A family-run sauna maker and exporter is set to enter the American market.
Estonian Saunas OÜ, the brainchild of Tallinn residents Anni Oviir and Adam Rang, has already started shipping hundreds of Tartu-made sauna stoves across the Atlantic, along with an accompanying marketing campaign to introduce Americans to saunas, Estonian-style.
The stoves are made by HUUM, a high-end producer based in Estonia's second city, and the plan is to hold an extensive sauna tour in the U.S. next year, using a mobile HUUM-heated sauna for the public to test out.
The HUUM stoves, which feature WiFi controllers, are also designed specifically for the U.S., to meet wiring standards and regulations there.
"Many Americans may not currently be able to locate Estonia on a map, but our reputation for design and technology is steadily rising, especially among sauna enthusiasts," Estonian Saunas' Adam Rang said in a press release.
Estonia not just exporting e-services
"Estonia has done a good job telling the world about its digital services, but we are still too modest about what we can offer the world offline. Estonia can be as famous for saunas abroad as it already is for things like e-Residency. To export Estonian sauna design and technology, we must export our sauna culture as well, so people understand how to enjoy it."
"Introducing Americans to Estonian culture will be a key part of our US marketing. We even want to encourage Americans to start using the word 'leil'* as there is currently no word for it in English," Rang, who has previously worked marketing and developing Estonia's e-Residency program, went on.
175 sauna stoves and controllers are departing Estonia for the U.S. in two batches, with more expected later in the year, the company says.
As to where to start on that great continent, Estonian Sauna's U.S. partner, Duluth, Minnesota-based Cedar & Stone Nordic Sauna says that, perhaps unsurprisingly given its Scandinavian heritage, that state and the Great Lakes region as a whole is in focus, given the existing sauna culture there.
Partnering with U.S. firm
Finnish-American founder and CEO of Cedar & Stone Justin Juntunen said: "Minnesotans already know what a good sauna is, but we're helping educate more Americans and interest is now growing faster than ever."
"Saunas are still associated with Finland here, but we're impressed with what we've seen in Estonia and there's now a real buzz in the sauna community about finally getting in some Estonian HUUM stoves," Juntunen added.
Another Cedar & Stone team member and sauna devotee, Teke O'Reilly, will be taking the mobile sauna with a HUUM stove on its U.S. tour.
O'Reilly said: "My motto is 'Sauna to the people' and I live it every day by helping more people understand the joy of sauna. Too many people across America have only experienced poorly designed saunas at their local gym, but that's changing fast. We're really excited to embrace Estonian sauna design and technology to help revolutionize sauna culture across America."
HUUM's North American sales director, Lauri Kummel, said that the hope was to replicate the company's European success on the other side of the pond. "We've seen phenomenal growth in demand for HUUM stoves across Europe," he said, adding that the work had been done between Estonian Saunas and Cedar & Stone to enter the market there.
Ties in with foreign ministry's commercial diplomacy approach
Estonia's foreign trade representatives are also likely to be on board with the project.
Alvar Soosaar, Director of US Investment and Trade at the foreign ministry, said: "There is growing interest in Estonian design and technology in the U.S., but what's more important is having actual products on the ground here to meet that demand and help raise interest even further."
Soosaar noted that finding Cedar & Stone as a local partner was important from the physical aspect of showcasing saunas, as well as in creating a buzz around the product lines.
Anni Oviir and Adam Rang of Estonian Saunas OÜ have been creating saunas and related facilities in Estonia for some years, in order to showcase the products, culture and tech to foreign visitors.
With the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, this has made branching out to target countries themselves rather than attracting tourism to Estonia at a time of uncertainty over travel, more important.
Rang and Oviir and their products have featured in a recent Netflix show, partly filmed at the home smoke sauna in Nõmme, on the outskirts of Tallinn.
The coronavirus pandemic has also led to a surge in interest in the domestic market, as people have been spending more time at home – HUUM sales for 2020 are nearly twice the figure for 2019, and nearly three times higher in March, when lockdown began, than the same month last year, the company says.
* "Leil" refers to a specific type of steam formed in the sauna by pouring water on to the heat source. The ensuing humidity and accompanying temperature rise is a feature of both Estonian and Finnish saunas - the Finnish word for the same phenomenon being "Löyly".
Editor: Andrew Whyte