Big sale for made-in-Winnipeg furniture firm

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IN a sweet bit of irony, a Winnipeg company has sold $50,000 worth of locally produced furniture to a customer in Taiwan.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/02/2015 (2742 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

IN a sweet bit of irony, a Winnipeg company has sold $50,000 worth of locally produced furniture to a customer in Taiwan.

“I thought it’s rather unique because in most cases we (Canadian companies) are procuring furniture from Asia… and here we’ve got an Asia-Pacific company procuring furniture from Canada,” Oi Furniture founder and CEO Jason Abbott said in an interview Tuesday.

Abbott said the modular furniture was purchased for a new media centre in a private school in Kaohsiung. Not not only is it Oi Furniture’s largest sale to date, it’s also it’s first overseas transaction.

Submitted photo

“Previously, the largest sale we had was $20,000… so it gives us a new benchmark for how large our sales can be,” Abbott added.

In a further bit of irony, Abbott and his business partner — Acrylon Plastics Inc. CEO Craig McIntosh — hadn’t even been marketing their furniture overseas. The Taiwan sale just kind of fell into their lap after they sold some furniture to a library in Pennsylvania. An American woman who was working on the school project in Taiwan saw the furniture in the Pennsylvania library, convinced the Taiwan project’s design team to get a quote from Oi, and last October they finalized the deal.

Abbott said he’s now working with a Manitoba trade official to see if they can drum up more sales in the Asia Pacific region. McIntosh said even if that doesn’t pan out, this deal — combined with a recent $20,000 sale of furniture for the University of Winnipeg’s student lounge — convinced them to change their marketing approach. Instead of trying to sell to consumers through retailers and the company’s website, they’re now targeting larger customers in the education, hospitality and corporate sectors.

“This is the one that seems to work, so we said ‘OK, let’s keep growing it,’ ” McIntosh added.

Although Oi designs its furniture, it contracts out the production work to outside suppliers. Acrylon manufacturers the plastic base and the plastic core for the cushions, a firm near Toronto produces the foam for the cushions, and two other Winnipeg companies — Top Stitch Design and Peerless Garments — manufacture the fabric coverings for the cushions. Another Winnipeg firm — Art Upholstery — assembles the final product.

The five-year-old firm’s primary markets are Canada and the United States. Because it prices its products in U.S. dollars, Abbott said the steep drop in the value of the Canadian dollar hasn’t made its furniture cheaper to buy in the United States and other export markets.

“But all of our (production) costs are in Canadian dollars and all of our sales are in American dollars,” he noted. “So as the dollar continues to drop… we’re putting an extra 20 to 30 per cent back on our bottom line. And we can then choose to invest that additional money into new initiatives, like our website, developing our markets, in product development and in R & D.”

McIntosh said about 35 per cent of Acrylon’s sales currently come from the United States, and the lower-valued loonie has made its other custom-made plastic products less expensive to buy there. So, in the last month it has started gearing up its marketing efforts south of the border.

He noted a few years ago when the dollar was trading at or above par, it forced Acrylon and other Canadian manufacturers to find ways to boost productivity and become more cost-efficient.

“We’ve all gotten better at manufacturing, so barring anything unforeseen, we should do pretty well (with a lower-valued dollar),” he said.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

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