With more than 35 years of experience as an industrial wood coating manufacturer, CANLAK plays a leading role in the woodworking industry. CANLAK is a privately owned, Canadian company and its head office is located in Daveluyville, Quebec. With six facilities across Canada, as well as one in the U.S., the company specializes in innovative, top-of-the-line industrial coatings perfectly adapted to the customer’s needs.
CANLAK began as a family-owned company and was originally located on a family farm. Normand Guindon, President and CEO, and Éric Vaillancourt, Vice-President and chemist, are the leaders and brains behind this large operation. Vaillancourt became owner in 2010, partnering soon after with Guindon in 2012. “When I first arrived, the company was very regional and sold mostly in Quebec, with very little exposure outside of the province. So, my first mandate was to broaden the production line, to associate with other paint companies and to expand the market throughout Canada,” says Guindon.
“We are now the largest privately owned industrial wood coatings company in Canada,” says Guindon. This strong pair have since become renowned in their industry. “Éric and Norm are trusted mentors who continuously push the boundaries. Our services are unparalleled because of their high level of expertise. It is truly remarkable to witness firsthand the growth that their partnership generates year after year. They keep us motivated and it shows in the details of our work,” says Marie-Sophie Guindon, Marketing and Communications Coordinator for CANLAK.
“We also offer advanced and complete environmental expertise. We have specialists that work directly with our customers to help them overcome the new regulations imposed by the Government. And our product line has since expanded to high-performance coatings,” says Guindon.
“We operate out of one of the most advanced application laboratories in North America, and we concentrate a lot of effort on high-efficiency, custom-made lacquers, UV systems, waterborne products, polyesters and polyurethanes, as well as specialty products,” says Guindon. “Our coatings are made to be factory applied. We don’t sell directly to consumers; we sell to the manufacturers. We also have a line of water-based exterior products, but most of our efforts are concentrated on interior wood coatings.”
CANLAK is a global company. “Our distribution network throughout Canada has twenty-nine distributors and some of them have up to fifty-five different locations, so we’re well represented across the country,” says Guindon. “We also have distribution across the U.S. where we service mostly the eastern seaboard and the American Midwest. More recently, we have also started an operation in China – CANLAK China – which specializes exclusively in ultraviolet clear systems designed specifically to meet the needs of the flooring industry,” says Guindon.
Two of the aspects that set CANLAK apart from its competitors are its service and product development. “We initiated the creation of the NSERC/CANLAK Industrial Research Chair in Finishes for Interior Wood Products in partnership with Laval University which was officially launched in November of 2017,” says Guindon. “There are partners from different fields involved, but we are the leading manufacturer when it comes to finishes. The purpose of this innovative step is to develop new technologies that will revolutionize the wood coating industry.” Soon after its official launch, Vice President Éric Vaillancourt was honoured by the CPCA – Canadian Paint and Coatings Association – with the Industry Achievement Award 2018 for his implication and hard work with the Research Chair.
The impetus for the Chair is to not only innovate but to get future generations involved in the evolution of the industry. The team boasts a number of bright young students: nine Masters, 11 PhDs, three post-docs and 14 interns, and over 3.8 million dollars have been invested so far in the Research Chair, which now has over 22 projects under its belt.
“A lot of our research is done from medium to short-term, which we do in-house, but we need to expand that research to longer-term technologies that meet specific needs,” says Guindon. “We have a team of people who travel all over the world to look at new raw materials. We want to know what’s out there. We want to be kept abreast of what’s going on and what’s coming up in the marketplace, and we want to feed that information back to our customers,” he says.
“We can’t be complacent. We always want to be the ones introducing new things to our customers regardless of whether they want to use them or not; at least they know it’s available. And that’s very important. It allows us to differentiate ourselves from the larger competitors, the multi-national companies, many of which are basically selling most of their products from off the shelf,” says Guindon.
“We don’t do that. We custom make our products. Of course, this sometimes creates more problems as we need to carry a lot more inventory. We have much more inventory than many of our competitors, and we’re investing tremendous amounts of money to be able to answer these demands.”
