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With a little help from my friends

If Ib Jensen had been approached with the opportunity to be responsible for the paint job involved in giving a huge gym branch a new look in the past, he would have thought it was too big a task. When he got the offer after having joined Håndverksgruppen, he knew who to call for help.


– Normally, I would have said yes to only a part of the job.

Master painter Ib Jensen (57) from painting firm Sander & Dam in Copenhagen sits in the office building he shares with seven other painting firms in the Gladsaxe district. Surrounded by old industrial buildings, transformers and car dealerships, this is the headquarters of his painting firm. Until last year, his painting firm was part of DSJ Painters, a group of local painting firms who had merged together. They were bigger than most others, but on a greater scale, they were still a small fish.


In 2022 that changed when the Norwegian group Håndverksgruppen invited both Ib’s firm and three other, renowned Danish painting firms, to join them. Now, they were suddenly a part of one of the leading surface treatment groups in the Nordics. That meant new possibilities.

Earlier this year, Ib Jensen was indeed approached by a nationwide gym branch. Denmark’s biggest fitness chain Fitness World had been acquired by an English firm, and they were looking into a massive rebranding of all of their gyms. That meant they needed skilled painters to transform 165 Fitness World gyms into about 150 PureGyms in Denmark.

- Normally I would have said yes to paint the gyms in Copenhagen and the surrounding areas. But there’s no way I would have said yes to be responsible for painting all the gyms. That would have been too big an assignment, says Ib Jensen.

But the fact that Ib’s firm was now a part of something bigger — a group spanning not just Denmark, but also the neighboring countries of Norway and Sweden — gave him another option.


From painting ships to being able to work all over Denmark

In 1960, Lars Jeppesen’s father, Jørgen Jeppesen, established Malerfirmaet Jeppesen. He concentrated on painting ships for the local fishing industry in Hirtshals, on the northernmost tip of Denmark. Still today, the fishing industry has significant importance for the small town. Every day, the town’s 5500 inhabitants are joined by about 2500 fishing industry workers clocking in for the day’s work.

In 1990, the company underwent a generational change. Jørgen Jeppesens son Lars Jeppesen and his daughter Mette Møgelmose “picked up the paint brush”. In the following years, they expanded the reach of the local company, acquiring several painting firms in the Northern part of Denmark.

Today Malerfirmaet Jeppesen employs more than 80 painters — about half of them women — on everything from industrial painting assignments, floors, buildings, after fires and other commercial paint jobs, with numerous specialist painting skills, like environmentally friendly paint, hygiene paint and nanotechnology paint solutions.


- In 2022 we said yes to become a part of Håndverksgruppen, Lars Jeppesen says.

After 32 years of running everything with his sister Mette, Lars now joined a big group of diversified craftsmen in Håndverksgruppen. And one day he received a phone call from Copenhagen.

- I was asked to drive to a gym in Aalborg and have a look at what it would take to paint it, Lars says.

At the same time, Ib Jensen also called a new colleague in Aarhus, in the middle of Jutland, posing the same question to him. Would he be interested in joining in on the huge task of painting a part of roughly 150 gyms? Yes, indeed.

- The gym in Aalborg became our basis of negotiation, Lars says.


Some of the gyms needed renovations. Others would demand even much more labor. Necessary repainting would be less demanding, but still needed, at the newest ones.

Add that up to 150 gyms, and the picture becomes clear: It was a huge task.

- How would you have reacted to a phone call from a Copenhagen painter before?

Lars begins to laugh.

- Well, he says, - I would probably be a little skeptical. How could I be sure that they could be trusted to do a proper job? To be honest, I would probably not have taken the request too seriously. At the very least I would have to investigate who this Ib fellow was.

- That’s true the other way around too, Ib adds with a grin. – I am laughing now, but there’s definitely a lot of seriousness in it.


More muscles mean more cooperation

The gym paint job started immediately after the different painters agreed to pull it off. Paint brushes were dipped in fresh paint all over Denmark, literally being held in the hands of painters from companies who previously would not be cooperating. At all. They would have been competitors.  

The gyms are due at the end of June. And they will be done in time, both Ib and Lars say with conviction.

- What we experience here, says Lars, - Is gently and quietly the effects from the fact that our family has gotten bigger.

- Oh yes, Ib adds. – Being part of Håndverksgruppen undoubtedly means we’re all able to agree to assignments we would not say yes to earlier. In Denmark no painting firm has had a nationwide representation. Being part of Håndverksgruppen, we can make one agreement that is valid throughout the country. 

- And even though Ib and I did not know each other beforehand, Lars says, - We know that the companies who are invited to join Håndverksgruppen have met several demands when it comes to solidity. That’s reassuring.

- When I called Lars, says Ib, - I knew that he was a painter just like me. We come from the same background. Earlier, if my company was given a job in another part of Denmark, I might be able to look through the Yellow Pages and call some painter in that region. If I was lucky, they’d turn out to do a decent job. Now, I don’t have to hope. I know that when I call, I call someone who does business properly.

