July 3/10: Volume 32, Issue 2
By Reginald Tucker
In some circles, Canada is renown for developing some of the greatest hockey players—and teams—in the history of the sport. Well, the same could be said for the nation’s formidable forestry sector, which has produced some of the most prolific producers of hardwood flooring.
But it’s not just high volumes that some of these well-respected companies are cranking out. Many industry observers would argue that they manufacture some of the industry’s highest quality hardwood flooring products.
Take Rochester, N.Y.-based Installers Warehouse as an example. This wholesale flooring distributor ranks the Wickham line high on its portfolio of hardwood flooring products. Craig Dupra, president, has toured the Wickham plant on multiple occasions and is always impressed with what he sees. “Wickham has a unique business model in that it produces an enormous amount of product, but the company doesn’t apply a color or a finish until the product has been ordered by the retailer or distributor. I don’t know how it manages the logistics of it, but the company is very good at making a particular product for a particular customer and still gets it to my customer in 10-15 business days from the time the order is placed. This gives retailers an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of how the particular floor can be made regarding width, species, grade, color and sheen.”
Perhaps it’s the signature, tight-grained maple species native to the various Canadian forests where lumber used for flooring is predominantly harvested, or maybe it’s just an ingrained mindset embraced by the major wood manufacturers operating here, but there’s definitely something to be said about the quality of the upper-end hardwood flooring products originating from Canada. Marketplace reputation probably plays a role as well, observers say.
Abraham Linc, which took on the Wickham line late last year, also attests to the company’s focus on high standards. “Our entire team is excited to partner with Wickham and offer this line to our customers,” said Darren Abraham, president. “The high quality of the products, fashion-forward colors and design, combined with our commitment to inventory, delivery and sales support gives our dealers an exciting new line.”
Ask virtually any top distributor or retailer to corroborate many Canadian hardwood flooring manufacturers’ claims that their products are among the highest quality available on the market today, and you are not likely to find a lot of hesitation. Jaeckle Distributors, based in Madison, Wis., is a case in point.
“Mercier gives us a first-quality Canadian manufactured wood line that fits all possibilities in today’s ever-changing customer lifestyle,” said Steve Flanagan, product and marketing manager. “Mercier fits the consumer’s need anywhere from a quality entry-level product in their Pro Series to the most fashionable 7-inch pine long board or other popular species like hickory, maple, red and white oak, and their entire exotics series.”
Jaeckle’s experience with the Mercier brand continues to generate positive results. For 2016, Brad Myers, sales manager with Jaeckle Wholesale Distributors in St. Louis, won the manufacturer’s Best Salesperson of the Year award In addition, for the third straight year, Jaeckle Wholesale Distributors earned Wholesaler of the Year honors from Mercier.
Other top distributors are singing the praises of Canadian hardwood. For instance, No. 1-ranked Haines counts the Mirage Hardwood Flooring brand among its best sellers. “Mirage’s Flair collection features a next-generation finish called Duramatt, an extremely durable, low-gloss urethane finish that has the appearance of an oil finish without the maintenance required for oil,” said Shawn McCloskey, marketing manager. “Duramatt also contains anti-microbial agents and is 20 times more wear resistant than a conventional oil finish.”
Other Mirage distributors, including No. 4-ranked All Tile, applaud the virtues of not only the manufacturer’s high-quality products but also the company’s steadfast approach to manufacturing overall and attention to detail. So much so that All Tile recently decided to expand the territories in which it will distribute the Mirage brand. Specifically, All Tile’s single-source trading area for Mirage Flooring will be widened beyond Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, eastern Wisconsin, northern Indiana, Illinois and Michigan to include North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and all of Wisconsin.
“This is a great opportunity to provide a high level of quality service with outstanding customer service, inventory and technology to Mirage customers and help them selling the top-quality hardwood flooring brand on the market,” said Bob Weiss, president of All Tile, a Mirage wholesale partner since 2007. “We are very happy about extending our partnership with Mirage to a new territory.”
Focus on innovation
Much like their counterparts south of the border in America, most Canadian hardwood flooring manufacturers face stiff competition from other quality-minded suppliers operating in their market. To gain a competitive advantage, many employ proprietary techniques in their respective manufacturing processes. One common denominator, though, is the obligatory attention to detail.
That same emphasis on strict quality control measures is observed at Lauzon. As Priscilla Bergeron, brand manager, explains: “We have numerous points of control to make sure every step of the way our quality is maintained. This starts right from the forests where we choose which tree we’re going to cut all the way through to delivery to the retailer. We also have state-of-the-art equipment to make sure the quality is maintained consistently. We test and re-test to make sure everything we produce has the highest standards in the market. And we communicate that message to the marketplace.”
This focus on attention paved the way for innovations such as Sunshield, which is designed to mitigate the harmful effects of UV light. Lauzon also developed a titanium finish, which it says is one of the strongest coatings on the market. And then there’s Pure Genius technology, which aims to provide air-purifying capabilities for homeowners.
“We have won many awards for Pure Genious alone,” Bergeron said. “In 2015 we won the Best of IBS Award in Las Vegas and we also won the Bronze Innovation award from IIDEX Canada in the flooring category. We also won an innovation award at Domotex in Germany in 2015, and we ranked high among environmentally friendly products at the Greenbuild show as well.”
Even Canadian newcomers to the hardwood arena are looking to leverage the country’s reputation for quality products. For example, Uniboard Canada, which previously only produced laminate flooring, launched its first engineered hardwood flooring line (Kalista) at the NWFA convention in 2016. Since that time, the company has expanded the color and species offerings to give dealers and distributors more options.
Tapis Beaver, a Uniboard distributor based in Montreal, recently previewed the Kalista line and has high hopes for its potential in the marketplace. Already a longtime distributor of Uniboard’s laminate lines, Tapis Beaver is quite familiar with the manufacturer’s overall approach to product quality, high standards and service.
“We work more on the laminate side than any other product,” said Stephane Leveille, president, Tapis Beaver. “We placed around 150 displays since last December, and we sold about $1 million or more worth of product. We don’t have any complaints about the product. The quality is very good.”
Citing their innovative approach to manufacturing—as well as the proximity to its operations and customer base—Leveille hinted that there may be an opportunity to take on the Kalista brand down the road. “We have looked into the product but we didn’t start to sell it yet. We are still in discussions with Uniboard management to see how we could work with our customers.”
Other major Canadian suppliers are also garnering attention for their innovative approach to hardwood manufacturing. Earlier this year Satin Flooring took home a Best of Surfaces Award for Wirebrushed, part of the Generations engineered wood collection. The innovative, environmentally friendly product is treated with Satin’s proprietary, non-allergenic, formaldehyde-free Eco-Last finish with UV protection and an anti-microbial finish, which prevents bacterial and fungus growth. It also features the company’s SolidFused technology, which is used in its engineered flooring production.
According to Dennis Mohn, director of U.S. sales for Satin Flooring, the company only uses lumber from well-managed North American forests—a big selling point for both existing and potential customers. “As a leading user of one of nature’s most precious and inspiring resources, we have a special responsibility not just to our environment but also to each other.”
Many Canadian distributor partners generally believe all these attributes—product quality, attention to detail, responsible use of natural resources—translate into products that provide higher margin opportunities with low claims rates. “Wickham has allowed us to grow our business by leaps and bounds,” Installers Warehouse Dupra said. “By stocking the Wickham line, we have easily doubled our bottom line.”