The Slovenia Times

Varis, bathroom specialist aiming to become a multinational

A bathroom made by Varis. Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Varis, a Lendava-based business, is one of Europe's three leading makers of ready-made bathrooms, putting out some 4,000 a year. Their ambition is to become a multinational that defines sustainable construction.

Celebrating its 45th anniversary last year, the company has manufactured some 110,000 pre-fabricated bathrooms. Employing 230 people, Varis exports between 80% and 90% of its products, mostly to Germany, where it holds a 15% market share, but also to countries such as Austria and Switzerland.

Their bathrooms can be found in hotel chains such as the Sheraton, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton by Hilton and Motel One, as well as in Frankfurt's tallest building, the 49-storey hotel and office Tower One.

CEO Sabina Sobočan, who took over from her father Štefan Sobočan nine years ago, says their advantage is that they are very customer-oriented. "We always listen to the client, trying to find the optimal solution."

They bet on quality, not just of their products and production processes, but also the quality of relationships inside the company, with their partners, in the community and in reducing their carbon footprint as much as possible.

New product as a business opportunity

The company developed from one of the businesses emerging from the 1991 bankruptcy of Yugoslav-era company Gorenje IMO, where Štefan Sobočan served as an executive. It later became a joint-stock company.

Its predecessor manufactured first bathrooms for the 1972 Munich Olympics, and six years later production of ready-made bathrooms was launched in Lendava.

They were looking for business by going around the former Yugoslavia, and wherever they saw cranes and construction sites, they saw an opportunity for ready-made bathrooms.

Sabina Sobočan, CEO of Varis. Photo: Vida Toš/STA

"Back then, everything in construction was measured in centimetres," Sobočan says, but they had to introduce millimetre precision for their finished bathrooms.

Her father saw prefabricated bathrooms as a business opportunity because it was a completely new product. "Our ready-made bathrooms made it possible to build a 300-room, 300-bathroom hotel three months sooner than if different craftsmen had done the work."

Sobočan, who worked in auditing before taking over as CEO, says she has always been part of the business, doing her internship there, and being kept up to date as her parents talked about business.

She enjoys her work and believes people enjoying their jobs, being creative and happy in their jobs is a key part of success. She is proud of the high satisfaction scores they get from their staff.

Adaptation a key to success

During the Covid pandemic, Varis was one of the few companies to keep running despite the lockdown and they posted record results. The energy crisis did not affect them badly because they have their own solar panels, but there were some problems with supplies, although they work hard to replenish stocks where possible.

"We adapted - that is the answer to the question why we are one of the leaders," Sobočan says, adding that to date, their bathrooms have never arrived late or incomplete at the construction site.

They also adapted to the labour market; facing shortages of skilled staff, they started a Varis academy. "Given that there are no tilers, we first retrained our staff and reassigned them to those jobs. Then we looked outside and trained others and hired them."

The company is also looking for managerial staff. "We would like the country to be organised in such a way as to attract talent back, rather than deter them, and to attract talent from other countries as well."

Innovation and sustainability

They use sustainable, environmentally, employee- and user-friendly materials to build their bathrooms, including what they call 'green concrete'.

The company also has a research department to test new materials and develop new products, with Sobočan explaining that they must be one step ahead of the competition if they want to remain a leader.

She has ambitious goals for the company, including sustainability: "We want to co-create modular construction and lead the way in sustainable prefabricated bathrooms. Ten years from now, we want to be a multinational that defines sustainable construction. These are ambitious but achievable goals."

Sobočan is not happy with 2023 because they failed to meet some of their goals. For this year, they have signed contracts to build 2,700 bathrooms by August.

They also want to expand to new markets. "We are strong in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, in Slovenia too, we have been present in Hungary and Denmark, and we want to make it to England, France, Europe in general."

One of Varis's subsidiaries sells pump tracks and skate parks, which they make on demand only, while they sell bathrooms in Germany through a subsidiary in Paderborn.


More from Business