Benders Sverige AB (Benders) began life in 1960 in a small, remote village, Edsvära, Sweden, which is where its headquarters remain today. Concrete roof tiles were Benders’ first product, but with an emphasis on concrete, clay tile, and natural stone, the company has grown to produce and supply construction systems and products for the entire industry.
The business was established by Karl-Erik Bender, who remained active in operations until his passing in 2022. Karl-Erik was determined to succeed and his ambition to create a strong, Swedish, family-owned company lives on today under the ownership of his son, Ove, daughter, Helen, and his eight grandchildren.
“When Karl-Erik founded the business, there were just 700 people living in the small, poor village of Edsvära, and much of village life revolved around farming,” begins Mats Jakobsson, CEO of Bender Sverige AB. “He was determined to produce something within the village; it could have been cars, meatballs, or lamps, but he wanted the place where he grew up to become a hive of activity.
“A friend of his, playing in the same dance band, came to the shop with a small advertisement one day, telling Karl-Erik about a roof tile machine that was for sale in Stockholm. So, he travelled four hours to Stockholm with his brother and unsurprisingly purchased the machine in 1960 and began to produce roof tiles. After around six years, his small operation had grown to be the largest producer of roof tiles in Sweden. It was perhaps a coincidence that roof tiles became his offering, but one thing is for sure – he was destined to be an entrepreneur.”
The company exported its first roof tiles to Norway in 1981, which became its first and most important export country. It then gradually expanded its manufacturing footprint overseas, with an American factory opening in 1986 and a further site in Germany in 1998.
Under the leadership of Ove, who remains the group’s COO, Benders experienced unbelievable growth throughout the 2000s. It added four factories and a logistics centre to its portfolio between 2000 and 2010, as well as introducing new product ranges and acquiring three businesses to further expand its offering.
“Personally, I met the Bender family when I moved to Edsvära as a 12-year-old boy and I later went to school with Ove,” Mats recalls. “I worked in sales for the family’s business, travelling to Florida in 1988 to help strengthen our North American presence. I left the business for a while, then returned as Marketing Manager in 1990, a position I held until 2021 when I became CEO of Benders Sverige AB. I never intended to work long-term for personal friends, but here I am 33 years later!
“I’m a close friend of the family now after working with them for so many years. Ove and I work well together; he is extremely production orientated, strategically superior and investment willing, whereas I’m driven by marketing. Together, our knowledge and expertise of both the product and the market has allowed us to develop our operation and acquire several businesses along the way.
“When I first started working here, we had just one product – concrete roof tiles,” he continues. “We gradually expanded into other markets like clay tiles, pipes, and infrastructure, which was largely due to acquisitions. Almost every acquisition we’ve made has been received positively, with the previous owners remaining involved and becoming employed by us. In terms of products, we now offer seven ranges: roofing, landscaping, natural stone, infrastructure, foundations, wall blocks, and water and sewage systems.”
Strong supplier relationships
Throughout the company’s growth, it has played a key role at the forefront of sustainability conversations, coming up with innovative solutions to reduce its environmental impact. “Our biggest change comes from our transport,” Mats states. “In 2008, we foresaw the need to reduce environmental impact, so we purchased a train. It’s 350 metres long and means that we can deliver using electric rather than diesel-powered trucks, which saves six cubic metres of diesel every trip.
“Nowadays, I don’t believe it’s possible to run a successful business without having sustainability at the forefront of your operations,” he suggests. “We began our transition from oil to fossil-free in 2018 by investing in solar energy, which saw us install a 2200-square-metre solar energy wall at our Uddevalla factory. However, I think the European market will come under tremendous pressure to further explore sustainable production over the next two-to-three years.”
More recently, Benders’ success has continued into the 2020s, having recorded 20-to-25 per cent growth year-on-year for the past three years. “Many of us thought the pandemic would have an adverse impact by slowing down demand, but in actual fact, it was the other way around,” Mats reflects. “The pandemic meant that people stopped spending money on travelling and instead started spending money on home improvement.
“We experienced 20 per cent growth for three years in a row where we expected downturn in the market. It was a bit of luck for us really, but we’re also very good at stepping up demand to meet expectation and market needs. However, we predict that demand will slow over the next two years, which will give us time to reenergise and prepare for the next wave of business.
“One of the key factors that has enabled us to succeed over the years is our close relationship with our suppliers,” Mats explains. “We’ve nurtured and grown alongside many of our suppliers, building long-standing relationships based on the values of trust and mutual respect. Lonevåg Beslagfabrikk AS has followed us in our European growth, for example, and we’ve worked with Cementa since 1960.”
Having stepped into the role of division CEO just two years ago, Mats is clearly well-positioned to guide the business through continued growth. As he looks to the future, he proposes: “While we’re committed to reinvestment, the one other promise we make to ourselves is to catch any balls that are coming our way, or in other words, seize opportunities as and when they arise. So, we’re always open to acquisitions and we’ll continue to grow through investments.
“Although we expect a slight downturn in the market, we will maintain a stable profit moving forward,” Mats concludes. “We will continue to reinvest the profits into the company to ensure it thrives for the next generation who are currently entering operations with five of Karl-Erik’s eight grandchildren now working in the business. They will eventually run the show, hopefully still from our head office in the small village of Edsvära.”