“Being part of Håndverksgruppen undoubtedly means we’re all able to agree to assignments we would not say yes to earlier.”



- It’s a matter of orderliness and honesty, Lars says. – When Håndverksgruppen approached Danish painting companies and considered including them, they were carefully picked. Both on a financially sound basis, but more importantly for cultural reasons. To a large extent it is a matter of values.

Ib adds that what he is hearing through the grapevine, is that there are several competing firms that want to join Håndverksgruppen. Meaning the reputation of the group is getting some serious tailwind these days.

- But I am pretty sure that most of them wouldn’t make the cut.

- I would have to agree with you on that one, Lars says.


Top 10 benefits of joining Håndverksgruppen

  • Increased efficiency through collaboration
  • Diversified skill set for a wider variety of tasks and projects.
  • Improved quality of work through two sets of eyes and hands.
  • Shared resources and procurement benefits for cost reduction and competitive bidding.
  • Positive impact on price due to increased value proposition and wider range of services.
  • Reputation and brand recognition leading to repeat business and referrals.
  • Opportunity to receive HS-training and contribute to ESG standards within the industry.
  • Talent development with the HG academy and increased attractiveness as an employer. 
  • General HR and recruitment support.
  • Ensures longevity of the company without succession issues.

A healthy dose of hesitation before selling

Standing at the helm of a family business, values have always been important for Lars Jeppesen. With employees scattered around Hirtshals, Frederikshavn, Brønderslev, Skagen and Aalborg, he says both he and his sister thought a lot about how the painting company would handle the future. None of their children had entertained the idea of taking the company forward.

- Were they just going to sell it?

- My sister and I had been business partners for 32 years straight. She is five years my senior, and had started talking about retiring. Such a scenario would probably mean buying her out, and then continuing five or six years before I had to sell the company all together.

And that was no easy thought for a man who cares for both his employees and his local town.

- It was a challenging situation, and obviously there were a lot of emotions involved, he says. – Lucky for us, Håndverksgruppen happened to reach out to us at roughly the same time. We thought it sounded thrilling to see our company part of something bigger instead of just selling it. That would mean both getting new colleagues—and more importantly, it would keep our employees safe.


“We are doing business as we used to. Being a part of Håndverksgruppen means we just have a lot more powers at our hands.”



As a painting company in a small town, there is a certain responsibility involved.

- You have been to Hirtshals, you know it’s a small town, right? Of our 50 painters working in the Hirtshals area, 30 are living in that very town. It was important for us to hand over the company properly. It weighed heavily on our minds. That’s why I am very pleased to be a part of Håndverksgruppen. We haven’t regretted joining for a second.

For Ib Jensen in Copenhagen, the situation was a little different. His painting company was already a part of a group of local painting companies named dsj malergruppe. However, in an acquisition situation, they also viewed the potential buyer with care.

- We knew that we were a business that would probably be interesting for a buyer. If we were to sell, it was important to us that it was to someone with the right motives, he says.

- Someone who would not split us up and change us, but take care of our identities and the way we ran the business.

Both master painters agree that very few of their customers actually care that much that they’re now owned by a large Norwegian group. And those who care, are assured by the fact that they have more than a hundred other solid companies behind them.


– You know, Lars says.
– We are doing business as we used to.
– We are just a lot stronger now.


Cooperation means getting real, honest advice

Values are one thing. Another is trust. Combine that with a regional, national and Nordic network, and you start to see changes in what you’re able to pull off as a company.

“With us being part of the same group, it means I can get an honest, fair second-opinion. That’s really valuable.”



As Lars says: If he’s invited to bid on an assignment in Copenhagen, he can now contact for example Ib—who knows the ups and downs of the area—and get a second opinion as to whether the offer is any good, or if Lars’ pricing idea fits the market.


- I wouldn’t have done that earlier. Maybe I could have asked around in my network, after all, Denmark is a small country. With us being part of the same group, it means I can get an honest, fair opinion from colleagues in other parts of the country. That’s really valuable.

- Yeah, that’s right, Ib chimes in. – Instead of calling other painters we might have just met once or twice, now we call each other. The best part is that it goes both ways.

But this is not saying it was all fun and games when the new painting companies joined Håndverksgruppen.

- We suddenly saw ourselves in a situation where we might be competing with what used to be competitors, who were now colleagues. That raised a question as to who the customer actually belonged to.

- How did you solve it?

- Well, we talked about it, Ib says. – We agreed that the customer should follow the personal contact. Personal relationships carry the most weight. So, if the customer originally contacts me, they belong to me. If they contact another company in Håndverksgruppen, they’re theirs. And who knows, this might become a more relevant concern in the future, as Håndverksgruppen probably continues to buy companies. I think the solution will be the same. We just have to talk it out.

- But it must be better to “lose” a customer to a colleague rather than a competitor?

Lars begins to laugh aloud.

- Always! Always.