Toronto, Ontario, Canada—U.S. floor covering retailers and distributors seeking a North American producer of laminate flooring and SPC will soon have a viable option based north of the border. Toucan Flooring, the brand marketed by Toronto-based Triforest, Inc., is setting its sights on the U.S. market after selling $50 million of laminate and SPC across Canada in 2022 from its factories in China.
Triforest, a family-run business, is only a few months away from raising the curtain on a state-of-the-art laminate flooring facility in Ajax, Ontario—the first of its kind in Canada, according to the company. And once all the kinks are worked out, Triforest will add SPC production from that factory.
The company owns its laminate factory in lieu of sourcing product like most other laminate suppliers who simply added it to the product portfolio—which is an advantage in and of itself. What’s more, Triforest is also vertically integrated. “We manufacture everything we sell,” said Joyce Zhang, general manager. “Every laminate flooring plank is made using our own core. That’s why we can be so cost competitive, and that’s what makes us different from most other manufacturers.”
Zhang added that it may cost only $1 million to put in a laminate flooring line, but an MDF/ HDF line could cost $50 million. “That is the barrier to entry into vertical integration.”
Controlling the core not only results in cost advantages, but also quality assurances. “Laminate quality is determined by quality of the core,” Zhang explained. “We control the core. We control everything. We have over 30 quality control procedures in place at our factory in China.”
The company launched in the mid-1990s making pressed particleboard. In 1999, it expanded into laminate flooring for the Chinese market. Then in 2013, after migrating to Canada a year earlier, the Zhang family saw an opportunity to ship containers direct to the Toronto market. Now it has eight warehouses in five cities and services 2,000 independent retailers across the country. It started manufacturing its own SPC a few years ago.
Triforest showed its wares at Surfaces this past January; according to Zhang, the show was a resounding success. Why? The company gives retailers a good story to tell, not to mention it allows dealers to make a solid margin on its products. The company goes to market with six laminate collections differentiated by size, surface texture, color, thickness and water resistance. Retail price points range from $1.99 to $3.99. The water-resistant laminate is described as top of the line.
Triforest also manufactures its own SPC in China, which accounts for 50% of its business. Once the company masters the laminate plant, the plan is to launch North American SPC production. “SPC will also be a major focus going forward,” Zhang said. “There will always be a need for SPC because the fully waterproof concept is what everyone is buying right now. It’s not going to disappear.”
In the meantime, Triforest will ship its SPC from China, but by shipping into the ports in Vancouver, it circumvents the issues currently faced by many U.S. companies that are having their SPC held up at the ports by customs.
Pulse on trends
The company consistently updates its product lines to reflect the latest trends. Its SPC offering currently consists of nearly 60 SKUs covering the gamut of popular wood looks and stains. “Our salespeople and top management are in the market,” Zhang said. “We know where the market is going so we can keep up with the trends. We are always looking to introduce something new.” It also doesn’t hurt that Zhang, as a female under the age of 30, exemplifies the industry’s target customer and is involved in product development.
Zhang noted that Triforest could have the best products on the market, but it’s all for naught if the retailer can’t make money. “The market determines the price for which a retailer can sell a product, where the end consumer will see value,” she said. “We can do a lot better than others on the cost part because we are vertically integrated. That is 80% of the cost in laminate flooring. We won’t sell the cheapest products out there, but when you are comparing laminate of the same quality, we will have the lowest cost.”
As Triforest expands into the U.S., retailers can be confident in the company after it cut its teeth in Canada. “Although the two markets are different, they do share a lot of similarities,” Zhang said. “We are using our experience from Canada and trying to re-establish that in the States.” More importantly, Triforest does not do business with the big boxes, which gives specialty dealers a competitive advantage.
Once the Canadian laminate plant is operational (targeted for August), the plan is to ship containers direct to the U.S. The facility will start with two lines yielding about 70 containers a month. “That’s running only one shift,” Zhang said. “When the need arises, we can always add a second shift or more lines.”
All of this is designed so Triforest can be a valued supplier for U.S. retailers. “Retailers will benefit from better cost and service than going through a China-based company,” Zhang said. “Product delivery will be much faster and much more cost efficient because you circumvent the tariff issue.” Not to mention the fact that retailers who do business with Triforest are dealing with the actual manufacturer. Laminate products carry a lifetime residential and 15-year light commercial warranty. “We stand behind our warranties.”
Triforest goes direct to dealers in Canada, but the company is seeking distribution in the U.S. “The U.S. is a different model,” Zhang said. “It’s much bigger.” The company already has two warehouses in Los Angeles with plans for additional facilities in the Southeast and Northeast to provide optimum service.
The goal is to do both OEM business for distributors and also establish the Toucan brand for retailers across the U.S.