“The Italians don’t make the best marble because they’re Italian,” quipped Wade Bondrowski, direct of U.S. sales, Mercier. “They just happen to live in a region where marble is of the finest quality.”
That same rationale, he said, applies to the top Canadian hardwood flooring manufacturers. Several of these suppliers—many of which are household names in the flooring industry—are renown for producing some of the highest quality hardwood flooring products available, as many of their retailer and distributor partners attest. That well-earned reputation, suppliers say, starts with locally sourced raw materials.
“For many of the manufacturers based here in Quebec, we’re able to use better raw materials to make the product, which we believe is superior to much of what’s out there on the street,” Bondrowski added. “We’re proud to say we only pull our trees out of North America from the Pennsylvania region and farther north; it’s a slower-growing tree with fewer knots and mineral streaks and has a better coloration. In addition, the Northern oak tends to be a little more dense. Overall, it just mills better and is straighter and cleaner than some of the materials sourced from other regions.”
It’s an observation shared by other major Canadian suppliers. “Certainly the raw material rep-resents an advantage, as most of the Canadian manufacturers—including us at Wickham—source Northern Appalachian lumber versus Southern Appalachian,” said Paul Rezuke, the company’s vice president of sales for the U.S. market. But that’s not the only differentiating factor. “Another aspect that separates the Canadian suppliers is our grading standards, which tend to be stricter than a lot of our competitors. That means you’re starting out with better material from the beginning.”
Beyond the sheer quality of the raw material, locally sourced lumber brings with it other tangible benefits for Canadian hardwood flooring suppliers. “As a North American company that specializes in wood, we pride ourselves on creating jobs where we live and sourcing local raw materials,” explained Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing for St. Georges, Quebec-based Mirage Hardwood Floors. “Continued locally sourced flooring is good for society, good for the planet and gives [customers] peace of mind now and for generations to come. We believe we have a positive impact on the health and well-being of people and the environment by using sustainably harvested wood to produce the highest quality hardwood floors made in North America.”
To further bolster its supply of North American lumber, Mirage in late 2019 expanded its operations with the acquisition of Virginia-based Ten Oaks, which operates a sprawling, state-of-the-art, 260,000-square-foot manufacturing facility with close proximity to coveted lumber sources. “This gives Mirage a competitive advantage over other Canadian suppliers with our ability to locally source white oak in an efficient and cost-effective way to be able to better compete against imported, wide-width products for the future,” Williams explained.
Of course, this access to raw materials and local supply means little if you don’t have the requisite personnel and expertise to churn out quality product on a consistent basis. As it turns out, that’s another common thread that connects many Canadian hardwood flooring suppliers.
Case in point is Saint Augustin de Desmaures, Quebec-based Preverco, which boasts one of the longest-tenured manufacturing teams in the industry. “We’ve been around since the late 1980s, and the guy who’s running our finishing plant has been here since 1990,” said Julien Dufresne, vice president of sales and marketing. “In addition to that, most of our plant managers have been with us for almost 20 years. It’s a very stable environment in terms of management and top positions, which translates to a lot of know-how within the company.”
Wickham Hardwood, which also boasts an experienced, highly skilled workforce, can relate. “While everyone agrees labor is a challenge across the board, some of the senior people here at Wickham have been with us for as many as 30 years,” Rezuke said. “Many of our people in senior management positions oversee everything from sourcing to production to quality control. This ensures that you’re going to get a consistent, quality product every time.”
Having a customer base as loyal as Wickham confirms the company is doing something right. According to Rezuke, some of its customers have been buying its products for well over a decade. “We find that a lot of our retailers and distributors—once they get the product into the market—tell us their customers typically come back and say, ‘That’s such a well-made product. That’s the one I want to use.’ It goes back to the combination of raw material, grading and quality controls—all those factors contribute to the success of Canadian manufacturers.”
Speaking of steady customer testimonials, Mirage, in business for more than four decades, continues to score points with its client base. This is evidenced by its long string of awards. “Retailers and other industry professionals have rated Mirage No. 1 for quality 42 times on surveys conducted by industry trade magazines,” Williams noted. (This includes the recent receipt of a 2022 FCNews Award of Excellence.) “Mirage floors has also received the prestigious Gold Trophy Award at the 2013 and 2018 Canada Awards for Excellence, and the highest honors at the Grands Prix quebecois de la qualite awards in 2012 and 2017.”
Industry awards and achievements go beyond performance, product quality and management initiatives. For instance, Mercier, which celebrated 40 years in business in 2019, in the past few years earned the highest designation for environmental compliance—the Greenguard Gold certification. “Achieving that high level of compliance tells us that we’re doing something correctly,” Bondrowski said, stressing the fact that the company sources responsibly. “It also confirms that our finishes are free from harmful chemical substances and contain no VOCs or pollutants.”
For some, however, success is determined by other metrics. As Wickham’s Rezuke explained. “To me, the thing that speaks more volumes than any kind of award is the fact that we have had loyal customers for 15, 20, 25 years. We don’t necessarily put our products out there for that type of acknowledgment. At industry shows we emphasize our presence, and we pride ourselves on the reputation we’ve earned over many years. To me, that’s more symbolic of our success.”
Indeed, longevity is a key standard by which success is often measured. That certainly holds true for companies like Lauzon, which is approaching 40 years in business. According to David Lauzon Jr., director of sales, the combination of product quality, innovation and environmental commitment has helped sustain growth and its reputation for more than three decades. “The control of the product over the entire supply chain from forest to the floor guarantees constant supply, quality and stability in pricing,” he said. He also cited innovations such as its popular Pure Genius finish and the company’s patented Expert Engineered technology—a 3⁄4- inch thick, 2-ply product with a 5.2mm wear layer that allows movement and installation on slightly uneven subfloors while reducing cupping. “It combin the rich look of solid hardwood floor with all the stability of a high-performance engineered hardwood floor,” he added.
Regardless of their respective strengths and competitive advantages, many Canadian hardwood flooring suppliers have this in common—the constant drive to innovate and improve efficiencies. In Preverco’s case, that means making investments to become more vertically integrated and, by extension, less dependent on imported materials from other sources.
“One of our main advantages is our engineered production,” Dufresne stated, citing the company’s move toward greater automation. “We are fully integrated with our engineered production, and we have slowly been moving away from using imports of plywood for our core and shifting to pine lumber from Quebec and eastern Ontario. In fact, we are the only Canadian manufacturer that makes product using 100% local resources.”
Others are focused steadfastly on further fortifying the power of their brands. “The value we bring to our distributors and retailers is brand recognition, coupled with the lowest claims ratio in the hardwood flooring industry,” Mirage’s Williams said. “We invest in local representatives that support our distributor and retail partners and we back that up with the highest level of inventory of any hardwood manufacturer or distributor in Canada. We also invest a lot in POP displays, samples and marketing tools to support our customers in the promotion of our products. All of this combined gives a real value to our distributor and retail partners.”