When you see Aquador boats cruising through the Finnish archipelago, you can recognise them immediately. Bella boats are reportedly the vessel of choice of the new Russian president. I t doesn't take a genius to work out the main reason for Finland's prowess in the leisure boat-building industry: this is a country with plenty of water. The indented coastline of capes, inlets and countless islands is one part of the country's natural playground; the network of rivers and lakes is another. The Helsinki International Boat Fair is Finland's best-attended trade event; in 2008 it drew nearly 90,000 visitors. The boat whether it's a small motorboat, a yacht or a fancy cruiser is as much a part of the national leisure fabric as the summer house and sauna. As consumers, Finns are also famously fond of buying domestic products, so it's no surprise that the classic Buster motorboat and Nautor's Swan yacht are well represented in the domestic leisure fleet. But Finnish boats are also an international success story. Bella Boats, for instance, one of the Nordic region's leading manufacturers of fibre-glass motorboats with sales in 24 countries, exports 75 per cent of its production, with Russia an especially fruitful market, as well as Germany and the UK. Bella Boats are the vessel of choice for the new Russian president, whose office has ordered two of the company's Aquador boats, and it's rumoured that his predecessor ordered a few, as well. "Our boats are neither the most expensive nor the cheapest in the world, but they are the best value for money," says Raimo Sonninen, founder and managing director of Bella Boats, which is based at Kuopio in the heart of the eastern Finnish lake region. Sonninen believes that the strong brand identity of Bella Boats derives from a perfectly balanced combination of safety, value, practicality and great design. "We have worked hard to make sure all these elements come together." 54 BLUE WINGS JUNEAUGUST 2008 PASSION FOR BOATS Sonninen, who was named as Ernst & Young Finnish Entrepreneur of the Year 2007, offers another explanation for the success of Bella Boats, which benefits from a 36-per-cent stock partnership with the US-based Brunswick Corporation. "I have more passion for boating than anyone else in Scandinavia," he claims, adding that his interest dates back to his teenage years. "The element of water has always been important for me, but I was also interested in small aircraft design. I recognised some of the same aerodynamic features in boats that I saw in aircraft." Brand identity is a priority for Bella Boats, which employs 370 staff with a further 60 trainees. The elegant, sleek lines of the Aquador's navy blue and white family and sports boats cut a distinctive profile. "When you see our Aquador boats cruising through the Finnish archipelago you can recognise them immediately, and that's important to us. It's not enough just to see the name of the brand: you have to be able to recognise the style." Sonninen compares the Bella Boats approach to that of the European car industry, likening the Flipper boat class to the Audi, the Bella class to a Volkswagen, and the Aquador, the most successful of the three, to the Mercedes Benz. "You would recognise each of these three cars easily, more easily than a Japanese car, for example," he says. "Similarly we are working closely with our design office to make the brand clear. At the same time, we believe that a top brand should include the best service." Boat building craft traditions predate concerns about brand awareness and are another explanation for the industry's success. "Boatbuilding and handicraft skills have long traditions especially on the coast of Ostrobothnia in
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