An innovative supplier of lumber and engineered wood products to window and door manufacturers in the Americas, Europe and Asia, Toronto-based Weston Wood Solutions has been recognized as one of Canada’s fastest growing companies.
CEO Alan Lechem has guided Weston Wood Solutions through more than a decade of year-on-year growth and diversification into new products and new markets, with both new and existing manufacturing partners throughout the global supply chain. Weston has been recognized as one of Canada’s fastest growing companies for six consecutive years on the Growth 500 list, and is a Gold standard repeat winner of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies. With over 30 years’ of millwork, lumber, and panel experience, combined with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Engineering and Master of Business Administration, Mr Lechem enjoys developing and guiding Weston’s team of incredible talent to discover and foster new business opportunities. Mr Lechem spoke with us recently about the company’s global capabilities, the continued investment that has helped it grow, and its commitment to offering the best value in an end-to-end supply chain solution.
“Weston Wood Solutions is a supplier of specialty building products,” Mr Lechem explains, “and we’re known as an innovative manufacturer and distributor of millwork, which means that we don’t work at all with construction lumber or plywood, in fact all of our materials go into trimming, finishing, and into components to make residential windows and doors.”
In 2021, the company made over $200m in revenue, a figure that will be surpassed in August 2022. With around 75 staff in Canada, a dozen more working in Chile, and around 25 spread across Southeast Asia, the company has a diversified footprint.
“One of our strengths is sourcing from around the world. To that end, we maintain offices and staff in Canada, Chile, and China. We also manufacture our own MDF moldings in Sault Ste. Marie, which is in Northern Ontario, and in 2020 we established a factory in Thailand, where we make components for some of the large door manufacturers.”
The company has two primary business divisions, one focused exclusively on servicing Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) clients, and the other supplying millwork distributors.
“With OEM customers, we supply them with items like window extensions. Weston is one of the largest suppliers of door components for interior and exterior doors. You never see many of our products, because they’re actually covered by fiberglass or vinyl, but they’re there inside the windows or the doors.”
Another big category for the company is door jambs, the frame for both interior and exterior door pre-hangers. This does not just include finger joint wood or solid wood products, but also a full range PVC composites. The company also services stair manufacturers, supplying parts such as stringers, treads, and risers.
“In the other business division, we supply trim to millwork distributors, which comprises moldings like baseboard, casing and trim board, but we also supply specialty moldings like closet rods and a lot of wall paneling, such as v-joint, shiplap, nickel gap. These products are sold through specialty building product suppliers in Canada, and through what’s known as a two-step distributor in the U.S.”
Weston has done a lot in terms of offering global sourcing solutions, not just not talking about it but executing it to a high standard. Over the last two years, this skill has been a fabulous asset to the company.
“Despite the supply chain shenanigans that everyone is all too familiar with, we never let any of our OEM customers down. Weston is also partnered with joint ventures in China, Thailand, and Indonesia that strengthen those very important supply chain relationships.”
In addition, partnerships with manufacturers in Canada and the U.S. that provide domestic import ability gives the company tremendous capabilities in delivering custom items and shorter lead times.
“Being in Toronto, we’ve got this tremendously multi-cultural stuff. We probably cover two dozen languages in our offices here in Toronto, and that contributes to a deep understanding of local cultures, and our belief in a partnership, win-win approach, just deepens those relationships with both suppliers and customers.”
Another strength of the company is in the employment of its own quality control team, a team of people who are embedded in the various factories that Weston source from all around the world. Weston clearly sees huge benefit in having a diversity of customers in different geographies and industries.
“In addition to sourcing, we sell globally. A major market for us is the U.S., and Canada of course. We do quite a lot of business in Europe and Australia, and into the Caribbean. A huge benefit of operating in multiple countries is that it exposes Weston to a wide range of products and technologies that you don’t see if you’re just sitting behind a desk in Toronto.”
Over the last couple of years, Weston has experienced a significant boost in terms of investment, helping drive it further towards its long term goals. The number one area of investment has come in its people.
