QUE­BEC-MADE FUR­NI­TURE

‘... A gem wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered’

Montreal Gazette - - NEW HOMES CONDOS - ME­GAN MARTIN

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.”

COUR­TESY OF THE QUE­BEC FUR­NI­TURE MAN­U­FAC­TUR­ERS’ AS­SO­CI­A­TION PHO­TOS

Part of the Down­town col­lec­tion by Canadel, these con­tem­po­rary-style arm­chairs with their bright yel­low tri­an­gu­lar sil­hou­ettes com­ple­ment the rec­tan­gu­lar glass ta­ble with pedestal.

Julien-Beau­doin’s up­hol­stered Ali­cia bed in­cludes a drawer that pro­vides hid­den stor­age at the foot of the bed. Its tufted head­board is eye-catch­ing, and the bed is avail­able in a choice of foot­boards and a se­lec­tion of fab­rics.

Amisco’s Up­right non-swivel stools have a steel frame and in­dus­trial style that is soft­ened by the off­beat an­i­mal-print up­hol­stered seats and the curved wood back sup­ports.

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