Birth of Varusteleka
Everything began back in 2003. I was 21 years old, had just gotten into the University of Helsinki to study Finnish and was sorely disappointed with the quality of Finnish army surplus stores; the selection was poor and online shops either didn't exist or were so bad you wished they didn't. With the support of my family, I took the first careful steps on the path of private entrepreneurship in the guise of a small online shop. I coded a simple online shop in which I concentrated on proper product descriptions, took a one thousand euro loan and ordered as much Bundeswehr and US issue as the money could buy. Along with the webshop, I had a very rusty van that acted as a walk-in store for the first brave cash customers.
After that things took off like a greyhound after a rabbit, so I ended my studies the same year I started and paid my loan in record time. I had my work cut out for me as I tended to run out of kit much faster than I was able to restock and had a chronic storage capacity problem, not to mention the seemingly endless supply of army kit junkies who just wouldn't take no for an answer. Fancy business premises have never held much interest for me, so Varusteleka has always been situated in places where you wouldn't usually find a shop. I still have vivid memories of a time when I'd keep the shop open until six o'clock, blissfully unaware that the evening watchman had locked the door at four. The current shop is larger and better equipped than many conventional clothes stores, though it is still located in a warehouse hall in the Konala industrial estate in Helsinki. Judging by the never-ending stream of customers, this does not seem to bother people overly much and at least the store is big enough.
The biggest reform in Varusteleka history was when I decided to throw caution to the wind and get real, full-time employees, and pay them in real money instead of the traditional squirrel skins and steel helmets. When things were no longer limited by how much I as an individual could do, the proverbial manure really hit the windmill. Since then we've been steadily employing more and more people. Where once there was only me and a tired van, there now stand over 70 efficient, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic employees ready and able to serve. Indeed, it might be said that this high-quality workforce is the main reason for Varusteleka's epic rise to power - through some strange chain of events, I seem to have managed to cheat, coerce and tempt some exceptional individuals to work for me. What makes our success even more remarkable is the fact that we do everything ourselves: graphics, marketing, writing, web pages, accounting, product testing, all of it. Not bad for a bunch of layabouts who've had to figure it all out for themselves, huh?
In its current state Varusteleka is quite big, and it has gotten that way in much the same way snowballs do: slowly and by itself without any outside money, and accelerating all the time. This is very important for me personally, since I never got into this for the money, but rather so I could do stuff as I liked and build a business as well as I am able to. I'm proud of the fact that in this era of big money and investor shit, you can create something big from scratch by simply rolling up your sleeves and doing things well.
The success of my shop must say something about my countrymen - how can we exist in a country this small, selling mostly to the Finnish? By 2010 Varusteleka had become so big it's probably the biggest in Europe, and might well be the biggest one in the world, at least when it comes to surplus-selling stores. The funny thing is that the vast majority of our customers live in Finland, so, unlike our European "competitors", we only have some five million potential customers. Maybe it's our harsh climate, or maybe Finns just have a taste for getting better stuff for less, who knows.
Varusteleka is still primarily an online shop - all our products can be found on our home page, and we're quite honest (some might say brutally so) when it comes to product descriptions. We send orders ridiculously quickly, and if you didn't like what you got, returning it is free (provided you live in Finland). This does not even remotely mean that our walk-in store has been neglected though, quite the opposite in fact, and not least because one million people, give or take, live near it and to pop in to say hi every once in a while. Despite numerous appeals from the public, it is not as of yet realistic for us to set up stores anywhere else in Finland. This does, however, mean that our storehouse and walk-in store are on the same premises, which in turn means that every product you can find on our web page can also be bought from the walk-in store.
- Valtteri Lindholm