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  Vol. 16, November-December, 2008
Something to Sleep on

Author:
Jolanta Paškevičienė

Sometimes just a good night’s sleep helps you to see things differently.

This is what happened to Arvydas Padvaiskas, 50, who started a business from scratch 16 years ago. Today his company is the largest maker of mattresses in Lithuania. It has outlets all over the country, and exports to many countries in Europe.

Between Vilnius and Molėtai

His secretary’s notebook is full of the names and telephone numbers of people on the waiting list for a job at Padvaiskas ir Ko. The workshop, which started operations about ten years ago in the village of Glitiškės, halfway between Vilnius and Molėtai, has a reputation as a good employer.

In the summer, when it provides holiday jobs to schoolchildren over 16, more than 150 people work there. Three or four years ago, when several new companies were set up there, it seemed the shortage of workers was going to be a serious problem.

“We said that we would have to put on overalls ourselves and go down to the workshop,” recalls Padvaiskas.

The wages, terms and work conditions were good. Information like this travels quickly by the grapevine, better than by any labour exchange. The administrative staff have changed very little since the beginning.

The production bug

Padvaiskas recalls the chance occurrence which gave him his first idea for the business.

Although he is a graduate of the Vilnius Engineering Institute, he has never worked as an engineer. Instead, while he was still a student, he worked as a driver for some time. He brought used cars from Germany to resell. And he had a dressmaking shop and sold the products in Russia and Belarus.

Once he brought back several spring mattresses and tried sleeping on one of them. From then on, he became involved in the production of mattresses, as he could see that the difference between sleeping on a sofa and a real mattress was so great.

Some time later, he saw springs and foam for mattresses advertised in a newspaper. As he already had some suitable fabrics from Turkey, he borrowed a sewing machine from his mother and made his first four mattresses himself. He took them to the central furniture showroom in Vilnius, and for a whole week he did not dare to go and see whether they had sold.

In the early 1990s, when there was a great shortage of everyday necessities, his mattresses sold out in a day, and the showroom ordered more. Every new batch was twice the size of the previous one.

He moved the business out of his house, where the mattresses were made and stored, into rented premises. Later, he bought a decrepit farm building.

When the 140-square-metre building was renovated, it seemed it would be enough for a long time. But production expanded quickly, and he had to buy another 2,000 square metres of space in another dilapidated building nearby.

After starting out as a private company in 1992, in 1996 it became a joint-stock company. The business was successful, but all the profits were reinvested in further improvements to the premises. He had to take out a loan to build an assembly line, and he bought expensive modern equipment: a Swiss spring production line, and also Italian and German lines.

“Manufacturing is like an illness,” says Padvaiskas.

“Once you get the bug, you can’t get rid of it. You want more and more: to produce more, to get better equipment, and to acquire more modern equipment.”

His factory has no problems with transport, as the company’s own transport delivers to outlets, and fabrics are brought by containers. Hired carriers bring the frames, and those who export the products deal with the logistics companies themselves.

Fifty-fifty

In 2000, a Norwegian company called Jensen, by investing in his business, became Padvaiskas’ partner. Both parties, the Lithuanian and the Norwegian, have 50 per cent of the shares each. The workshops near Vilnius and Oslo are almost the same size, and have similar production lines. Only the productivity is different.

“We produce as much as we can sell, although we could make several times more,” says Padvaiskas. “We have the necessary experience, our staff are highly qualified, and the equipment is new.

“Jensen has been in the market since 1948, when the grandfather of the Jensen family started the business. We have the advantage over our Norwegian partners though, as we produce the springs and quilt the covers ourselves.

“They depend on suppliers for springs, and buy rolls of quilted fabrics. So in this respect we are more flexible.”

He admits, however, that if orders grow very fast, they will have to give up the production of springs, as it will not pay off any more, and it will be cheaper to import them. The world’s largest factories cooperate closely. Some make the covers, others cut the foam into blocks. Another workshop finishes them and sews on the labels. But this system does not suit Lithuania, as the market here is too small.

Although there are plenty of wood processing plants here, Padvaiskas buys the sets of parts for the mattress frames in Sweden, where they are much cheaper.

“Often the mattresses, for which we buy the parts in Sweden, go back to Scandinavia, to Denmark, Norway or Finland, where they are sold,” he says.

This year the factory will export 64 per cent of its production. The amount fluctuates depending on the market.

