Manufacturer: 125 years of Primus

Ablaze at the Primus laboratory in Stockholm. | Foto: Håkan Wike
On the anniversary of the stove manufacturer Primus, Globetrotter Magazine visited the headquarters in Stockholm as well as the factory in Estland. We returned with 12.5 insights.

Insight No. 1: Primus has a heart

We stayed with Primus for two days – and we only met friendly people. Seriously. Take chief developer Eric Svartström for example.

2 Developers are freaks – also at Primus

Eric’s empire is the basement of the factory’s headquarters in Stockholm's industrial suburb of Solna – the “Development Department”. It is crowded! Old drills, presses and punching machines from the former Primus factory. Some must be one hundred years old. There are also metal plates and steel tubes of all thicknesses. Dozens of measuring instruments and factory-made tools. Is that your basement sauna over there? “No, it's our cold chamber,” replies Eric, managing to keep a straight face. “It's where we test if pieces of plastic break or screws maybe become loose due to temperature changes from three to minus 39 degrees! Cool.”

3 Primus has tradition

Factory manager Mikael Cederholm (right) and CEO Lars-Ola Brolinson. | Photo: Håkan Wike

Primus has been making stoves since 1892. Initially they made soot-free petrol burners for market women. Later on, gas and multi-fuel stoves for outdoor activities and expeditions. Up to 700 employees once soldered and screwed together the equipment in a factory on an island in the middle of Stockholm. Later on, production moved to the country. And in 1995 to Estonia. More about that in a second. There is also a story behind the new Primus bestseller. Eric shows us the stove from 1972 that inspired him to build the new Onja two-burner stove. The stove designs the Swedes came up with in the70s were already market leaders. So it was no surprise that with its wooden board and its carrying strap, the Onja turned into a real jewel.

4 Primus has family

Primus' open space office housing management and sales etc. is situated three floors above the development basement. It turns out to be the birthday of the new marketing manager – Karin Zgraggen – from Switzerland, and she has brought cake along. And colleagues from Fjällräven and Tierra also get a piece of cake. The Primus people share their office floor with them. Fjällräven and Tierra are, just like Primus – and since 2015 Globetrotter too – part of the Swedish concern Fenix Outdoor. “Concern” sounds numbers-focused and cuff-linked. But Fenix is family-owned. The atmosphere at the Primus headquarters is also quite familiar. Everybody smiles and says “Hej”. It is the same friendly Hej you hear on Swedish hiking trails.

5 Primus is made in Europe

Has received many awards: the titanium version of the OmniLite. | Photo: Primus

“We are one of the very few manufacturers of camping stoves which are made in Europe,” says CEO Lars-Ola Brolinson. In 1995, Primus moved the production from Sweden to the Baltic countries. Since 1999, they have their own Primus factory in Tartu, the second-biggest city of Estonia.

Alright, alright, East-European cheap labourers … “We pay our employees more than the statutory minimum wage, says Lars-Ola. So why did they not go to China? Like many other manufacturers of outdoor products? “When you take all costs into account, Estonia is the cheapest solution for us,” says Lars-Ola. “Our own factory only a few flight-hours away can implement design changes or produce examples in small numbers in a flash. Also, Estonia has a lot of very skilled workers for manual precision work who can implement our high standards of production.”

But Primus cannot go all the way without Asia. Two less technical stoves are produced in China. And around 1,000 components which make up the stoves and lights are shipped to the Estonian company from the Far East.

6 Primus nails its colours to the mast

We arrive in Estonia's capital Tallinn and drive another two and a half hours to Tartu. Just before we reach the city – which is home 100,000 people – we arrive at a 1,200 square metre factory hall painted in the colours of the Swedish flag. It could be an Ikea store but it is a Primus factory.

7 The factory’s manager is a force to be reckoned with

“It is a good job.” Merle Kangur has been in assembly at Primus in Estonia for 18 years. | Photo: Håkan Wike

Mikael Cederholm was 16 years old when he did his apprenticeship in the Primus factory back in Sweden at that time. Now, he is 54 and has been production manager in Estonia for 14 years – and is a bit like a modern Hägar: battle-tested, strong-willed and, well – you just want to hug him. What does he miss in Estonia? “Only a nearby golf course,” says Mikael with a laugh.

8 Primus values women

“Only women work for us,” says Mikael. “Because male employees cause too much turbulence as they think they know everything better.” Well, we'll just leave that… Depending on the order situation, between 20 and 30 women work at the factory. Most of them have been there for years.

 
GM Info

Primus – first choice for adventurer

  • 1897: Salomon Andrée tries to reach the North Pole with a hot-air balloon. In the basket: a Primus stove.
  • 1911: The Norwegian Roald Amundsen is the first person to reache the South Pole – with a Primus stove in his luggage.
  • 1953: Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay are the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest. They cook their food on a Primus stove.
  • 1978: Primus makes its first commitment to the environment: They make stoves for Africa to reduce the amount of wood needed for cooking.
  • 1996: The Swedish adventurer Göran Kropp tests the new Primus MultiFuel on his expedition to Mount Everest. The MultiFuel works with gas as well as petrol and kerosene.
 

9 Primus is precision, quality is important

Most of the components come from the Far East. But if there are any high precision holes to be made, they do them in the factory themselves. We are of course talking about the opening in the stove's nozzle. The drill used to do the work is a diameter of 0.37 millimetres and comes from a Swiss machine tool manufacturer. Microscopes are used for quality control checks.

Primus places great importance on quality checks. Obvious when you earn your money with gas and open flames… “We sell our products in more than 50 countries,” says CEO Lars-Ola. “ There are different rules and restrictions everywhere.” The Japanese are especially strict. A US-American competitor of Primus does not sell any gas stoves in Nippon. “Our approach is that if we can do it in Japan, we can do it everywhere,” says Lars-Ola. Take for example the Piezo igniter: “To comply with Japanese regulations, it can only fail two times out of ten. But never twice in a row,” explains Mikael. They turned the strict regulation into a general rule at the Primus factory.

10 Primus is waterproof

Revival of a classic: the Onja (left) and its ancestor from the seventies. | Photo: Håkan Wike.

The stove valves go for a bit of a swim. Or should we say snorkel perhaps. An employee dives into the pool and gives them a taste of 7.5 bars of compressed air. If bubbles rise, the valve is discarded.“ It's a 100 percent water-tight test,” says Mikael. They don't just do spot tests: each valve needs to be checked.

11 Primus ablaze

The burn test is also 100 percent! When assembly is complete, each stove needs to show what it can do, namely make a beautiful blue flame. “ Due to the burn test which we carry out, the stoves can also show slight signs of usage when they are new,” explains Mikael. “Those signs of usage are no reason for complaint but a sign of quality.

12 Primus cooks on the big scale

The Swedes divide their stoves up in three areas of usage: expedition (especially reliable and light), trekking (efficient, user friendly) and campfire (practical, comfortable). The campfire product line has really taken off in recent years. CEO Lars-Ola: “More and more people are discovering the fun of cooking outside in nature. They are preparing more sophisticated and complex dishes. The stove is part of the fun – like the two-burn model Onja.”

12.5 What does it taste like?

That's nothing for headquarters or the factory to decide. That shows itself out in nature. The Primus cooking shows at GlobeBoot 2017 are a perfect opportunity to try and taste! You can cook outside there, and enjoy the results first hand. Find the dates of  GlobeBoot 2017 in this magazine on page 69.

GM Info

Find the whole Primus product range in the online brand world on www.globetrotter.de/marken/primus

 

 
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Photo: Primus
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