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HomeContractor ProfileVälinge: Simon Darbyshire, md, introduces Bjelin

Välinge: Simon Darbyshire, md, introduces Bjelin

By Ed Birch

‘We have spent a very busy and rewarding 12 months rolling out the Bjelin Hardened Wood Flooring brand in the UK’ says Simon, as we start our online meeting. The md of Välinge Innovation UK Ltd since April last year, Simon explains that the brand has been causing a stir in the UK flooring market with its unique product characteristics.

Available in both Pro Matt Lacquered flooring, suitable for Commercial applications such as offices, hospitality and retail applications, and Brushed Flooring, suitable for most residential living areas and homes for normal day to day use, the product offer uses the patented Woodura surface technology from Bjelin’s sister company Välinge Innovation.

Fusing a thin sheet of real wood with an HDF wood fibre core through a powder mix layer, the powder mix perfectly fills up the natural openings of the wood veneer and enhances the wood appearance. It thereby eliminates the need for wood filler and creates a significantly stronger surface with a hardness three times greater than traditional engineered and solid wood floors.

In addition, the 5G Dry fold down locking system provides enhanced water resistance by preventing water from penetrating into the joints of the floor panels. In wood based floorings, 5G Dry contributes to significantly lower edge swelling, thereby ensuring that the floor looks and feels better even when subjected to wet mopping, accidents and other results from everyday use.

He continues: ‘Bjelin is the sister company of Välinge Innovation. At Välinge Innovation, founded in 1993, the focus is and always has been on product innovation. In fact, the company has historically been an R&D and technology company. The company has pioneered a technological revolution for the flooring industry and led the transition from traditional glued tongue-and-grooved to todays modern click technology. From launching the original mechanical locking system, Välinge Innovation has now been granted over 3,500 patents for floor, furniture and surface technologies, and has over 260 licensees across the globe using their innovations.’

‘With established Bjelin sales operations in Scandinavia, China, Croatia, North America and France, we now have the UK operation, which we opened here last year, so we are the new boys on the block if you like, but am glad to report we are settling in quickly!’

My curiosity leads to the question – what does ‘Bjelin’ actually mean, if anything, and I learn that it’s an amalgamation of two towns in Croatia: Bjelovar and Ogulin. ‘We source our wood from the lush forests of Croatia, well known for their very high-quality oak, and where we have a modern sawmill called Bjelovar, and a famous parquet factory, Ouglin, so we combined the two names and created Bjelin, continues Simon, simple really.

It is worth noting that Pervanovo Invest AB, Välinges parent company, owns the Croatian companies Bjelin Spacva and Bjelin Otok, and is today one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of oak veneers. Pervanovo’s two Croatian veneer companies now have a combined production capacity of 25 million square metres of FSC certified oak veneer.

Trends in the market
The company works with oak, ash and walnut, with oak being the most popular. ‘We tend to find,’ says Simon, ‘that it’s the more traditional natural oak, and lighter oaks that are more popular in the UK, from both a commercial and domestic point of view.’ Simon explains that they are also now seeing a move towards ash as well. He reveals that they are doing some development work and will be introducing more options on ash at a later date.

‘We have done projects in walnut, which tend to be more commercial-led projects. But yes, I would say that the trend is more towards the lighter oak and also the introduction of more ash,’ finishes Simon.

New lines
As well as the now established Bjelin Hardened Wood Flooring in sizes XL (206 x 2200mm) and XXL (271 x 2378mm) using the patented Woodura surface technology and 5G Dry locking system, Simon reveals that the company are now launching further sizes during 2023, M (151 x 2000mm), S (151 x 1170mm), and L 180 x 2000mm), also featuring the patented Woodura surface technology and 5G Dry locking system, along with a hard wax oil product. He says they are also looking to introduce a line of products to support the range with regards to recommended cleaning and maintenance.

The hardened wood floors use timber much more efficiently. In fact, only 10% of the material normally used in hardwood flooring is required for the timber used in Woodura. What’s more, hardened wood flooring with Woodura surface technology is made with oak, ash and walnut that come from sustainable sources of timber with FSC certification. In our discussions within the A&D community to date, we have received significant interest in these facts, and the requirements from this community to have sustainability as a key point in their specification process.

The impact (or not) of International events
Due to the tragic situation in Ukraine, we saw an increase in demand for our production facilities both in Sweden, and in Croatia last year, we also saw a big increase in demand for raw material and veneer. As the majority of our veneers come from within our own organisation, we were able to draw on our own resources from within group, and continue to do so.

We have very strong and well-established European supply lines for our overall raw material requirements, so the current challenges and those of the Covid era as much as it was extremely difficult for everybody, have been times when we have continued to see strong growth and are able to continue to follow our growth strategies.

With regard to issues more specific to the UK, Brexit hasn’t really impacted the business at all,’ says Simon encouragingly. ‘We sell in Euros in the UK, so we are of course aware of currency fluctuation for our customers. We have a very strong working relationship with a UK based logistics company with operations in Helsingborg and also Croatia, so they are able to handle all import requirements as needed, but many of our customers are now used to the new regulations imposed under Brexit and have their own clearance agents in place already. As far as the market itself goes, then obviously at the moment we have higher interest rates, and we have high inflation. But again, we’re in the same situation as anybody else – if you look at most European economies at the moment, and even the US, they’re all in a very similar situation. I don’t think Brexit can really be blamed for any of that to be honest.’

Simon explains that the company has had a strong uptake in the commercial sector right from the beginning. He highlights some of his favourite projects, such as Market Halls in Canary Wharf, a set of restaurants and bar facilities. He’s also proud of the work done for Modernity, a Scandinavian furniture company in Pimlico.

Looking ahead
Simon tells me that he is actively looking at recruiting people at the present time, but that he’s very pleased with where he’s got to after year one. He doubled the headcount recently by adding Richard Banham to the team, as national key account manager for UK and Ireland. Richard is known to many in the industry on account of his 16 years’ experience with Headlam Group, where he was latterly BMK commercial manager, responsible for the hard flooring business, since 2019.
‘The idea was to deliberately start with a small team to build the business and support infrastructure in the background, and go from there,’ says Simon. ‘So it’s establishing an offer covering quality, service and availability that we’re after.’ I make a mental note to check in 12 months time, to see just how Simon and his team have progressed.

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