AB Optimus International

Discussion in 'Manufacturers' started by Spiritburner, Aug 14, 2007.

  1. Spiritburner

    Spiritburner Admin SotM Winner Subscriber

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    AB Optimus International
    by Ross Mellows

    1426159787-Header_Graphic.gif

    Optimus was founded on June 19th 1899 by three engineers – Carl Böös, Carl Neiglick & Petter Östberg. In 1900 they made an agreement with export company A.R. Bildt & Co to market the Optimus range of stoves & blowlamps. In time the Bildt family became a majority shareholder in the company. The company quickly outgrew its premises in Kungsholmen, Stockholm and in 1907 purchased a site in Upplands Väsby. Here they built housing for staff as well as a new factory that opened in 1908. In 1919 the sales department was also moved from Stockholm into new premises adjoining the factory. From very early on Optimus exported its products all over the world and to further it's business abroad they set up agencies and subsidiary companies all around the world.

    In 1914 A.R. Bildt expanded the business with the acquisition of all stove production, including warehousing, machinery and tooling from competitors AB Lux. AB Lux had 14 models in their range and were producing about 4000 stoves a week but were not finding the enterprise economical and were looking to invest in their new venture with the vacuum cleaner.

    In the same year the First World War broke out and prices for copper and other raw materials essential to Optimus increased dramatically. To add further to the companies troubles the confusion caused by the Russian Revolution diminished what had been it's biggest market. By the time peace came Optimus were in severe financial difficulty and the company was sold. However it was not long before the Bildt family were again majority share holders and the export markets renewed and the company strengthened.

    Click on each poster for larger image

    france_large.jpg russia_large.jpg



    In the inter-war years Optimus introduced padlocks, oilcans, pressure lamps and lanterns to it's list of products and expanded it's range of stoves to include twin-burner ranges. Like other Swedish makers they faced stiff competition from abroad, with major producers in Britain, Germany and elsewhere but the Swedish had a reputation for very high quality that allowed them to command a higher price for their products. By the 1940’s exports accounted for nearly 90% of the factory’s output. As a result the outbreak of WWII had a big impact on the company with profit's dropping by approx 95% in the first year of the war as exports stopped and kerosene shortages at home severely impacting the domestic market. However certain factors worked in their favour. Optimus were able to avoid large scale lay-offs as many of their workers were called up for military service. They also secured government orders for padlock and munitions production.

    Imports of padlocks into Sweden had stopped which left Optimus as one of the few producers in the country. Sales soared as wartime insecurity led the public to lock up their belongings. Fuel shortages also led to increased bicycle sales and their subsequent theft so Optimus also started to produce locks for bikes. By the end of the war Optimus was still strong and prosperous and ready to face the challenges of the peace. In the aftermath of the war the demand for their products was huge and many of their European competitors had been severely damaged. Optimus struggled to keep up with demand. This was a prosperous era for the company with ever-expanding markets and demand.

    1426160676-padlocks.gif

    In time however, some of their old European competitors regained their strength and new competitors appeared in Africa and the Far East and started to take market-share from Optimus. In the 1950's the development of LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) appliances for cooking and heating and the increase of electrification in remote areas in the following decades put further pressure on the company. To combat some of this competition Optimus Zimbabwe (Pvt) Ltd was set up in 1982 as a development project with Swedish government aid organisations, to supply the African market with quality stoves (Models No:1, 2, 3 & 45) at a low price. The Zimbabwe factory also made tanks and other parts (excluding burners) for Optimus in Sweden. After an initial good start their products failed to be a real alternative to Chinese and Indian imports. Optimus actually only held a small, symbolic share in the company in return for the supply of machinery, tooling during the start-up.

    In 1962 Optimus were acquired by an investment company, AB Promotion. Their main Swedish competitor the giant BAHCO decided to concentrate on the LPG market and sold Optimus the rights to their paraffin and petrol fuelled products. Optimus set up a separate company, Primus Trading AB, to sell the Primus branded products. The following year they purchased the market share and trademark from ailing rival AB Radius for the sum of 75,000 Swedish Kroner. In 1969 they further increased their dominance of the albeit shrinking market by the acquisition of the Svea brand paraffin and petrol stoves and blowlamps from Primus-Sievert AB. During the 1970's and '80's ownership passed between various investment companies. Increasing competition from LPG appliances and cheaper far eastern products caused the company to reduce it's operations at home and abroad.


