Quarantine Series: Springwater Woodcraft

This week as a follow up to changing styles, we thought we would talk about changes in manufacturing. Or more specifically changes in where the products we sell are manufactured. By highlighting one of our oldest business partners, Springwater Woodcraft. The Barn has always carried antique and new products. This post is all about the new end of our business.

NAFTA and other trade deals have had a tremendous impact on our business. These trade deals have kept new furniture prices low. But they have also done major damage to Canadian manufacturing. Twenty-five years ago approximately 80% of the new products we carried were made in Canada. Today it has reversed and the majority are imported. If you would have walked into the Barn in 1992, a good year [Blue Jays first world series]. You would have seen pieces on display from all kinds of local Ontario manufactures. We had people making furniture for us in Midland, Owen Sound, Hamilton, Shelburne, and Port Credit to just name a few. It was great, if you wanted a custom made piece you could get whatever you wanted at a very reasonable price. But one by one most of those shops were put out of business because they just couldn’t compete with cheap labour overseas. A few found a way to survive by pivoting to what was once the norm and now has become high end custom work. And some new companies started up, and found a niche.

In the 90’s reproduction pine furniture was all the rage. Martha Stewart and some of her cohorts convinced everyone that painting or finishing furniture yourself was the thing to do. Unfinished pine furniture shops sprung up everywhere. I remember driving through the business district in Oakville and counted four unfinished pine furniture stores on Lakeshore road. Seriously, they outnumbered Tim Horton’s.

White Rose garden centers was a big chain of nurseries at the time, and they sold simple unfinished pine furniture made by Springwater Woodcraft. When White Rose got into financial trouble, Springwater lost their business. White Rose was their biggest customer at the time. So Springwater sent out representatives to try and find some new customers.

The Barn never got into the unfinished furniture trend. At the time we were more focused on higher end Canadianna reproductions which were extremely popular as well. The most popular finish was dubbed “Barn colour” by on of our suppliers because we ordered so much of it. It was a combination of equal parts “golden oak” and “early American” Minwax stains. This is important later in the story.

So one day a Springwater representative wandered into the Barn to show us samples. They had just started offering some painted furniture options. They only had three or four colour options to start. We told him that we didn’t want to carry unfinished furniture, it wasn’t our kind of thing. We had enough going on and we thought the unfinished furniture trend would not last long. But we got to talking and they were open to new ideas. So we told them about Barn colour and how popular it was. They soon came up with a similar version which they called “classic stain clearcoat”. Today it is still their most popular stain, but no longer their most popular finish. They now have dozens of finishes and colours to choose from.

As they were trying to come up with some new items that would sell, we designed a few pieces for them. More then 20 years later two of them are still in their catalogue. #515 Small Hall Table, is a multifunctional little table that used to be a big seller. It still is for them. Our best selling Springwater item these days is #439 Ladder Shelf. We also designed #418 Acadian Cabinet to fit a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica’s. Yes there was a time before the internet when people would have a set of encyclopedia’s in their house. Incase they wanted to look something up without going to the library. Feeling old anyone? The Acadian Cabinet is still a great little two door bookcase even though no one buys them for encyclopedias anymore. We have one on display in the Barn right now. It’s a piece that looks great in lots of different colours. The Acadian Cabinet, Ladder shelves, and a bunch more Springwater pieces can be seen in the photos below.

We soon found out that Springwater Woodcraft was and is a family run business. Grant, Tricia, and Simon Lloyd are still running things even as they have grown across Canada. They have always cared about the environment. They switched to non-toxic water based finishes long before most companies did. They only use only solid North American white pine from sustainably managed forests. No MDF or particleboard is ever used.

Today they have a fantastic catalogue with dozens of finishes. A few years ago they started doing distressed hand rubbed finishes they call Vintage. They are by far their best selling and best looking finishes. Even better than Barn colour we must admit.

We generally have between forty to sixty Springwater pieces in stock in a variety of colours and finishes. However sometimes things sellout faster than we can restock them. You can order anything in their catalogue through the Barn. We have their catalogue and a large supply of colour samples available to see at the Barn anytime. And of course we always have the lowest Springwater prices. For now you can check out the Springwater section on our Reproductions page. Or you can go directly to their site www.springwaterwoodcraft.com. After all its a great time to support a local small business, still located in Springwater Ontario. Hopefully they will be up and running again soon.