September 22, 2010

Canadian Furniture Makers

By Charles Moffat - September 2010.

CANADA - For the past two decades local Canadian furniture makers have been fighting a losing war against cheap imports. Canadian furniture used to be a proud part of Canada's manufacturing industry... we have lots of wood, lots of skilled labour, and we know how to build furniture really well.

But then along came IKEA and other cheap imports from Europe and Asia. (I personally boycott IKEA. I've only once stepped inside their doors and only because a friend dragged me with them to carry something.)

The rising value of the Canadian dollar and the American Recession hasn't helped the Canadian furniture industry either, since our primary export partner is the USA.

Lets take BG Furniture (formerly called Bogdon & Gross) as an example. The company has changed their market niche in recent years and tailored their products to a higher quality so that customers see they are getting a waaaaaaay better product. Since making the change in 2006 BG's sales have gone up 40%. The 83-year-old company in Walkerton (my home town) will presumably be around for quite some time.

But another furniture factory in Hanover Ontario wasn't so lucky. They were shut down a decade ago.

The problem with Canadian furniture manufacturers however is that they're often smaller companies, family-owned, and they don't have a brand like Lazy Boy or Ashley.

Which is where the new “Quality Canadian Furniture” label comes in. Launched in Quebec, Quality Canadian Furniture is part of a $1.2 million Canada-wide marketing campaign aimed at getting Canadians to see the benefit of buying Canadian furniture... not just because its made by Canadians, but because the quality is better than cheap imports.

Although it started in Quebec, the initiative has gained partners in Ontario including BG, Barrymore and Durham Furniture. Together Ontario and Quebec represent 70% of Canada's furniture manufacturing.

Personally, I always prefer to buy antiques that have passed the test of time. That to me says that they're quality. But I'd be just as happy to buy something new, built in Canada, and of sturdy construction.

So don't be surprised if you spot billboards in the near future for Quality Canadian Furniture and their slogan: “Don’t Let Just Anyone into Your Home.”

Locally made products are also better for retail companies because when they order from overseas they are often stuck with unwanted inventory (crap that won't sell). In comparison locally made products can be ordered on shorter notice, are guaranteed to be quality (which raises the prestige of the store) and they're not stuck with unwanted inventory.

There's also been a lot of quality problems with imported furniture. They break easier, and the price differences are not as bad as they used to be because labour rates in Asia are going up, plus the cost of fuel to transport the furniture to North America is also raising the price.

Market research shows most furniture buyers are women and they prefer to buy quality from a known brand. There's also concerns about lead paint in imported furniture, the environmental cost of shipping furniture long distances and the worry that they could be buying furniture that was made using sweatshop/forced labour.

Currently over half of all furniture sales in Canada are imports. We need to change that.

“It’s not the industry that it was 25 years ago, or even after free trade, or even five years ago. It has changed. It has evolved. But it’s still quite vibrant,” said Michael Knell, publisher and editor of Home Goods Online.

Plus there's more custom options when you buy Canadian made furniture. Depending on what company you go to you can order a sofa in 14 grades of leather, 20 different colours per grade and you have a choice of 150 different fabrics. Plus it will be delivered to your home within 21 days. (Its a bit like buying a car and you get to choose what options and colour you want.)

The price difference between buying an imported sofa may be a bit more, but its well worth the extra options, the quality and the guarantee it won't have lead paint in it or made with shoddy materials.

I am not done making my point yet. This concept of Quality Canadian products isn't limited to buying furniture... so I will list several more Canadian companies which I think people should consider buying from:

#1. Classic Products Roofing is a local Canadian company which makes metal roofs for homes and garages. They come in a variety of colours and shapes so they still look like shingles, but they won't blow off by accident or leak like shingles do.

While some people still prefer shingles or asphalt roofs, I should point out that shingles rot over time, collect moss and insects, blow off in the wind, are easily damaged during Canadian winters and simply aren't practical for Canadian homes. (My parents switched to a metal roof 10 years ago and have been very happy ever since because my father is getting too old to be climbing on the roof and replacing shingles, especially with his fear of heights.)

#2. ICRAFT.CA is a website which is home to hand made gifts, crafts, decorations for the home and work, pillows, clothing, jewelry, accessories and even furniture that is locally made in the Greater Toronto Area. The website is a mecca for local artisans and craftsmen and people who want to buy local products.

#3. Toronto Street Fashion is a website which promotes locally made fashion in the GTA. While not everything on their website is Canadian-made, the vast majority of it is.

When you shop around what you quickly discover is that almost everything can be locally made, often for an equal price for better quality.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree! The tide is turning away from massive outsourcing and back towards local manufacturing. We see it every day here at Buy Canadian First, where our business is promoting Canadian companies and the products they make right here at home. Check out our website at


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