Established in 1985, Lauzon evolved from a local business into a leading transcontinental producer of high-end flooring products. The Canadian company has not only secured a top position in its markets, but it rightfully earned respect as an environmentally responsible enterprise. Dan Harvey describes how its integrated operations made all of this possible.
When Lauzon distinctive hardwood flooring says it takes wood from forest to the floor, it’s talking in literal terms and not a marketing metaphor. The Papineauville, Quebec-based company is one of the few North American floor product manufacturers that are totally integrated from the harvesting stage through primary conversion.
Lauzon’s raw materials come from the company’s own guaranteed renewable source. Further, the company operates its own sawmills, milling plants and finishing lines. Such technological resources enable the company and its nearly 1,000 employees to transform natural resources into a premium product that services the high end of its market. The raw lumber becomes solid unfinished, solid pre-finished and engineered hardwood flooring fashioned from several species and available in a variety of colors.
The 23-year-old enterprise’s evolution to complete integration resulted from ongoing investment into state-of-the-art equipment, research and development initiatives and staff expertise. This has translated into facility and product line expansion and wide-scale success. “When David Lauzon founded the company in 1985, we primarily accomplished unfinished product on a local level,” recalls Senior Director of Marketing Vincent Dagnault. “But we’ve grown from a local enterprise into one of North America’s leading producers of pre-finished and unfinished flooring products.”
Growth began kicking into high gear in 1993, when the company increased its manufacturing activities and invested in more advanced equipment, according to Dagnault. “In turn, that enabled us to generate more volume and a broader product range,” he continues, “and it initiated a period when we began placing different elements together to foster greater organizational growth.”
This included a 1995 upgrade that equipped Lauzon finishing plants with highly sophisticated technology that enabled the company to develop the most advanced finish-application process in the North American market. Two years later, the company acquired a sawmill in Maniwaki, Quebec and added a complete, modern strip flooring finishing line.
In 1998, Lauzon researchers developed Polynium-Plus, a polymerized titanium finish made without solvents, VOCs and formaldehyde. The development demonstrated the company’s commitment to both R&D and the environment. The following year, Lauzon entered into the engineering side of the industry: After several years of intense research and development, the company introduced its Next Step product, which represented a breakthrough in North American engineered flooring, as the fusion-engineered flooring combined the beauty of a solid sawn hardwood surface with an exclusive milling process that provided maximum durability.
The company acquired a second sawmill in 2001 (the same year that it became the first North American flooring industry enterprise to receive ISO 9001:2001 certification) and a third in 2002 (in Bellerive, Quebec). Also in 2002, Lauzon introduced Polynium Plus with Sunshield, an exclusive finish that provides advanced protection from the yellowing and dulling effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The product carries a 25-year wear-through finish warranty and a five-year limited warranty, while the structure of the fine woods to which it is applied carries a lifetime warranty.
The company became truly integrated with the subsequent acquisition of the Thurso sawmill. “We not only purchased the mill but the land and the cutting rights,” says Dagnault. “Essentially, we now owned a supply of species that grows in Quebec.”
The Thurso sawmill became an integral part of Lauzon’s $50 million master plan to further enhance its multiple hardwood flooring and recycling operations. Around 2005, in striving for continued innovation and product excellence, the company performed a rigorous study of the hardwood forest industry. It concluded that further growth must be channeled through advanced technology transfers, improvements in its hardwood manufacturing facilities, and consolidation of raw material allocation and harvesting contracts. This led to a revolutionary hybrid sawmill concept that set the foundation for future development. The Thurso facility became a focal point of this effort.
In 2007, Lauzon suffered a disaster of potentially cataclysmic proportions when the sawmill burnt to the ground. However, instead of a setback, the incident provided an impetus for technological development. “We invested a significant amount of money in the renovation,” says Dagnault. “But we were not just looking to simply rebuild. The capital went into creating a new kind of sawmill.”
Indeed, the mill that rose from the ashes is one of the most unique and advanced hardwood floor production facilities in North America. “We equipped it with significantly new technology that transformed it into a hybrid sawmill, where we use softwood technology to saw hardwood,” explains Dagnault. “The concept provides us with better efficiency and quality control. It also enables us to do more specific business, as we can be quite precise as far as desired widths. We can now use smaller logs than are typically used in hardwood flooring production. We are able to saw the wood to best suit the needs of the flooring industry, instead of just cutting wood into planks. No one else in North America has the same kind of technology for hardwood.”
