Wood: Canadian suppliers look to stand out
By Reginald Tucker WWhen it comes to sourcing hardwood floors, there has been so much focus on Asia, and rightly so given the competence and scale of the dozens of suppliers in that region of the world. But you can’t ignore the impact that Canadian suppliers have had – and still have – on the US market. Known for their talent for producing some of the cleanest maple floors available – along with their unwavering focus on product quality, finishing innovation and rigorous environmental standards – some of Canada’s major hardwood suppliers continue to raise the bar by which many brands are measured.
A good example is Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage hardwood floor brand. For many of the company’s retailers and distributors, the Mirage name is synonymous with quality, especially when it comes to the signature DuraMatt finish. Karla Wischmeyer, interior designer at Verhey Carpets in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has a long track record with DuraMatt and the Mirage brand in general. Wischmeyer, who has sold the brand for the past 10 years, attributes 95% of the company’s lumber business to the Mirage brand. “We are very happy with it, and I’m sure we haven’t had any claims,” she said FCNews.
That is no coincidence, according to the people of Boa-Franc. “We believe that since the company was founded in 1983, we have set the standard for high-quality hardwood floors,” said Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing. “It is the culture within the company that makes the difference.”
But that’s not the only reason. Williams also mentioned the company’s focus on manufacturing and sourcing investments. “Yes, we have the best equipment and quality control processes; anyone with capital can do that. We try to source the best wood we can from reliable and responsible suppliers – so can others. The difference, however, is the people we have and their know-how. We often say that anyone can have state-of-the-art cuisine and delicious food from the markets, but it’s the chefs in the kitchen who make the difference between 3-star restaurants and 5-star restaurants. The same concept applies to us, hardwood floor manufacturers. From sourcing wood to yard management, drying, milling and roughing, there is tremendous know-how built up in our company over the years from being focused solely on transforming hardwoods into the best hardwood flooring products.”
Williams cited another feature as a differentiator: having the entire manufacturing process for four different product platforms manufactured and finished in the same plants in Saint Georges, Quebec. “The optimization and management required to achieve this is a differentiator,” Williams said. “It is not easy to manage all grades, grades, widths, different thicknesses for the different platforms and preprocessed up to thousands of SKUs, but it gives our customers enormous flexibility to meet their customers’ needs within one product line.”
Another major Canadian hardwood supplier that prides itself on its reputation for high quality and reliability is Mercier hardwood flooring. Now in his 41st years in business, the company has built a long track record of satisfying customers. “The quality that Mercier offers is excellent — it’s the Cadillac of quality,” said Michael Wanta, director of sales at Jaeckle Wholesale Distributors, Madison, Wisconsin. “You don’t have to worry about callbacks and the supply chain is very smooth.”
Like Boa-Franc, Mercier owes its reputation to its steadfast commitment to quality manufacturing. “Our operations are vertically integrated, allowing us to control every stage of the production process, from the log to the finished board,” said Wade Bondrowski, US sales director. “This allows us to make a consistent product from one box to the next. The next.”
Bondrowski also mentioned Mercier’s rich history of developing innovative hardwood floor finishes. Two of its signature coatings – Generations, which has 1,000 cycles on the Taber scale, and Generations Intact 2500, which can withstand 2,500 cycles, are among the most durable in the industry. “Our Mercier Generations and Generations Intact 2500 finishes are the result of more than 40 years of know-how and skills in mastering the science of pre-finished wood floors,” said Bondrowski. “Mercier finishes are high on the Taber scale, while the natural grain still shines through.”
Performance Features aside, Mercier said it aims to differentiate itself from the bigger package by emphasizing both eco-friendly ingredients and eco-conscious manufacturing processes. “We are one of the few prefinished hardwood flooring manufacturers to have been certified Greenguard Gold, the highest certification on the market – confirming that our Generations finishes are free of chemicals that are harmful to human health,” said Bondrowski. “Mercier finishes contain vegetable oil which makes for a safe and healthy product that is just as resistant. Consumers can have peace of mind knowing they are benefiting from an eco-friendly and high-quality hardwood floor.”
Mirage and Mercier aren’t the only prominent Canadian hardwood flooring brands to make their mark. Wickham Hardwood Flooring, based in Quebec, also counts responsible sourcing and attention to quality among its winning traits. “Like our colleagues in Canada, all of our raw material comes directly from Canada or in some cases the northern US,” said Paul Rezuke, vice president of sales. “Canadian hardwood manufacturers have always been recognized for maintaining a very strict standard for grading, and we hold ourselves to the same high grading standards.”
Wickham cited other positive attributes, especially when it comes to the depth and breadth of its product offering. “Wickham has always offered a very diverse level of product, which our customers find attractive and valuable,” added Rezuke, citing the company’s signature Domestic Collection as an example. “This collection offers our customers the opportunity to select types, quality, width, color and degree of gloss.”
In general, quality-oriented Canadian hardwood suppliers attribute their well-deserved reputation to a certain mindset – one that puts quality over quantity; investment in production versus austerity; and being flexible with retailers and distributors, unlike channel force-feeding programs. According to suppliers, all these facets are the most important features of working with the right hardwood supplier.
“Companies that provide high-performance hardwoods with both the indoor and outdoor environment in mind will provide the best value,” said Derek Brooks, senior vice president of sales and business development, North America, Torlys. “Retailers, builders and consumers need to look for products that deliver while retaining ‘real wood’ values.”