    1426160802-Store_Display.jpg
    1980s store display

    During the '80's most of the subsidiary companies were sold off and in 1983 Optimus sold it's factory in Upplands Väsby and outsourced it's production. The remaining development, sales and administration departments were moved to smaller premises in Gnosjö. The product range now concentrated on camping stoves, blowtorches and lamps. Optimus also took on agencies for LPG stoves with Camping Gaz. Toward the end of the 1980's the then owners built a group of companies around the Optimus brand with the intention of launching the group on the Swedish Stock Exchange. However one of the companies in the group went bankrupt and the launch had to be abandoned. In the turmoil that followed AB Optimus International was acquired from the group by Anders Rönn on the 1st January 1991.


    1426161064-Patent_Hunter_Graphic.gif
    The 1927 patent for the classic Optimus stove inside a box with drop-down front. This was
    used in the Campingo range & later models like the No: 22, 111 & 8R Hunter (above)
    Today Optimus is a small family run business specialising in liquid fuelled camping stoves. Since the 1980's Optimus had been involved with developing a stove for the US military. The US Defence department later decided it was more economical to utilize designs already in use in the civilian market and in 1995 Optimus won a contract to supply models 111, 8R and 10. In the same year the Explorer 11J was developed and supplied to the Swedish military.

    The company has continued to modernize the range of camping stoves in it's range and today has a range that combines the best of traditional and modern design.


    Click on each image below for larger view

    oven1.jpg oven2.jpg

    oven3_large.gif

    'Apparatus for baking, roasting, cooking & the like' Patent 1922
    Diagram: Crown Copyright Reproduced with permission from the UK Patent Office

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    Acknowledgements

    I am greatly indebted to the following:
    Staffan Rönn, Managing Director of Optimus,
    Mikael Bonnevier, archivist, Upplands Väsby Kommun,
    Ulla-Britt Guiance Ljung, head of culture and recreation, Upplands Väsby Kommun,
    Bo Ryman
    Ola Dolk for his assistance in translating much of the Swedish material for me.
     
  2. Archivist

    Archivist Archivist

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    For an insight into life in the Optimus factory in the 1930 click here.
     
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  3. Archivist

    Archivist Archivist

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    In April 2005 Optimus was sold to Swedish company ThinkOut.

    In December 2007 ThinkOut sold the company to Katadyn.

     
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  4. 111T

    111T Subscriber

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    Even though the Optimus stoves have not been actually built in Sweden for some time... The offices remained there. In 2007 when Katadyn of Switzerland bought Optimus they established a local office... that office is now being absorbed back to Switzerland. Here is an excerpt from the recent newsletter:



    This has been in the pipeline for a long time but July 30 will truly be the end of an era...
     
  5. Spiritburner

    Spiritburner Admin SotM Winner Subscriber

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    The only consolation I can see is that Staffan is still involved. It's sad to hear on the grapevine that quality is suffering since production left Sweden.
     
  6. kaw550red

    kaw550red RIP

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    in 1962 Optimus acquired the Primus brand name for liquid fuelled stoves. In 1963 Optimus acquired the Radius brand name for stoves. In 1969 Optimus acquired the Svea brand name for stoves.

    Optimus also got tanks and parts with the Primus brand name and used the Primus brand until 1976. They at least got parts with the Radius brand name but I have no idea whether they got tanks. I do not know whether they got parts with the Svea brand name but it seems highly likely. Optimus used the Svea brand name generally until 1976 but continued to make the Svea 123 or Svea 123R after that

    Superficially it appeared to be an expensive exercise as Optimus already had a substantial part of the stove market. They were able to build stoves with parts that had been bought at cheap prices which reduced their production costs. However the greatest benefit was not obvious but had to do with the way that stoves and spares were sold.

    My comments relate to the British market which may have been different to the retail market in other countries.

    At the time there was a rapidly shrinking market caused by the introduction of gas stoves. Dealers in this country were single brand dealers although there may have been a few multibrand dealers. You got a Primus dealer or an Optimus dealer which from the customer's point of view was not a major problem as the stoves were similar and the parts were generally interchangeable.

