‘... A gem waiting to be discovered’
After taking a serious hit at the beginning of the current millennium, the furniture industry in Quebec is on pace for a healthy recovery, and distinguishing itself on many fronts in the process.
Various factors contributed to a downturn in the industry from 2000 to 2012, including the low cost of imported products (especially from Asia), the slowdown of the American economy, and the strength of the Canadian dollar.
“Over that period, we lost between 30 to 35 per cent of our capacity,” said Pierre Richard, CEO and president of the Quebec Furniture Manufacturers’ Association (QFMA) and the Canadian Furniture Show. “Companies closed, people were laid off; it was a tough time. Now we’re increasing 10 to 15 per cent annually in sales. We’re not at the point where we were before, but we’re well on our way back up.”
Even though it flies somewhat under the radar compared to other industries, furniture manufacturing in Quebec is a powerhouse.
Annual sales of locally made furniture are $3.5 billion, with most of that being sold in Quebec, the rest of Canada, and the Unites States, which is on the receiving end of 94 per cent of the province’s exported furniture.
“To give you some numbers for perspective, manufacturing in Quebec is directly responsible for 24,000 jobs, and is the seventhlargest manufacturing industry in the province,” Richard said. “Canada is the eighth-largest furniture manufacturer in the world, and Quebec produces 37 per cent of that. We have a niche of expertise in this province.”
What’s more, many of the manufacturers here are carrying on a tradition that’s generations old.
“These are not multinationals owned by a company in another country,” Richard said. “Our companies are Quebec-owned, and many of them have been passed down to second and third generations of families.”
So what makes Quebec furniture so special? Interestingly, there aren’t many distinguishing characteristics of locally made products in terms of materials or style.
“The industry is the No. 1 consumer of hardwood products in Quebec, and much of our furniture is made of wood — whether it’s birch, maple, or any of the various hardwoods,” Richard said. “But there isn’t one type of wood that we’re known for. In fact, the materials and designs vary hugely. That’s why people are often surprised by the locally made products they find on the market.”
Rather, Quebec-made goods distinguish themselves by being top quality and, above all, allowing consumers to customize products to their hearts’ content.
“When you buy Quebec-made furniture, you know you’re getting something well made with quality materials,” Richard said. “It’s environmentally sound, comfortable, durable, affordable and will last years. On top of that, the designs are incredible, and people can choose from several options to customize the furniture to their liking.”
As a consumer, being able to tailor products to match your home’s decor without breaking the bank is a huge advantage and, for many, facilitates the shopping process.
“People can change finishings, colours, materials — and, really, thousands of combinations are possible,” Richard said. “This wasn’t the case 10 or 15 years ago, but the industry has come a long way and this is how local manufacturers are setting themselves apart.”
In addition to empowering consumers to put their own touches on the furniture they’re buying, manufacturers are taking charge by setting trends. Among today’s popular designs are multifunctional pieces of furniture, such as TV stands that double as coffee tables or shelving units, integrated storage systems for different rooms of the house, furniture for smaller spaces such as condos, and the use of mixed materials such as wood, metal, and even concrete.
“Quebec manufactures have reinvented their look and continue to do so,” Richard said. “Their creativity is incredible and the designs coming out of local companies continue to surprise.”
Some of those designs were featured last month in model units during the Open House Weekends events where various local developers held extended open houses on back-to-back weekends, allowing buyers to explore new housing projects throughout the Montreal area.
“The decision to promote Quebec-made furniture was to showcase the talent and creativity of our designers and to emphasize the quality of the workmanship and the products made here,” said Jacques Beaulieu, the events’ founder and organizer. “Furthermore, we want to be a driving force for people to buy local, which represents an economic stimulus for the furniture industry.”
Encouraging people to buy local is important for the health of the industry, but Richard understands the need to make it easier to find locally made products.
“If you go into a store, you can walk around and look, but you’d have to ask for what’s made in Quebec — and the person on the floor really might not know,” he said. “That’s why, (in March), we launched a new logo to help consumers identify what’s made in Quebec. Now, it’s still up to the retailers to put the logo up — but for someone who wants to buy Quebec-made goods, it can definitely help.”
Knowing where to go is key, too. Thankfully, major stores including Brault et Martineau, Maison Ethier, and Germain Larivière carry local labels. Consumers can also visit the QFMA website — www. afmq.com/en/ — and browse their online magazine for design ideas and related shopping information.
“The industry here is so vibrant and creative,” Richard said. “I always hear how surprised people are by the designs they find in Quebec, but the whole industry is really a gem waiting to be discovered.”