Local manufacturers mark the distinction
By Anne-Marie Tremblay Edition of March 24, 2018
What distinguishes Quebec furniture from foreign competitors? Comfort, quality, of course, but also customization and design. But how to offer a high-quality product without inflating prices too much, while dealing with the uncertainty surrounding the renegotiation of NAFTA? Here are a few tips.
Mathieu Selmay traveled to Austria to choose the wood veneer that will be used in the new Mobican collection, the furniture manufacturer in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. “We select our veneer lots one by one according to specific criteria, such as color, number of knots, type of grain, “says VP Sales.
In total, he examined the equivalent of some 600,000 square feet of wood to order 55,000 square feet. “We travel to different countries, like Austria, Spain, England or Germany to select each of the wood veneer that will enter the factory. “Species such as rustic oak, teak, maple or cherry are used to make the furniture that comes out of the 45-employee SME. Objective: to create the perfect piece of furniture. “It’s a combination of details that are not always apparent at first sight, but that make the whole thing harmonious, like the size of the legs, the varnish used, the thickness of the glass, and so on. What we want is for people to have a crush, “says Selmay.
Mobican relies on the “wow effect” combined with high quality products to stand out from the competition. A philosophy that has been an integral part of the company’s DNA since its founding in 1988, but which has taken a new turn since the involvement of the two sons of President Patrick Selmay, Mathieu and Nicolas. “We revisited all the collections to bring them up to date two years ago. And because we have held all the positions in the company, we know the smallest parts of production, which helps us to know how to optimize each step”, says Selmay.
In addition to traveling the globe to purchase premium materials, the team also travels to international fairs to see new trends in Scandinavian-inspired furniture. The company specializes primarily in the sale of bedroom furniture, but has added dining room furniture to its catalog. Changes that have allowed Mobican to record an increase in sales of about 30% in two years, said the vice president. “Now we have to manage this increase, which is not easy, while delivery times must remain low. ”
Adapt to structural changes
Design is one of the keys to the success of Quebec furniture, which has been able to return to growth in recent years, said Pierre Richard, CEO of the Association of Furniture Manufacturers of Quebec (AFMQ). In fact, at the turn of the 2000s, Quebec’s industry was reduced to a trickle as a result of the invasion of low-priced Asian furniture and the rise in the value of the Canadian dollar.
A tsunami that took with it several Quebec players. “As a result: those who offered low-end products have not survived. Only companies that have innovated have remained alive, either by focusing on design, customization, improving production times, etc. High standards combining quality and comfort that are impossible to achieve for furniture made in China and sold at a discount on the North American market.
Thus, companies such as Mobican had to work hard to solve the quality-cost-of-production equation. Selmay’s father and sons, all engineering graduates, work daily to optimize every step of a piece of furniture’s birth. “It’s one of our strengths to be able to offer a reasonable selling price while maintaining a high quality,” says Selmay.
Thus, the team tries to standardize as much as possible on the production line. “For example, we limited the number of drawer formats, which allows us to optimize the manufacturing of their interior components, to increase the volume and speed of production. It saves time and space, “says the vice president of sales. Same with the holes that are the same size for every pieces of furniture, which avoids readjusting the machinery between each collection, which can also be personalized to the tastes of the customer.
Customization … in mass
Customization is another asset of the furniture manufactured here. ” But beware ! Offering the customers to put each furniture to their taste is not necessarily an interesting solution, because the risks are great that the results will not be pretty and will be returned. On the other hand, several companies have developed mass personalization, which allows to maintain harmony in the design while maintaining a good speed of production “, analyzes for its part Yves Dessureault, director of Inovem, Center of innovation in cabinet making and furniture Cégep de Victoriaville.
In Quebec, Canadel was a pioneer in this area. “We took the customization route some thirty years ago,” says Guy Deveault, CEO. At the time, cheap Asian furniture was coming from eastern countries. It was our way of differentiating ourselves and it is still the case, even if things have evolved. In the 1980s, the furniture was brown, he recalls. “We were inspired by more conservative styles, such as Early American, which we transformed by adding fly-like colors, such as red or yellow, to classics.”
However, relying heavily on technology, the company founded in 1982 managed to weather the various economic crises while remaining at the forefront. “In 1987, we bought our computer supplier. We then resold it to the employees, keeping the software that was used for production and some specialized programmers. This allowed us to continue to develop IT tools according to our needs, because when you buy a standard product, it’s hard to ask your customer to go into so much detail.
One way to react quickly to change is to always have technology that’s not only tailor-made, but also cutting-edge. For the last ten years, Canadel has also launched UDesign, a personalization tool available on the Internet. On the screen, furniture that can be broken down into millions of possibilities. For example, on a simple table, the consumer can change the size, surface, color, shape or legs. “This software allows us to automate some machines to orders, to integrate everything with the purchasing department, etc. Because there are tens of thousands of products that we use to make our furniture, according to customer choice, and we can not keep inventory of our furniture.
An optimization work that does not stop at Canadel or Mobican. Moreover, at the time of the interview, the two companies had just injected millions of dollars to equip themselves with state-of-the-art machinery. “And we always tend to improve. For example, we have small chips installed to know where our products are made. The key to success, however, is that all parts of the equation are solid, whether it’s design, build quality, administration or human resources, “says Deveault.