“Not just in headcount, but our desire to make Weston a great place to work. Things that we’ve done have been an improved benefits plan, better bonuses, expansion of some recreational facilities at HQ. We’ve got a tremendous HR team that’s engaged with training, coaching and especially personal development, and of course making sure we have some fun throughout the workplace.”
Weston has also made strong capital investments, and has embraced vertical integration into its manufacturing by building a factory from scratch in Thailand, which is positioned by a reliable and well-priced source of lumber fiber and the right labor.
“Along those lines, several years ago we purchased a small MDF molding manufacturer in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. I’m delighted to say that because of the great performance of the crew there, we’re actually doubling the capacity of that plant.”
During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, Weston was able to thrive by leveraging its value proposition of global sourcing. In addition to supply chain issues, the fact that the company has very strong communication with its customers means they don’t need to guess about what’s happening, but can be kept up to date with proceedings.
“The other thing is, we were very aggressive in looking after the health and wellbeing of our Weston team,” Mr Lechem adds, “both here, in Sault Ste. Marie, and in Asia, where we sponsored giving vaccines to all of the workers in several factories.”
Being in the building products industry, it is important for Weston to keep on top of its Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) responsibilities, and it is always looking at ways to expand its environmental credentials beyond the current certification, which it has had for many years from several sustainable forestry organizations.
“We feel that the millwork industry has completely undersold itself on the benefits of using products made from wood. One of the things we’re doing right now is compiling data to demonstrate the huge benefit of wood-based millwork products, because they’re tremendous carbon sinks.”
A carbon sink is something that accumulates and stores a carbon-containing chemical compound for an indefinite period, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When a tree absorbs carbon, it doesn’t release that carbon back into the atmosphere unless it is burnt. Making millwork products from wood effectively preserves carbon within a house, which is a huge benefit to the environment.
To further the cause of its sustainable product, the company is linking up with a tree replanting program. It also works hard to give back to the community, with one such project seeing it involved with a charitable organization called Shelter Movers, which provides moving and storage services at no cost to adults and children fleeing abuse.
“The technical expertise of our staff allows us to supply these OEMs, who require truly complicated, precise products, with very demanding lead times and fulfillment criteria. We provide a great service for clients by having Weston’s own staff manage the process, from the source to the destination.”
This source-to-destination process management includes engineering, quality control, and logistics, which is handled by Weston staff in both the country of origin and from the Head Office in Toronto. Overall, Weston sees itself not as a Millwork company, but as offering the best value in an end-to-end supply chain solution.
“Another value proposition is we keep inventory in more than 10 locations across North America, and that’s to provide quick shipment to our clients, and we also invest in propriety stock items for program customers. These are very specialized components, and we will maintain the inventory in our warehouses on behalf of our customers.”
The building products business has been particularly robust in the last couple of years, with many people investing money saved on vacationing into home renovations or property purchases.
“Our company has benefitted from that surge in demand, and there was an imbalance. The demand exceeded the supply and prices went very high, both in terms of the materials and especially the freight cost of getting them here. There were many shipments from Asia where we paid more in freight than the value of the goods inside the container.”
That imbalance has now reversed, and although many of Weston’s customers have decent backlog, there are signs that haven’t been seen in several years. The logistic and supply chain issues of the last couple of years are starting to wind down. Service levels from the steamship lines and container handlers are still poor, but improved.
“Within our industry we see a continuation of existing trade disputes, especially between the USA and China, such as section 301. We also have an environment of anti-dumping and countervailing duty on millwork that we would import from China to the U.S.”
During this time Weston has grown considerably, and is well positioned to keep doing so. It has a creative and resilient staff base, focused on solving problems rather than just talking about them. The company finds ways to transport products when others say it can’t be done.
“We like those challenges,” Mr Lechem says. “Our OEM customers will endorse that and say that Weston is the only company that didn’t let them down, despite Covid and shipping issues. We’re always looking for new ways to grow and better ways to perform.”
With a fantastic, innovative team and a number of important professional partnerships, Weston has shown its ability to continue growing and performing despite adversity. Find out more about Weston Wood Solutions by visiting www.westonwoodsolutions.com.