    Optimus had a massive factory which would have been a massive liability if they had been limited to their share generated by their access to the retailers before their Primus, Radius and Svea brand acquisitions.

    In acquiring the Primus brand name Optimus would have also acquired access to all of the Primus dealers who would have had the choice of selling Optimus made Primus stoves and spares or dropping out of the stove selling business. The acquisition increased Optimus's share of a shrinking market and increased the area of the factory that would be producing a profitable product.

    The same situation would have arisen when they acquired the Radius and Svea brand names although the Radius dealers would no longer have been able to sell Radius stoves as Optimus never used that brand name. With each brand acquisition Optimus increased their retail sales potential through having access to more retail outlets.

    This increase in sales potential probably resulted in a similar level of sales to that enjoyed when they only had a slice of the market before 1962

    By 1976 the retailers would have been used to dealing with Optimus in its several guises so Optimus had little need to continue to make Primus and Svea stoves which would reduce production costs as only one brand of tank had to be made instead of three.

    What was superficially a seemingly pointless acquisition of brand names appears to have been a clever commercial strategy to increase the firm's retail sales potential.

    All of the original Primus dealers did not switch over to the Optimus made liquid fuelled stoves. Some did switch to Primus gas products which were still being made by Bahco. I am not certain what happened to Svea dealers when Sieverts bought bought Bahco in 1966 to become Primus-Sievert or whether some of the Svea dealers turned to the Sieverts gas products in 1969 however Optimus certainly had the opportunity to acquire those dealers for their stove sales. Sieverts gas products were mostly for the commercial market and the Primus gas products were for the retail market.

    Please bear in mind that this article is based on my opinion rather than any proven facts and relates to the situation in the UK which may have been different in other countries

    Regards Bryan
     
  7. kerophile

    kerophile United Kingdom SotM Winner Subscriber

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  8. Spiritburner

    Spiritburner Admin SotM Winner Subscriber

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    I have to confess I'd never seen it as anything else. I was too young to have direct expererience but was it mainly the smaller dealers that were dedicated to a single brand? From the masses of dealer catalogue pages I have it looks like a lot of the bigger dealer sold both Optimus & Primus plus, on occasion, a British brand or two thrown in for good measure.

    I can also imagine - particular with Primus - Sievert that they would have wanted their name continued on the stoves they passed over to Optimus for a length of time while the LPG products established themself. To many consumers they appeared still to be big players in the traditional outdoor stove market long after the baton had been passed to Optimus - thereby maintaining their own brand visibility & credability in the market & maybe helping LPG appliance sales. I'm sure the use of the Primus Trading Co & later the Svea Trading Co by Optimus to front up the sales of those brands was mutually beneficial to all companies involved.

    Radius, from a stove perspective was a busted flush by 1963 & for Optimus provided access to parts at a knock down price & markets/dealer network.
     
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  9. Doc Mark

    Doc Mark SotM Winner Subscriber

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    Hi, Ross, and Gents,

    Wonderful stuff, all around!! I'm sad to see how things seem to be going, however, and it makes me love my old Optimus (Primus, and Radius) stoves even more!! The end of a very important era, indeed..... Thanks for all the hard work that went into that very interesting and educational piece, Ross, and all!! Take care, and God Bless!

    Every Good Wish,
    Doc
     
  10. Spiritburner

    Spiritburner Admin SotM Winner Subscriber

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    Thanks Doc - it's good to see the old articles still being read (that one is way older than the 2007 date when it was transferred to the then in-development CCSv3 - about a year before the launch!)
     
  11. colemanblues

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    Hat's off to you for giving me (us) the chance to see this. It makes me appreaciate my stoves more.
    Thank You Very Much, God Bless
     
  12. Spiritburner

    Spiritburner Admin SotM Winner Subscriber

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    You're welcome! Thanks
     
  13. Spiritburner

    Spiritburner Admin SotM Winner Subscriber

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    Sorry for the late reply but I didn't pick up on this first time around. Sieverts didn't buy Bahco. Primus left the Bahco group in 66 & was merged with Sievert to form Primus-Sievert.
     
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