Text by Mads Hvitved Grand / hörtPhotos by Jørgen Asmussen / LittleManShouting
To professionals in the steel industry, A4 refers to a marine grade of stainless steel with a slightly higher chrome and molybdenum content, which gives it increased resistance in rough outdoor environments. Such as in the North Atlantic.
However, in the Faroe Islands A4 is much more than that as the steel grade has lent its name to a highly successful supplier of equipment and material to industrial customers. While the company A4 started out in steel and still deals in that strong mixture of iron and carbon, the business has long since added roughly 100.000 further items to its product catalogue. If you pass by a busy building site on one of the 17 inhabited islands and see a small cylindrical rivet lying around, chances are A4 supplied it.
Conventional wisdom might suggest that to set up shop in the steel business, you would need deep pockets and an abundance of experience. Not the case for A4. In fact, it might seem as if Faroese entrepreneur Dávid á Rógvi Isaksen made it his personal mission to prove it otherwise.
“I was 21, had 80.000 kroner in savings and basically just gave it a go. I started out with a single client because I knew there was a gap in the market. Today, we have more than 200 customers and we’re still only scratching the surface,” Dávid says.
80.000 kroner meant Dávid could stock nuts, bolts, screws and the like. With a slight increase in cash flow he added sheets, pipes and fittings and then included goods used for processing stainless steel: grinding wheels, safety equipment, chemicals. Today, A4 supplies industries such as the metal industry, construction, automotive, off-shore salmon farming and contractors.
Find the gap
When Dávid was starting out as an apprentice in the tool and hardware business, he identified a group of items not there and began to wonder: Why do our customers never ask us for these specific items?
He observed that the products were used frequently in building sites and by contractors all over the Faroe Islands and came to the conclusion that customers bought them abroad. In short, that’s how he figured out where the gap in the Faroese market was.
“I went with the assumption that I could proactively sell and provide guidance for Faroese customers better than a foreign supplier because of my understanding of local conditions. Being from here, you get local customs, you understand the lead time to isolated islands. It helps to fully grasp the climate and the weather here too, you know,” Dávid says.
He established the business in 2016 and spent the first couple of years in the startup co-op Hugskotið located on Tórshavn’s harbor. Fellow residents from the early days fondly remember an ever growing storage room – which happened to be the co-op’s printer room – and an energetic young man with remarkable people-skills and a nailed on ability to spot openings in the market.
“When growing up, I was always told that I had extraordinary gifts of speech. Whether meant positively or not, it meant selling came naturally to me. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And still do as a matter of a fact,” Dávid says.
Switching gears and roles
As the business progressed, Dávid went through the various phases that many fellow entrepreneurs pass through. From overseeing all aspects of the business, to hiring people, becoming more administrative and taking on a management role.
“Starting out, you have almost unlimited energy. You work three days straight, have a little sleep and then go full throttle for three days again. Then the business grows, more and more commitments are piled on, buying, selling, financing, growing, obligations towards customers, hiring employees, it’s easy to lose focus. And then you lose a little energy,” Dávid reflects.
He trimmed the business and got back to what he finds exciting. Today he focuses on growth, selling and visiting customers and suppliers, staying in touch. His wife handles the administrative side of the business. They own the business together. Split right down the middle, 50 % each. She came onboard when the number of customers had reached 1.
“A4 may have been labelled a one-man-business but it’s credit to my wife that A4 is where it is today. She made it possible to start a company at the same time as we were starting a family. That has been the biggest gift imaginable. Later on, she assumed the administrative roles in the business allowing me to focus on sales and growth,” Dávid says.
A4 the company seems to have graduated from the startup phase in flying colors and shown it’s a more than viable business. Just as the metallurgic version of A4 has passed the test in strenuous conditions in the North Atlantic.