As Dagnault suggests, the Thurso mill product hastened Lauzon’s ability to expand its product range at competitive prices and reduce turnover time.
OTHER PRODUCTION FACILITIES
Lauzon’s main flooring production line is located in Papineauville, home of its corporate headquarters. This solid manufacturing facility features wood delivery, a lumberyard and lathing, ripsaw and molder technology. It also includes 11 kilns (750,000fbm/cycle) that operate under constant control by computerized probes (a crucial element for superior flooring product) and multiple quality controls. In addition, the facility utilizes a photo image optimizer – the first of its kind in the hardwood flooring industry – that optimizes consistency of grading by 50 percent and increases manufacturing capabilities by 35 percent. Its four high-speed computerized cameras simultaneously identify defects, grades and classified boards and send that information to an automated cut-off saw.
In the facility’s converting process, wood is cut into boards of 2 ¼, 3 ¼ and 4 ¼ widths, which are then sorted. The boards then undergo precise milling from the molder and go through the photo image optimizer. After the cut-off saw removes identified defects, boards are tongued and grooved, graded and separated and then packaged in bundles for identification and assemblage of skids, which are stored in the warehouse.
“We also have a finishing line and engineered facility in Maniwaki, Quebec,” says Dagnault. “What differentiates that plant from others in North America is our capacity to create a square edge. Current floor products have a micro-bevel between each plank, so we are one of few companies in North America able to do a floor that doesn’t have that. As a result our flooring is perfectly flat, as we can manufacture with precision so that the height of each plank is the same.”
Today, Lauzon’s main product line includes pre-finished and unfinished hardwood floors, both solid and engineered. “In our industry, there are two major construction types,” explains Dagnault. “One is solid hardwood and the other is engineered, which is actually plywood with hardwoods of different thickness placed on top. Plywood is more stable and enables installation on concrete, something that otherwise couldn’t be done. We employ a special process that places a thick layer of hardwood on plywood that creates a very high-quality engineered product.”
Indeed, that describes the company’s main product focus: high-quality product for the high end of the market at a premium price. Specifically, the company has three brands – Lauzon, Eterna, and Dubeau – that it markets through an extensive distribution network in North America and overseas.
“Our customer base is twofold,” says Dagnaut. “The Lauzon and Eterna brands are sold in high-end stores for wood specialists. The Dubeau brand is sold in the big box stores like Home Depot, but only in Canada.”
Beyond Canada, product is exported to the United States, Europe and Asia. In fact, the company (which records consolidated sales that approach the $200 million mark) exports more than 75 percent of its product to key markets in those areas.
Lauzon is also strongly focused on environmental issues with an initiative that “puts the forest first.” Its integrated operation allows the company to responsibly manage every aspect of production. Elements of the initiative include forest management. In its owned and managed forests, Lauzon harvests no more than 30 percent of trees per hectare at any time on a 25-year rotation. Further, forest management plans are developed in collaboration with regional municipalities, native communities, wildlife area managers and other stakeholders. The forest is left in better shape as younger, more vigorous trees are allowed to grow.
As far as operations, Lauzon’s revolutionary saw mill design impacts its entire supply chain, as it uses more of each tree, thus generating less waste and reducing the number of harvested trees. The company’s automated milling techniques translate into an 80 percent yield of harvested logs (compared to the industry standard of 45 percent). Also, Lauzon adopted a no-waste policy, wherein it recycles its own wood shavings and sawdust to power its kilns and heat its plants. In addition, the company naturally dries its wood, which reduces the time the wood spends in kilns and lowers overall energy consumption and carbon emissions.
As part of its no-waste policy, Lauzon transforms wood residue into highly efficient, clean-burning wood pellets. The company has done this since 1995, when it established Lauzon Recycled Wood Energy, Inc., a Papineauville division that specializes in recycling hardwood residues and converting these into the pellets.
In terms of future directions, Lauzon wants to keep moving forward in the U.S. and Canadian markets. “We believe a great deal of new distribution opportunity exists. Our U.S. market coverage is nowhere near complete. We need to place distributors in regions such as the Northwest and Midwest,” says Dagnault. “We also think we have significant opportunities to grow within our customer base.”
If everything goes according to plan, the company believes it could double its size within the next seven years by tapping into the current market, increasing coverage, launching new products each year and increasing its marketing activities. In the meantime, Lauzon maintains its market leadership in the high-end portion of the wood flooring industry.