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Wood: Oil and urethane—A winning combination of aesthetics, function

Blend of finish formulations expands end-user options

May 14/21, 2018: Volume 33, Issue 24

By Reginald Tucker

With the advent of aluminum-oxide finishes, hardwood manufacturers were able to deliver high-performance products that could withstand the rigors of everyday wear and tear. But as consumer trends evolved over time, consumers began to clamor for a more natural, low-luster topcoat—hence the resurgence of the oil-based finishes that are trending today.

Manufacturers are facing a new challenge: How to develop a finish that will allow the natural beauty and characteristics of the wood veneer to show through and yet provide the durability consumers and end users have come to expect from today’s advanced finishes. To address this issue, some suppliers are offering the best of both worlds by developing special blends of oil and UV-cured urethane finishes.

Case in point is Provenza Floors, which combines two different finishing technologies on some of its collections. As Ron Sadri, principal owner, explains: “We put a lot of money and research behind it to make sure we came up with the look we wanted while offering a product that was easy to maintain. So we put two technologies together (polyurethane and oil), which was challenging but it paid off in the end.”

Provenza Floors has more than 20 years of experience under its belt in developing different finishing processes and treatments. Some techniques, Sadri noted, were born out of pure experimentation.

“We tried to use an air-dried polyurethane finish vs. aluminum oxide or UV, which dries very quickly,” he explained. “Our finishes usually air dry and cure for about five to seven days before we package the product. This process provides a very natural look.”

Techniques such as these, he said, dovetail nicely with the advent of so-called “reactive” finishes and fuming processes—another area in which Provenza Floors specializes. “We combine that with staining and oil looks to create a UV oil, which provides a harder, smoother finish with less maintenance,” Sadri explained. “The technology has evolved to the point where we went from hard wax finishes to polyurethane combined with reactive stains.”

It’s an approach whose benefits are not overlooked by Provenza Floors’ distributor partners. “Provenza is a step ahead of the market,” said Alan Gage, president of Tri-West, a distributor partner for nearly 20 years. “They bring us products that are innovative and cool. The reactive stains and fumed products they produce are very popular in our market. Consumers love them. In fact, the entire lineup is ahead of the curve and right on with colors and tones.”

Other major producers are leveraging their manufacturing expertise to develop finishes that combine both advanced and traditional technologies. The Winery collection from Wickham Hardwood Flooring, for instance, features a matte, five-degree, UV-cured oil finish for an Old World look with modern performance enhancements. The multi-ply, 3¼-inch-wide product features a sturdy Baltic birch plywood construction with a 4mm veneer for added durability.

“We use soybean components, allowing us to claim that our oil finish utilizes the most enhanced environmentally friendly technique,” said Paul Rezuke, vice president of sales, U.S. “The biggest advantage to oil-finished flooring is the simple fact that it is highly repairable vs. a lacquered floor. An oil finished floor also is appealing given that the floor is relatively static free; therefore, the accumulation of dust is minimal. I would also point out that oil finished floors are also a better choice for high-traffic applications. This finish will stand up better than a lacquer-based finish.”

Not only can Wickham Flooring provide distributors with products that feature these hybrid finishes, but they can customize them according to a distributor or dealer partner’s specifications. “Wickham has a unique business model in that they produce an enormous amount of product, but they don’t apply a color or a finish until the product has been ordered by the retailer or distributor,” said Craig Dupra, president of Installers Warehouse, a Rochester, N.Y.-based wholesale flooring distributor. Aside from the visuals, he likes the flexibility and deep range of options the Wickham Hardwood Flooring brand offers his customers. “I don’t know how they manage the logistics of it, but they’re very good at making a particular product for a particular customer and still get it to my customer in 10-15 business days from the time the order is placed. This gives dealers an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of how the particular floor can be made regarding width, species, grade, color and sheen. Having Wickham as a vendor is like having 10 lines at the same time.”

Even the niche suppliers are getting in on the act. Monarch Plank, a division of Galleher Hardwood, provides specialty, wide-plank flooring that can be customized according to the client’s specifications. Many of those products feature UV oil finishes. Case in point is the Domaine collection, a ¾-inch-thick, 9½-inch-wide x 8-foot-long product with a hefty 6mm top layer.

“Today’s high-end contractors are turning more to prefinishing—either in their own shops or through custom prefinishing like ours,” said Todd Hamar, senior vice president. “The colors designers are demanding nowadays are often only achieved through processes like fuming, bleaching and reactive stains that are difficult—if not impossible—to work with on site. Designers are also increasingly seeking to customize texture in ways that are too tedious to achieve on the job site.”

The Monarch Plank manufacturing plant, a new 60,000-square-foot facility in Phoenix, features dedicated lines for UV oil and urethane finishes, plus vacuum coaters, standalone spray booth and a spray line. Hand finishing as well as commercial-grade finishes are also offered.

“By coloring and texturing in a shop, customers have the opportunity to work with these processes in a controlled environment using labor-saving machines,” Hamar told FCNews. “More importantly, clients have the opportunity to dial in the look and get approval before installation.”

