By Reginald Tucker When it comes to hardwood flooring sourcing, so much of the focus has been trained on Asia—rightfully so given the manufacturing prowess and scale of the scores of suppliers in that region of the world. But you can’t overlook the impact that suppliers from Canada have had—and continue to have—on the U.S. market. Renown for their knack for producing some of the cleanest maple flooring available—along with their steadfast focus on product quality, finishing innovation and stringent environmental standards—some of the major Canadian hardwood suppliers continue to raise the bar by which many brands are measured.
A prime example is Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand of hardwood floors. For many of the company’s retailer and distributor customers, the Mirage name is synonymous with quality—especially when it comes to its signature DuraMatt finish. Karla Wischmeyer, an interior designer at Verhey Carpets in Grand Rapids, Mich., has a long track record of success with DuraMatt and the Mirage brand in general. Wischmeyer, who has been selling the brand for the past 10 years, attributes 95% of the company’s wood business to the Mirage brand. “We have been very pleased with it, and I’m sure we haven’t had any claims,” she told FCNews.
That’s no coincidence, according to the folks at Boa-Franc. “We believe we have been setting the pace for high-quality produced hardwood floors since the inception of the company in 1983,” said Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing. “It’s the culture within the company that makes the difference.”
But that’s not the only reason. Williams also cited the company’s focus on manufacturing investment and sourcing. “Yes, we have the finest equipment and quality control processes; anyone with capital can do that. We try to buy the best lumber we can from reliable and responsible suppliers—others can do that also. The difference, though, is the people we have and their know-how. We often say that anyone can have a state-of-the-art kitchen and great food from the markets, but it’s the cooks in the kitchen that make the difference between 3-star restaurants and 5-star restaurants. The same concept applies for us manufacturers in hardwood flooring. From buying lumber to yard management, drying, milling and prefinishing, there is tremendous know-how that has been built over the years at our company from being only focused on transforming hardwood into the best hardwood flooring products.”
Williams mentioned another attribute as a differentiating factor: having the whole production process for four different product platforms produced and finished in the same facilities in Saint Georges, Quebec. “The optimization and management required to achieve this is a differentiator,” Williams stated. “Managing all the species, grades, widths, different thicknesses for the different platforms and prefinished into thousands of SKUs is not easily done, but it gives our customers tremendous flexibility to match 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 its 41st year in business, the company has amassed a long track record of satisfying customers. “The quality Mercier provides is excellent—it’s the Cadillac of quality,” said Michael Wanta, director of sales at Jaeckle Wholesale Distributors, Madison, Wis. “You don’t have to worry about callbacks, and the supply chain is very smooth.”
Much like Boa-Franc, Mercier owes its reputation to its steadfast commitment to quality manufacturing. “Our operations are vertically integrated, which allows us to control each stage of the production process, from the log to the prefinished board,” said Wade Bondrowski, director of sales, U.S. “This allows us to make a consistent product from one box to the next.”
Bondrowski also cited Mercier’s rich history with respect to the development of innovative hardwood flooring finishes. Two of its signature coatings—Generations, which boasts 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 results of more than 40 years of know-how and skills in mastering the science of pre-finished wood flooring,” Bondrowski said. “Mercier finishes are high on the Taber scale while still letting the natural grain shine through.”
Performance attributes aside, Mercier said it strives to stand apart from the larger pack through its emphasis on both environmentally friendly ingredients as well as eco-conscious manufacturing processes. “We are among the very few prefinished hardwood flooring manufacturers to be certified Greenguard Gold, the highest certification in the market—which confirms that our Generations finishes are free from chemical substances harmful to human health,” Bondrowski said. “Mercier finishes contain plant-based oil that provides a safe and healthy product that is just as resistant. Consumers can gain peace of mind knowing that they benefit from an environmentally friendly and high-quality hardwood flooring.”
Mirage and Mercier are not the only prominent Canadian hardwood flooring brands making their mark. Quebec-based Wickham Hardwood Flooring also counts responsible sourcing and attention to quality among its winning attributes. “Similar to our colleagues in Canada, all of our raw material is sourced directly from Canada or in some cases northern U.S.,” 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 those same high- level grading standards.”
Wickham cited other positive attributes, especially when it comes to the depth and breadth of its product offerings. “Wickham has always offered an extremely diverse level of products, which our customers find appealing and valuable,” Rezuke added, citing the company’s signature Domestic Collection as an example. “This collection affords our customers the opportunities to select species, grade, width, color and gloss level.”
On the whole, quality-minded Canadian hardwood suppliers attribute their hard-earned reputation to a particular mindset—one that embraces quality over quantity; investment in manufacturing vs. cutting corners; and being flexible with retailers and distributors as opposed to force feeding programs through the channel. All these facets, suppliers say, are key attributes associated with partnering with the right hardwood supplier.
“Companies delivering high-performance hardwood while keeping both the indoor and outdoor environment in mind will present the best value,” said Derek Brooks, senior vice president of sales and business development, North America, Torlys. “Retailers, builders and consumers should look for products that deliver while maintaining ‘real wood’ values.”