The kingdom of sleep

Padvaiskas’ factory currently produces about 50 different items. These include sofas, divans, springboxes, mattresses for children’s beds, narrow, double and round mattresses, made from foam and springs, and viscoelastic foam, which fits around the body. Mattresses in a similar form can differ in quality and price: everything depends on the material used.

Bonnell springs are comfortable in one way. Pocket springs never squeak, as every spring unit is inserted individually in a special pocket. Latex and viscoelastic foam mattresses also make no noise under pressure.

“It is not very comfortable to sleep on a thick mattress made from this elastic material. But when a pocket mattress is covered by a thin layer of it, it makes the most comfortable mattress.”

His mattresses are also suitable for hospitals, nursing homes and kindergartens.

“For Meda mattresses, we buy a special fabric from Belgium which resembles oilcloth. It is waterproof and can be disinfected with various liquids and at high temperature. It lets out air and breathes.”

Curved mattresses with soft sides, the production of which started ten years ago, are still popular. Sometimes people who have flats with unusual floor plans need all shapes and sizes of mattresses, which might be four or five metres long. These are made to order.

Long distances are best

Padvaiskas ir Ko was the first company in the country to start the sale of its production online. This form of business is taking its first steps in Lithuania. Before buying a mattress, people want to touch it and to lie on it, and shop assistants have to answer lots of questions about it. In some European countries, however, like the Netherlands, the number of mattresses sold online is very high.

“Every country has its own peculiarities. This goes for the design of mattresses too. Lithuanians, for example, want sofas with a large drawer for the bedclothes underneath. In England, people prefer sofas with drawers on all sides.

“We have to take these peculiarities into consideration even while making the mattress coverings. If they are going to Denmark, they have to be white. If they are going to the Netherlands they have to be blue, or the colour of sand. The more popular mattresses in Sweden, Finland and Norway have little blue and white squares. In Lithuania, and also in Estonia, flowery upholstery is very popular now.”

With double the volume of production every year, Padvaiskas counts the mattresses they have produced in the hundreds of thousands. Between 150,000 and 200,000 mattresses leave the plant every year.

“I know for sure that if you want to do something you have to do it yourself, and not expect anything from the authorities,” says Padvaiskas.

He has proved this himself, having started out from scratch, with no capital, with bank loans, turning a decrepit ruin into a modern workshop, and creating jobs in a remote village. The fact that this tall, quiet and strong man has so much stamina is proven by his hobby: long-distance car racing.

“When racing short distances, you have to concentrate, and explode like a bomb a second after the start. I’m made for long distances: for situations where you need a lot of stamina.”

Off-road, wine and nature

Anyone who follows car racing will be sure to recognise his Toyota Supra in the drive in front of his house. Together with his teammate, he has been taking part in 1,000-kilometre races for five years.

Cars have been Padvaiskas’ lifelong hobby. Many years ago he started the country’s first off-road car club, and has navigated off-road vehicles across lots of bogs and gravel pits.

You can see the bright pink logo of his company wherever Padvaiskas participates: in car races, shows or benefit events. He does not advertise his products, but tries to make his company known by all possible means.

When relatives or strangers start to sing his praises for giving mattresses to orphanages, nursing homes or hospitals, he hides behind the sense of humour that has become characteristic of him: “Every benefit event is good advertising on television.”

Padvaiskas recently gave up off-road racing, saying that it takes up too much time. He wants to spend more time on his new vineyard, which he is setting up. (It will probably require all the stamina of a long-distance racing driver to get grapes to ripen in Lithuania’s climate.)

“In a year or two, I’ll have some bottles of my own wine in my cellar. I have already chosen an oak barrel for maturing it in, and I have studied winemaking techniques. All I have to do now is to wait for the first harvest.”

This plan fits in well with the country tourism business, which he has been considering for some time. He already has an image of his future enterprise, which he intends to start on the land he inherited from his grandparents: horses for riding or for pulling sleighs in the winter, and a simple route through a marsh for steeplechasing.

Homemade beer will be made in a nearby brewery. There will be birdwatching from a boardwalk on a lake, and other pleasures to offer his future guests.

“The fact that I live surrounded by nature, and not in a town, is sheer bliss. Maybe one of my four children or grandchildren will take over my business some time. They will reap the fruits of what I have planted and nurtured.”

 

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