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Manufacturer spotlight: Uniboard striving to become retailers’ go-to supplier

October 9/16, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 9

By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 9.55.42 AMLaval, Quebec, Canada—Uniboard is working hard to dispel the outdated notion that it is just a laminate flooring producer. With its recent foray into the engineered hardwood flooring sector and, now, the rigid core arena, the quality-minded manufacturer is seeking to establish itself as the go-to source for retailers and distributors seeking an array of well-made, hard surface products.

James Hogg, Uniboard’s president and CEO, sees it as a rebirth of the brand and a recommitment to flooring across several categories. “We were originally a laminate flooring company, but we have repositioned ourselves to become a flooring solutions company.”

Truth be told, Uniboard was indeed a laminate powerhouse during laminate flooring’s heyday in North America circa 1996–2000. During that time, Uniboard operated a manufacturing facility in North Carolina that produced products for Perstorp Flooring, which marketed the Pergo brand—the market leader at the time. At full capacity the laminate plant cranked out about 15 million square feet. But following a split with Pergo, Uniboard sold off its U.S. manufacturing assets and exited the American market. The company turned its attention to the U.S. market once again in 2012 after surveying the landscape for new opportunities.

“But we knew being in laminate was not enough,” Hogg recalled. “We knew we had to expand our offering to include other hard surface categories.”

Uniboard discovered it was in a unique position to do just that. With roughly 90% of its business focused on producing HDF panels for furniture producers and cabinet manufacturers, there was a tremendous opportunity to leverage its strengths and expand the flooring side of the business. Founded in 1992 and privately owned, the company operates five plants: one flooring facility, three panel operations and one binding facility—a chemical plant the company employs to develop products that bind the panels and boards together.

“We are the leader in thermal-fused melamine in the Canadian market,” Hogg said. “In fact, we are the No. 1 supplier of cabinet panels for all Ikea locations across North America and we sell laminate flooring to many of the home centers in Canada. We also sell our boards to other flooring manufacturers on a private-label basis.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 9.55.49 AMSo what does all this scale and manufacturing expertise mean for Uniboard’s customers and partners on the flooring side? Uniboard is looking to leverage that expertise to create innovative, high-performing products tailored to each regional and end-use market it serves for each of the different categories in which the company participates. The goal is to raise the flooring portion of its business—which accounts for roughly 10% of its sales today—to 25% over the next few years.

“The key is to leverage our core competencies in HDF coreboard manufacturing,” Hogg explained. “Not only are we one of the biggest producers of panels in North America, but we control the fiber species and the resin recipe of the boards—which helps prevent swelling and adds dimensional stability to the panels. This is a huge advantage we have over other board manufacturers.”

This manufacturing prowess is readily evident in Uniboard’s new engineered wood flooring offerings. The product is built on an HDF core platform but features a real wood veneer. The line is manufactured via a series of steps the company calls the Uni-Process method, a five-step proprietary process specifically developed for the engineered wood line. How it works: The process begins with its Unicore high-density fiberboard core, which is made from 100% pre-consumer, reclaimed wood fibers. Next comes the Uni-Bond process, which uses an exclusive thermally fused dry glue application that, according to the company, significantly reduces cracking and checking on the surface of the planks. The third step, Uni-Veneer, entails the hand selection of the top layer to ensure non-repetitive wood patterns. The engineered wood manufacturing process is capped off with the Uni-Finish process, which incorporates a non-toxic, hypoallergenic coating featuring antimicrobial additives along with an anti-yellowing UV inhibitor. All these layers are combined together, resulting in an ultra-high performance engineered wood flooring product.

“We are an integrated company, so we manufacture the core to our specifications,” said Don Raymond, vice president, sales and marketing. “Other boards swell and pull apart; our boards have stronger integrity. We’ve designed the core to meet the highest specification in the marketplace in terms of swelling, moisture resistance and performance. Other companies can’t do that. They have to buy some of the technology on the open market.”

Into the rigid core ring
Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 9.55.54 AMAs Uniboard researched the U.S. market to scout out additional opportunities beyond laminate flooring and engineered wood, it took a close look at the burgeoning rigid core sector. Given the company’s established expertise in coreboard technology, it saw yet another opportunity to leverage its scale and strengths.

Enter Geonyx, a new line of waterproof, rigid core flooring featuring a laminate veneer over a stone-plastic core (SPC). According to Uniboard, this combination surpasses the density and rigidity of both LVT and WPC, and boasts resistance to both heat and indentation.

“The goal was to create excitement around the Uniboard brand,” Raymond said. “We have essentially reset and repositioned the business in terms of what sectors we want to participate in the market. Our engineered wood flooring line was the catapult, followed by Geonyx with the SPC core. We want people to come to Surfaces and say, ‘Wow, look at what they have. It’s not just laminate; it’s a variety of products and it’s not just me-too products.’ ”

Early indications suggest Uniboard’s customers will be pleased. Tapis Beaver, a Uniboard distributor based in Montreal, recently previewed the new engineered 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 Uniboard’s 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 new engineered hardwood line down the road.

Les Bois de Plancher PG, another Uniboard wholesaler, also sees the potential of the new engineered wood line. “We position the product for projects such as new high-rise apartments or contract commercial projects,” said Martin Emery, vice president. “It seems to fit the needs and requests for Canadian-quality made products as an entry-level hardwood product. We have a good feeling as to where they are going with it.”

As it refocuses on the U.S. market, Uniboard is working to shore up distribution. To that end, the company has tapped Gilles de Beaumont, a 40-year industry veteran, to spearhead efforts to get top U.S. wholesalers on board with the Uniboard brand. Given his stellar reputation throughout the industry, in addition to his expertise in strategic planning, operations and product management, he has the formula, and the pedigree, to help Uniboard accomplish its goals.

“Due to my relationships in the industry, I can help Uniboard determine the best channels to focus on,” de Beaumont said. “We have approached about one dozen distributors in the U.S., and we hope to have 10 lined up by Surfaces 2018.”

 

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Wood: Canadian suppliers seek to play the ‘Q’ (as in quality) card

July 3/10: Volume 32, Issue 2

By Reginald Tucker

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 3.18.14 PMIn 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.”

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 3.18.31 PMAsk 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
Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 3.18.20 PMMuch 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.

Screen Shot 2017-07-10 at 3.18.24 PM“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.”

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Uniboard returns to TISE to celebrate 20th anniversary

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 10.56.50 AMLaval, Quebec—Uniboard Flooring will celebrate 20 years of North American-made laminate flooring at The International Surface Event in Las Vegas.

From its early beginnings in 1995, operating from a 40,000-square-foot plant, Uniboard now operates a modern and integrated 265,000-square-foot facility. Over the past 20 years, Uniboard has had a long-standing commitment to innovation, including its pre-attached backers to its latest ultra-thick luxury laminate flooring.

“Being a North American vertically integrated manufacturer—from resin to final laminate—allows Uniboard the ability to tailor substrates to different customer needs and applications,” said Daniel Seguin, director of product development and innovation. “A perfect example is our newest formaldehyde-free (NAF) option for laminate flooring.”

Visit Uniboard at booth 4300 to see the company’s latest introductions.