“Everyone has grown up with a bottle of washing-up liquid in the kitchen. What makes these products such efficient fat and dirt removers are the surfactants in the mix. At Unger, we produce active ingredients for detergents used in a wide range of hygiene products,” explains Unger CFO Terje Nyhus.
Unger is a global B2B supplier of highly concentrated active ingredients, and the global market leader in the WC and urinal block segment. Launched in 1922, Unger was initially a soap factory supplying more than 6,000 customers in the Greater Oslo region. Since then, Unger has shifted focus away from the consumer market and onto the production of specialist active ingredients for other manufacturers. This strategy generated turnover of NOK 588 million last year, with an export share of some 92%.
Our first sales office in Germany was opened before World War II
Terje Nyhus, Unger Fabrikker
“Unger has exported almost every year since 1922, and has had an export share of more than 90% for a very long time. Our first sales office in Germany was opened before World War II,” says Nyhus.
Emphasising close customer relationships
Unger previously made extensive use of foreign agents and sales staff, but in 2006 decided to develop closer direct customer relationships. Today, all of Unger’s staff are based at its Fredrikstad factory.
“We made the decision to channel all sales through our own sales staff in Norway. This is important to ensure effective coordination of sales, marketing, research and development and production activities, and is vital for our ability to remain innovative and develop new products in consultation with customers,” says Nyhus.
Unger has an active R&D programme, including many joint projects with customers. As a result, sales, R&D and production staff have a busy travel schedule.
“Innovation has always been an Unger characteristic. Our specialised products contain highly active ingredient mixes that our competitors find difficult to copy,” says Nyhus.
Long-term ownership has been an important element in the company’s development. Theodor B. Unger, who founded the company at the age of 27, remained an active member of the management team until his death on a work trip at the age of 86. Following a period of shifting ownership constellations, the company was again able to adopt a long-term perspective after Olav Thon became a shareholder in 1992.
“In my view, one of Unger’s strengths is the willingness of its owners to fund development projects that are not expected to generate immediate returns, but that have the potential to be highly profitable if successful. The hardest part is acquiring the expertise needed to enter new markets. Accordingly, we often collaborate with local educational institutions and researchers, or support doctoral studies and participate in projects that promise to supplement our knowledge in new areas,” explains Nyhus.
“What other advice would you give Norwegian businesses that are considering an export initiative?”
“We have been an exporter for so long that exporting feels like an entirely natural aspect of all our activities, but the most important step is to go out and meet customers. Attend trade fairs and participate in different arenas. Have as many contact points with customers as possible, and take every opportunity to build relationships along the way,” says Nyhus.