In 1982, Antonios Adamopoulos and Christos Agorastos founded their company, called Thessaliki Xylotechniki, at Tyrnavos, 10km west of Larissa in east central Greece.
These two enterprising men still own one hundred percent of the company, which changed its name to Alfa Wood SA in 1999, but it is a much bigger company today, turning over €50m in 2009 in its Greek companies alone; Alfa Wood also has a subsidiary in Bulgaria.
On December 2, 2009, Alfa Wood confirmed the rumours which had been circulating for some time by announcing that it had bought 72.09% of Greek particleboard and value-added panel product producer Shelman SA for the sum of €11m.
This deal was subject to the approval of the Greek competition authorities, but as the vast majority of Greece’s panel consumption comes from imports – the nation consumes 400,000m3 and makes about 130,000m3 of raw MDF, for example – it was unlikely the takeover would be blocked: It was approved on January 11.
Tyrvanos is still the head office of the Alfa Wood group and this is where the company began by producing kitchen cabinets, wardrobes, sofas – in fact any kind of furniture made to customer order.
“After three or four years the company began ‘serial production’ of cupboards and bedroom furniture and realised that it was consuming a lot of veneered panels,said purchasing manager Dimitrios Lazos “so we bought our first small veneer press and established a veneered panel production line. We then established the Courvoxil company for production of veneered profiles, here in Tyrvanos.”
The market in Greece boomed in the 1990s and Alfa Wood realised it could sell veneered panels and profiles to the market, rather than just supplying its own needs, so it established a sales network around the country.
“We also traded in melamine faced boards, raw MDF, lumber and plywood and the company grew a lot in the nineties,said Mr Lazos. “In the late nineties we also began to export.”
The increasing sales of Alfa Wood led to the establishment in 1997 of a second factory, in the nearby town of Larissa, followed by the change of company name mentioned earlier.
During the summer of 2000, a third factory was purchased, this time in Bulgaria. The long-established former Ticha Company in Varna produces raw particleboard and melamine faced particleboard (MFC) as well as slicing veneers from European species. It has a single opening Dieffenbacher particleboard press of 23m in length, supplied as part of a Bison line, with a capacity of around 120,000m3 a year.
“We thus became, for the first time, involved in raw board production and veneer slicing, rather than just being a trader and consumer,said Mr Lazos.
However, there was still a ‘primary’ product missing from the Alfa Wood portfolio and in 2004, the company plugged that gap by buying out an old MDF manufacturing plant in Grevena, Greece, called Pindos SA, and completely renewing it.
The old, former state-owned plant had been closed down by the state and Alfa Wood set about replacing everything from the green end to the finished product by installing a new Metso turnkey-contract continuous press line. Thus the new Alfa Wood Pindos, the only MDF producer in Greece, started production in April 2006 with a capacity of 90,000m3 a year, using wood from the Greek forests, together with sawmill residues.
In 2007, in addition to manufacturing MDF, this facility also started to produce laminate flooring (Alfa Flooring) and to produce veneer and melamine faced MDF.
The veneer press was purchased from Italian firm Orma Macchine, while the short-cycle press came from German firm Wemhöner.
To further add value to its MDF production, Alfa Wood also went into direct printing onto the raw board using a Spanish-made Barberàn line.
Last year (2009) the final touches were added to further investment in the MDF factory with the installation of a new defibrator (refiner), which increased the nominal line capacity to 130,000m3 a year.
“Alfa Wood Pindos is a unique factory in the region, not just in Greece,said Mr Lazos proudly, referring to the range of value-adding possibilities at the Grevena site. “Wood is expensive in Greece so it is essential to add value to the raw MDF or you go out of business.”
With the Pindos factory upgrade only just completed and new Fischer & Rückle veneer slicing and clipping lines installed in Larissa in 2008, Alfa Wood has already moved on with new investment, in Drama in northern Greece.
Here, the company has created Alfa Wood Nevrokopi, which is to produce wood pellets for biofuels, as well as coloured and non-coloured wood chips for horticulture. The plant is due on-stream in March or April of this year and will consume wood from northern Greece and Bulgaria as the factory is close to the border between the two countries.
So at the end, for now at least, of all this investment in panel products, Alfa Wood trades in furniture direct to the public, makes MDF and particleboard and cuts veneer. The Larissa factory stocks over 30 species of veneer, in four different qualities and 10 thicknesses, all purchased by Mr Lazos who has a love of the material.
The company also melamine faces or veneers both panel types, makes kitchen worktops, postforms and softforms, offers veneered profiles on MDF and plywood as well as veneered or finish foil-faced matching door frames and door mouldings, and produces melamine and veneer edging for panels. And it direct-prints onto MDF. And it makes laminate flooring. And it has DIY outlets.
“The big range of products is our strength, with the high quality and the variety of products we offer under the same roof so to speak; our products are not cheap mass-produced goods.
“Although the unfavourable market conditions brought about by the international financial crisis impacted our business and the Greek market, Alfa Wood managed to maintain the same turnover as in 2009.”
Late payment is a problem endemic in the Greek domestic market, confirmed the purchasing manager.
So why did Alfa Wood decide to buy Greek panel maker Shelman in these economically challenging times?
“The merger creates synergies important to both companies,explained Mr Lazos. “We make MDF and Shelman makes particleboard and both companies have a reputation for good quality. Shelman also buys MDF and it makes impregnated paper which Alfa Wood buys.”
Shelman also owns Greece’s only resin producer (Hadjilucas), which currently supplies Alfa Wood anyway. Alfa Wood also works closely with resin technology specialist Chimar Hellas in developing the right resin formulations for its products.
“It [the merger] combines the strengths of both companies in purchasing and there will be savings created by the size of the combined companies and some consolidation,continued Mr Lazos.
“The history of Alfa Wood proves we can deliver results and I believe this will continue with Shelman.”