CANLAK has doubled its production capacity in the past year, from six million litres a year to twelve million litres a year. “We invested in our manufacturing facility, and we now have a new 35,000-square-foot warehouse that we didn’t have before,” says Guindon. “The old manufacturing side of the plant has been converted one hundred percent to stocking raw materials. Before that, the space shared raw material stocks and finished goods, but we no longer stock finished goods at our factory. Once the process of fabrication is done, all finished goods are moved to our new warehouse, leaving us much more space to work with.”
The company has seen substantial growth in recent years. “Our business has grown over twenty-five percent for the last four years,” says Guindon. “In 2012, CANLAK had fewer than eighty employees, and now, we have over 140. And in the last five years, our sales have tripled,” he says.
“But in addition to the products, the labs, the technologies and the innovation, we, at CANLAK, are first and foremost a close-knit community,” says Marie-Sophie. “Behind every sales representative, there are 140 experts supporting him. That’s how we distinguish ourselves. When you buy CANLAK, you don’t just buy the right products; you get the right people on your team. That’s the real magic here at CANLAK.”
CANLAK believes in giving back to the community, and there are nearly twenty sponsorships, events, and associations that CANLAK supports yearly. “We also do many contributions to our employees seeking to raise money for sporting and cultural events. At CANLAK, we believe that physical activity considerably improves the academic performance of students and the performance in the workplace. We have a hockey team and a cycling team who raise money for the primary and secondary schools in the region of Daveluyville. We are very much involved with the students, and we take very seriously the economic well-being of our community. We believe it is our duty to give back!” says Marie-Sophie.
CANLAK is dedicated to its customers. “Customers come first. It may sound corny, but that’s the way it is,” says Guindon. “Our business is driven by our customers and their success, so we want to take care of them.”
The company’s biggest challenge, however, is finding people to work in its factory. “We are in the same situation as many other employers and labour is difficult to find regardless of the industry that you are in. It was foreseeable; our human resources strategies have become an important part of our strategic planning and we must continue to find new ways of approaching potential employees,” says Guindon. “Specialized workers like chemists and technicians seem to be easier to find, but it’s harder and harder to find factory workers.”
CANLAK created a program where they recruit workers from the Philippines to overcome this challenge. “We have a house on site which we’ve completely renovated for them. They have a house with two kitchens and eight bedrooms, and we’ve designed it in a way where they’ll feel very comfortable,” he says.
“We want to make sure, since we are growing at a very fast rate, that we maintain our level of service,” says Guindon. “We offer short delivery time, and we want to continue offering custom-made products, so of course, it becomes more challenging as we get bigger, but for us, it’s the only way to continue being successful, so efforts are being made in order to make sure we continue along that line.”
CANLAK manufactures approximately fifty-five batches of different products every day. “And we develop new colours,” says Guindon. “Last year alone, we developed over two thousand new colours for customers in response to colour requests. There is some automation, of course, however, even though many believe that colours are developed using computers and such; for all transparent colours such as stains, it’s the human eye that prevails,” he explains.
“We have to make sure we have the right people trained in our colour lab because even though there are some start-up formulas, the human eye is needed to approve and adjust the colour,” says Guindon. “We want to find the right people because we’re only as good as the quality of the people we hire.”
CANLAK is proud to be a Canadian company. “We may be located in Quebec, but I like to say that we are a Canadian manufacturer,” says Guindon. “We’re Canadian-owned. We reinvest money in Canada, and for us, it’s very important that the manufacturers understand that we cater to the Canadian market.
“Our next project will be a second manufacturing facility,” says Guindon. “Its location hasn’t been decided yet; it may be in the U.S. or Western Canada, but our goal is to develop and have the market accept more and more environmentally friendly coatings.
“We’ve developed a really strong expertise in ultraviolet coatings,” says Guindon. “For us, it has proven to be very successful, not only in flooring but also in the kitchen industry and in many other industries which are converting to these 100 percent, zero-solvent coatings.”
CANLAK also prides itself on how its carbon footprint has not increased in recent years. “This is due in part to the fact that we are pushing a lot of water-based technologies,” says Guindon. “Not only do we want to be a good corporate citizen, but we also want to be seen as an eco-responsible provider of coatings.”
CANLAK is focused on high-end technology, high-performance coatings and progressive growth, and the future couldn’t look any ‘glossier’ for this company! “Like we always tell people: we manufacture beautiful coatings, so ‘dare to take a closer look’, and come see us,” says Guindon.