariens brand, while historically not popular, is not completely unknown in Baltic countries. He has seen plenty of old Ariens lawn mowers around. Stokker is working to build brand awareness in the region and the reputation that precedes Ariens is making that task easier. 

“Ariens and zero-turns are like synonyms here,” Prints said. “We all know that for Americans, it’s really important to take good care of their lawns. With Ariens having its roots in the United States, the equipment is considered to be exceptionally good. I visited the facilities in Brillion, Wisconsin, a few years ago and really appreciated the design and manufacturing. I loved seeing the research and development offices, as well as the factory. It gave me a great impression.” 

Currently, Stokker carries a wide range of mowers from the Ariens lineup. It offers financing to small businesses to help them maintain cash flow while utilizing their mowers. Prints said that Stokker knows the true value of the equipment, more so than banks that qualify machines as “risk.” The company realizes equipment value over the long term and will even work with customers to help them sell their used equipment. This provides more flexible solutions to Stokker’s customers and adds more value as an equipment supplier. 

With Stokker’s recent expansion into Finland, the company is gearing up for more business in snow removal, too, and it expects to sell a good amount of Ariens snow blowers in the future. Prints said that it does snow along the Baltic Sea, but it’s rare. Finland will see snow every winter, though, so he is excited about the possibilities of expanding Ariens awareness in the country. He also predicts a big future for electric equipment. 

“There is a lot of potential for this region,” he explained. We have managed to convert many professionals over to zero-turn mowers because they are more powerful, and they save time and money. The awareness of the Ariens brand is growing. In the future, we will have electric mowers that will grow in popularity, and we will have our first opportunity to excel in the snow removal market. I would say the race is on!” 
 

By Damian Joesph

08/04/2022 | Eastern Excellence

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