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Wickham enters distributor deal with Abraham Linc

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-11-55-17-amQuebec, Canada—Wickham Hardwood Flooring has partnered with Abraham Linc to distribute and market the Wickham brand of products in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Established in 1988, Abraham Linc is a full line distributor of floor covering products serving West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, D.C., Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Jersey, and portions of Ohio and Kentucky. Abraham Linc is headquartered in Bridgeport, W.Va., with additional warehouse facilities in Baltimore, Maryland and Waynesboro, Va.

“We are very pleased to be partnered with such a reputable, established organization,” said Jean-Pierre Nittolo, president for Wickham Hardwood Flooring. “Their management and sales team will do a great job representing our products in the Mid-Atlantic region.”

abrahamDarren F. Abraham, president and CEO of Abraham Linc, is also looking forward to the partnership. “We’re in the inventory business and perform logistical services for manufacturers in the Mid-Atlantic,” he said. “Our entire team is excited to partner with Wickham and offer this line to our customers. 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.”

For more information contact Paul Rezuke, vice president of U.S. sales for Wickham Hardwood, at 508-954-2221, or Terry Warne, executive vice president of Abraham Linc at 800-359-5260.

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Wood: Wickham partners reap the rewards

Specialty hardwood flooring supplier helps channel partners fill a niche

July 4/11, 2016; Volume 30, Number 27

By Reginald Tucker

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 4.00.13 PMCraig Dupra, president of Installers Warehouse, a Rochester, N.Y.-based wholesale flooring distributor, likes the flexibility and deep range of options the Wickham Hardwood Flooring brand offers his customers. “I don’t know how they manage the logistics of it, but they’re very good at making a particular product for a particular customer and still get it to my customer in 10-15 business days from the time the order is placed.”

For other Wickham dealers like Mike Winter, president and owner of Builder Surplus, Warwick, R.I., the main attraction is the Canadian manufacturer’s ability to crank out a high volume of specialized product without compromising on quality or caving in to the commodity game. “When you’re working with a lot of vendors it can get a little convoluted because you’re dealing with companies who are doing a lot of the same things—it makes it harder to sell the product,” he said. “As retailers we like to have a product we can build on—a product that others don’t have.”

Scenarios such as these are playing out across Wickham Hardwood Flooring’s network of dealers and distributors across North America. From specialty hardwood flooring distributors looking for quality wood flooring products that provide a good “turn and earn” to specialty retailers and installation houses serving the residential replacement and builder communities, Wickham’s products are helping to fill specific niches within the marketplace while still appealing to mainstream consumers in the market for trendy hardwood flooring products.

“Wickham has a unique business model in that they produce an enormous amount of product but they don’t apply a color or a finish until the product has been ordered by the retailer or distributor,” Dupra explained. “This gives them an enormous amount of flexibility in terms of how the particular floor can be made regarding width, species, grade, color and sheen. Having Wickham as a vendor is like having 10 lines at the same time.”

This capability is particularly important for dealers who service a broad customer base. For example, at Builder Surplus, whose clientele runs a wide gamut, a diverse range of options is key. “Most of the Wickham products we sell are going into residential replacement applications as well as new homes,” Winter noted. “The product is superb relative to what you might find at Home Depot and Lowe’s. It’s just a wonderful product. And from a service standpoint, Wickham’s salespeople are excellent.”

The fact that they can produce a high volume in a short period of time is also a plus for Builder Surplus, a Wickham Hardwood Flooring partner for the past five years. Winter purchases a full truckload of product roughly every six weeks—and that’s just during the offseason. “We’ve been a good partner for them and they have been a good partner for us,” he said.

 

Profit opportunities

Beyond providing a deep selection along with a relatively quick turnaround, Wickham’s dealer and distributor partners point to another important benefit of stocking the line: trade-up opportunities. Due to the manufacturer’s cost structure and overall business model, it is in an enviable position to give its partners great deals on pricing.

At the end of the day, this approach allows Wickham’s distributors to be “more aggressive on the street while accessing more customers with a greater variety of products. “Wickham has allowed us to grow our business by leaps and bounds,” Dupra said. “By stocking the Wickham line, we have easily doubled our bottom line.”

Greg Arnold, national sales manager for Wickham Hardwood Floorinbg, attests to the value of good partnerships. Over the past 10 months he said the company has added distributors and strengthened relations with retailers. “We recognize the fact that relationships are earned. Wickham would not be succesful without these relationships, and we take great pride in growing these relationships daily.”

 

 

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Canadian mills: Quality you can count on

July 7/14, 2014; Volume 28/Number 2

By Ken Ryan

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 11.12.20 AM

It is said that location is everything, and for hardwood flooring manufacturers in Canada—home to 10% of the world’s forests—that means access to five major forest regions, each with its own specific climate, topography and soil.

Several different types of wood that are used for flooring are grown in Canadian forests, including birch, ash, beech, oak and maple. Yellow birch, for example, has a grain that is similar to maple’s and is highly sought after in furniture and flooring.

