Family entrepreneurs laid foundations for ASSA’s development

From a single lock to becoming Sweden’s leader in door security – how did ASSA develop into a major international company, offering a wide range of solutions? Let’s trace its history to find out.

In 1849, 23-year-old locksmith apprentice Frans August Stenman applied to be recognized as a manufacturer in the Swedish town of Eskilstuna. He submitted a sample of his work, a lock that was approved as “executed with excellent skill,” and he obtained his master craftsman’s certificate.

The Eskilstuna factory

Now he could start his own company, known as FAS. However, one of his sons, August Stenman, had his own ideas. In 1881, August purchased a hinge factory in Eskilstuna and became a trailblazer in Swedish industry. He focused on mass production and automation, and had special machines built for his production line.

His company, August Stenman AB, soon became ASSA. The source is said to have been August’s wife, who had a sense of symmetry when she embroidered cushions with the monogram ASSA – August Stenman Stenman August.

August Stenman

Focus on locks

In 1939, ASSA took its first steps towards lock production when it acquired a small lock company, K.S. Thulins Lås-och Metallfabrik. In 1946 ASSA launched an advanced security lock based on five-pin cylinders that became a great success. It was followed by the world’s first seven-pin lock, under the motto that “Locks shall be manufactured with precision in large runs with tight tolerances and requirements for 100 percent security.”

A lock from K.S Thulins Lås-och metallfabrik

In 1951, ASSA was the first company in Sweden to introduce a five-day work week. It also opened a staff restaurant that year.

ASSA continued to grow at a robust pace, driven by strong demand from rebuilding post-World War II Europe. By 1970 locks were the company’s foremost product. One reason for this was that ASSA began to supply locks to Sweden’s fast-growing automotive industry, Volvo and SAAB.

Adapting to new challenges

In 1988, Securitas purchased ASSA. At the time, ASSA operated at a loss. The prolonged period of high construction activity had ended abruptly with the 1973-74 oil crisis. Finnish Abloy contributed to ASSA’s challenges. Abloy bypassed Sweden’s established wholesalers and began selling its Boda locks directly to door manufacturers at prices that substantially undercut ASSA’s.

A Volvo PV with locks from ASSA.

Major changes were needed – as things stood, delivery times could be up to three to four months. Comprehensive restructuring resulted in much more efficient production, administration and distribution. After a few years, it was possible to promise customers that if they ordered before 10 a.m., many deliveries could be made after 4 p.m.

This streamlining process resulted in a remarkable turnaround. Profitability went from shaky to robust. With these stronger foundations, management began to look into successful growth through acquisitions. A major international step was taken in 1991 with the acquisition of the American company Arrow, a traditional lock manufacturer in the US.

In 1990, the other Stenman company joined the ‘family’ when ASSA took over FAS. With the addition of a few more small companies, ASSA was well-positioned in security solutions for many different types of doors.

These developments significantly increased the value of the ASSA Group, providing the management with both confidence and resources. Performance substantially improved in 1992 and 1993 and the company began to hunt for expansion opportunities. The natural step would be consolidation of the Nordic market, where there was only one party to approach, Finnish Abloy.

Read more about the history of Abloy in the article: "Abloy - from a single lock to a Nordic leader", and stay tuned for upcoming stories on the merge and the way forward for the ASSA ABLOY Group.