By Reginald Tucker
Some suppliers tout a high level of product quality and attention to manufacturing details; others cite innovations in staining and finishing technologies that accentuate hardwood’s natural aesthetic attributes. Then there are those who say the key to success lies in tailored, go-to-market strategies that aim to drive brand awareness at retail.
These are just some of the approaches that several of the major Canadian hardwood flooring suppliers are taking as they seek to carve out their own respective niches in a hyper-competitive market. Following is an overview of the various approaches suppliers are leveraging to differentiate themselves at the retail level.
Boa-Franc (maker of the Mirage brand)
Often considered the brand to which most others aspire, Mirage has earned a reputation for consistently providing high- quality hardwood flooring products that retailers can sell confidently. This is evidenced by the company’s recent receipt of its 11th FCNews’ Award of Excellence—which brings to 38 the total number of honors the company has earned since its inception. Boa-Franc has been named one of the Best Employers in Canada for 2016 and 2017 based on the results of the survey by Aon in Canada. The company was also the recipient of the highest distinctions the Canadian and Quebec government can bestow on businesses and organizations that successfully apply best business practices. In addition, Boa-Franc earned the Gold Trophy Award at the 2013 and 2018 Canada Awards for Excellence and the Grand Prix of Quality Award (Quebec) in 2012 and 2017.
While it’s not the only quality producer north of the border, the company aims to stand out from other brands that compete in the same tier/category of the market by executing at virtually all levels of the product development/ manufacturing process. “Not only do we have a huge lineup in terms of styles, species, etc., but we also have the technology and means to properly service all segments of the market—retail, builder and commercial,” said Jerome Goulet, product manager. “We can offer our customers flexibility in terms of custom colors as well as different merchandising options. Plus, it’s all made 100% in North America.”
Longevity is a common hallmark when benchmarking success. That holds true for most organizations, but it’s especially relevant when it comes to hardwood flooring manufacturing. But it’s not the only metric. Just ask David Lauzon Jr., director of sales for the 35-year-old company that bears his family name. The combination of product quality, innovation and environ- mental commitment has helped sustain growth and its reputation for more than three decades.
When asked to identify the company’s primary keys to success, Lauzon cited three core elements. “The control of the product over the entire supply chain
from forest to floor, thereby guaranteeing to our customer constant supply, guaranteed quality and stability in pricing; our constant investments in innovation, especially with the Pure Genius finish—an innovative coating that purifies ambient air; and our environmental commitment to the preservation of the best construction material the planet has—hardwood.”
Lauzon said it believes in the beauty of quality, and its floors are renowned for the high precision of their milling and the quality of their construction. The company’s innovative Expert Engineered technology is said to be a builder’s dream come true. The 3⁄4-inch thick, 2-ply construction with a 5.2mm wear layer allows movement and installation on slightly uneven subfloors while reducing cup- ping. Wholly manufactured in Canada, the new Lauzon Expert construction meets the needs and requirements of contractors. “A hardwood floor that combines the rich look of solid hardwood floor with all the stability of a high-performance engineered hardwood floor,” he said.
The beauty of Lauzon floors is protected with its unique Titanium Sunshield finish, which provides an ultra-clear finish and optimal protection against wear, scuffing, chipping and discoloration.
“Lauzon’s Titanium finish has exceptional ability to absorb heavy impact without cracking and provides remarkable protection against scuffing and chip- ping,” he said.
Mercier Wood Flooring
Some wood flooring companies are willing to compromise when it comes to lowering pricing and, subsequently, manufacturing standards, in order to compete with the likes of wannabe wood products such as LVT, WPC, SPC and even some hybrid offerings. Mercier is not one of them. It’s niche and reason for success, according to Wade Bondrowski, director of U.S. sales, is its insistence on maintaining a stronghold in the middle- to upper-middle range of the market.
“As a company, we’re sitting in the best place that we could be right now,” he said. “If you’re an entry-level to low-end producer, you are probably getting hurt by the LVT and multi-layer flooring products. Retailers are looking for products that can deliver higher margins that they can’t necessarily shop. I think we’ve really bucked the trend.”
For Mercier’s retailer partners, it’s all about generating the right return on investment. And that’s where Mercier said it has the right solution. “When you’re selling a product that offers profitability on a $5 product vs. 30% on a $2 product, obviously you’re doubling your margins. For an RSA, why wouldn’t you try to push the higher-quality product instead of just going to the path of least resistance?”
In an age where so many manufacturers are focused solely on moving large volumes of product, Calgary, Canada-based Opus Floors just wants to make sure retailers have access to only those products they need to sell.
“I’m in the flooring business over 25 years because I love flooring—not because I have to do it,” said Vern Verkley, Opus Floors owner. “When Opus Floors started eight years ago, it wasn’t just about making money. I started the journey to produce superior-quality engineered hardwood and other types of flooring to my own specifications, something I would love to put in my own home. Obviously, the goal of any business is to turn a profit, but the more important goal was to start to build something I could enjoy with people I enjoy working with, and to ultimately bring products to market that customers will enjoy.”
This select product offering includes some of the company’s best genuine engineered hardwood flooring—as well as a collection of environmentally friendly cork flooring products designed to entice consumers, retailers, architects and designers looking for something out of the ordinary. “Most visuals currently available in cork resemble the natural cork look; with our ultra-high-resolution digital print program, we can offer retailers everything from wood visuals to concrete looks to natural mosaic patterns,” Verkley explained. “But the best part is the digital technology used in producing the visuals for the product offers fewer repeats in the patterns, making for a more beautiful, natural looking floor. Combine that with a nano-particle, commercial-rated finish, it essentially outperforms any product out there.”
Beyond manufacturing practices, Opus Floors is also taking a different approach to the market when it comes to reaching potential retail customers. The company is bent on duplicating its direct-to-dealer model that it currently operates in Canada.
Presently, Opus Floors maintains a network approaching 300 dealers in Canada. The company said it is confident it can replicate that success in America. In terms of logistics, products will be inventoried in Vancouver and Toronto. In fact, Opus Floors has already set up the logistics, so anyone looking to have product shipped will enjoy competitive freight rates. “We will be able to service any location in the U.S. within a week to 10 days,” Verkley said.
Wickham Hardwood Flooring
Quick-ship, customized orders delivered in a timely fashion as if they were in-stock items and keeping distributors and retailers apprised of special deals tailored for their individual markets. That’s the approach Wickham Hardwood Flooring has taken to set itself apart from other manufacturers in the marketplace.
“We introduced a bi-monthly mass email that went out to all of our customers to keep them abreast of what was going on production-wise,” said Paul Rezuke, vice president of U.S. sales. “We also offered specials as we built up some excess inventory that we made available to customers. This allows them to build up inventory and give them the financial protection they need. That was our niche that we applied successfully.”
Wickham is also looking to stand apart from the pack by not caving into pressures to expand its product offering with wood/rigid core hybrid floors. According to Rezuke, the company has built its reputation on providing high-quality, genuine hardwood flooring for years—and wants to keep it that way.
“The hardwood flooring industry has always faced challenges, even going back to laminate,” he explained. “We don’t feel the need to alter our strategies in light of the competition we’re seeing from LVT, WPC, etc. We have maintained a straightforward approach, and it has served us well. We invest heavily in the Wickham brand, especially at all the major shows, and we have strong brand recognition in the market. Our grad- ing standards have always been stricter for the most part, and we always had a reputation for high quality.
“We continue to provide that high quality at a reasonable price, and that has sustained us so far. In fact, if not for the pandemic, 2020 would have been probably our best year in the last four years.”