According to flooring professionals north of the border, one of the reasons Canada’s wood is of such good quality is because of the climate. The coldness makes the wood grow slower, which results in tighter and stronger product with more consistent tones of color.

Tight growth rings, strong fibers and consistent grain patterns are the characteristics that give Quebec hardwood its strength and durability. Quebec-based flooring companies, including Mirage, Mercier, Lauzon and Preverco, have benefited from the climate and richness of forestland to produce quality products.

And yet, access to quality raw materials is only part of the process; the manufacturing method must also be at a high level, according to Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing at Boa-Franc, makers of the Mirage brand. “Offering superior quality products has always been our No. 1 priority,” he said. “Therefore, maintaining this high level of quality is our daily challenge, a goal each of our employees strives for.”

The name Mirage is synonymous with quality, and it is known throughout the industry for its exacting standards.

As Robitaille explained, “Each day, hundreds of quality checks are being performed throughout the production process, from the purchase of raw material to the logistics involved in the delivery to the customers. Nothing is left to chance. Anyone can [make] a quality product. What is more difficult is to [provide] quality all the time. We all know it’s harder to stay on top than it is to get there in the first place. That’s why we work hard every day, taking nothing for granted and constantly striving to reinvent ourselves.”

Quality manufacturing is part of Mercier’s heritage as well. More than a decade ago, the company streamlined its manufacturing and raw materials pipeline by bringing on a sawmill that today provides 100% of the raw materials used by Mercier. Michel Collin, director of marketing, said beyond the manufacturing capability, drilling down to the smallest details is important. “We know we need to do things differently to be recognized in the U.S. market and that we need to offer [additional] value that domestic manufacturers cannot,” he said. “It all starts with the commitment to the quality program every day—from a rigorous manufacturing process, quality control and monitoring, to vertical integration and the training of our employees. In the end it’s not only quality production overall but it’s design and style of our product as well.”

What goes into making hardwood flooring of such high quality? It is, quite simply, an extensive and rigorous quality control process. For Mirage, it moves from the worker in the plant to the sales reps in the field. “Our employees pursue the same goal: going above and beyond customer expectations and constantly adapting to their needs,” Robitaille said. “This is what Mirage’s reputation is built on and what we’ll continue to work on each day. The numerous quality awards received in the last decade—more than 23—prove our efforts are worth it. It doesn’t mean we have to stop because of our success; quality is a journey, not a destination.”’

World-class manufacturing operations

Not resting on its laurels, Canadian manufacturers continue to develop and market innovative technology such as sawmill operations that optimize the yield of every tree. These new, highly automated milling technologies produce more wood from fewer trees. Only a maximum of 5% of each cut tree is not used. This 5% is comprised of branches, which the tree cutters leave on the forest floor in order to biodegrade and aid future tree growth.

Wickham Hardwood Flooring, located near Drummondville, Quebec, said it reinvests a significant portion of its yearly earnings back into its facilities. In 1996, the company sought to enhance its strategic position by implementing an automated production line for varnishing its hardwood floorboards. Since then, the company has added a new sawmill, kilns, a processing plant and a finishing line.

“The reputation of Canadian mills is built on a strong expertise of the wood manufacturing process—from the drying stage to warehousing in perfect temperature and humidity conditions,” explained Etienne Chabot, vice president of marketing at Preverco.

That effort has not gone unnoticed among consumers. “We recently did a survey among our customers,” Chabot said, “and Made in Canada remains one of the top five reasons why they prefer to buy Canadian hardwood vs. a substitute product.”

 

In pursuit of quality 

Flooring retailers who have toured Mirage’s production facility in Saint-Georges, Quebec, come away impressed by the quality control that takes place, even noting the cleanliness of the plant. “It is so clean you could eat off the floor,” said Scott Milligan, owner of Heartland Wood Flooring, a Pompano Beach, Fla.-based retailer who called the tour a “must-see” for anyone in the flooring industry. The following “indicator of quality/quality checks,” as Mirage refers to it, is a review of what is done in the plant in terms of quality control. According to Robitaille, the points below are also indicators of quality that customers should look for when shopping for high quality hardwood floors.

1) The wood is stable and durable At Mirage, production doesn’t start until the wood has dried for as long as each species requires. This is to ensure that the floor won’t shrink or split in the years to come.

2) Straight, uniformly thick boards Workers place a few boards on the floor next to one another. The boards should fit together perfectly, with no noticeable variations in thickness.

3) Small and consistent V joints When placed alongside one another, the boards form V joints where they meet. Perfect joints will help the floor stay resilient and make it easier to clean.

4) Consistent color from one box to the next Color applied deep within joints gives floors a more uniform appearance. Workers watch to make sure that color is consistent from one box to another.

5) A clean, sanitary surface Antimicrobial agents added to the floor’s finish help surroundings stay clean and sanitary.

6) UV protection to fight yellowing Bright light and sun can cause wood from a naturally pale species to yellow. UV protection in the finish can reduce and slow this process.

7) Highest standard of finish Finish needs to be applied in just the right amount—neither too thin nor too thick—to avoid a plastic look. The beauty of the wood should shine through.