All the Trimmings

Vintage Mouldings

Vintage Mouldings is a company that actually started by accident. No business plan was implemented. The founders did not have a vision; they simply had a need and from there developed a following.

Presently, the company is Atlantic Canada’s leading moulding manufacturer and retailer selling direct to the homeowner, developer, or commercial contractor. Business in Focus spoke with its president, Andrew Caldwell, about providing a unique product that, while it may be copied, is never surpassed in quality or durability.

Back in 1988, the Varner family wanted to build a Victorian style home in Truro, Nova Scotia but could not find a source for the appropriate mouldings. They found an old moulder from the 1880s and got it running in order to fit the house in true period style. Word of mouth spread, requests started coming in and a company was born, with a showroom and office in part of the same home. It grew from there and a large purpose-built factory was built in 1997. At the same time a second retail store was opened in Dartmouth, NS, with 5000 square feet of retail, display and warehouse space. Andrew Caldwell, current company president, and Garry Pye, his father-in-law, bought out the business in 2007. Andrew’s wife, Heidi, is also part owner and works in the business.

Mouldings, now mainly made from medium-density fibreboard (MDF), are the company’s bread and butter; however, it also offers other architectural products such as columns and select lines of door hardware. All mouldings are primed and sanded twice to ensure a high quality product ready to be painted. Other products, like its weather resistant polyurethane (PolyPlaster) trims, are made from a foam based product and are mainly used for exteriors. The business also makes a flexible moulding called Rub-R-Wood from a polymer resin, making it flexible like rubber. This is used for arch tops and other places where a curved moulding is required. Vintage Mouldings is in fact the only manufacturer of flexible mouldings in Canada, making it stand out from the competition.

As the name indicates, the products are well suited to vintage or older style homes although the company provides for all tastes. “We do contemporary profiles as well,” explains Andrew. “Styles are constantly changing and always come back – as do trends – so we are constantly updating our line to reflect changes in taste.”

The current trend for flat and simple profiles started in Western Canada and slowly made its way across the country. Builders and contractors keep up to date on the trends, and were the first to adopt more contemporary lines. Vintage Mouldings takes its cues from designers whose job it is to keep up with these market directions.

Of course, housing has changed over the years, with more townhomes and condos being built and the smaller profiles they require can be easily purchased at the big box building supply stores. Vintage Mouldings, however, has become well known as the company to go to for custom work and specialty items, included unique mouldings for these larger projects. “Most of what we make is not readily available at the big box stores or traditional building supply stores,” Andrew shares. “Our program speaks to the styles available in the East Coast of Canada and the U.S. And many of our profiles are generally available in wider and thicker sizes to fit some of the larger homes being built.”

In the last five years, the company has seen growth of forty-five percent, mainly in the sales of its mouldings. ”A lot of it comes through new contractors who are working with developers. We are supplying larger projects and not just homes – which I would say is still our strength – but we’ve added to that part of our repertoire.” Part of that growth has come from newer products such as door hardware and exterior mouldings.

With growth comes expansion and Andrew wonders how much Vintage Mouldings can grow and still retain the product quality for which the company is known. “We will have to make a choice on expansion and growth,” he says. “We could probably squeeze in another twenty-five percent with current hours and manpower. Beyond that we are going to run out of space and production time. That means a second shift, more people and managers. Is there enough demand in our local marketplace in the Maritimes? The challenge then is whether we will be able to maintain our quality and service standards.”

Its customers recognize that the company also goes that extra mile with its service. Projects are kept on schedule by the team running customs or making special delivery trips to drop off mouldings a couple of hours away. Andrew wants the company to grow slowly and organically, not only to keep up this level of quality but to continue to produce all of the product in its own plant. Many competitors, conversely, have outsourced production and have little control over product quality.

If the company does expand, it would need to begin with a new building as production facilities start to run out of room. However, Vintage Mouldings is reticent to move into an industrial park. Currently, it is on sixteen acres in suburban small town Nova Scotia that feels like the country as you go up the drive. The site has a small apple orchard, with deer visiting the property frequently and some people who drive there just to look at it. The plant itself was built to look like a farm with a big barn-like structure in which the manufacturing takes place. The house is twenty years old but, with its period details, looks like a century home, and has become a part of the image of Vintage Mouldings.

Never one to stand still, however, Vintage Mouldings recently developed the Elements Collection which reflects the contemporary profiles that have dominated the market over the last five to six years. The collection encompasses simple lines and a clean profile with a modern flavour. Eight new profiles were brought in, inspired by the new condo look. “They are simple yet elegant shapes that are a little more detailed with slight bevels –or in the craftsman style with different tapers and angles. It is meant to put us at the forefront of that movement,” explains Andrew. “People are looking for something a little different as a way to differentiate themselves from the masses out there.” The line is relatively new and has been released over the last three to four months, to much initial success.

In order to produce the new collection, the company worked with several designers and conducted some research of its own. It contacted builders to get their opinions on what they would like to see and chose the best ideas for the standalone collection. The reasonably priced collection offers the customer a point of difference in the marketplace – “Compared to the big box stores there is almost nothing that is close to what we offer; we are very different.”

The company has to deal with its share of challenges. “Cheap imports from South America or China can be challenging to compete with. Can things be made cheaper in China? Absolutely! And some of the styles you see today are pretty easy to mimic. Some customers or clients even try to make simple profiles themselves, but when you tabulate the hours they spend trying to manufacture and prime a decent product, it ends up being more cost effective to buy from Vintage Mouldings.” There are also some competitors that manufacture mouldings similar to profiles introduced by Vintage Mouldings. “They have copied a few of our best selling profiles, but that’s the way it works in any business. People will imitate our successful products and try to do it for less cost. We feel, however, that we have the best product available on the market.”

There are a significant number of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings out there along with new ones being built for government bodies and institutions. Some of the contractors the company works with are currently involved in LEEDs projects as well, so Vintage Mouldings has developed a green version of its MDF moulding that has no added formaldehyde. The primers used are free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are water based.

Typically it is developers who will ask about the green products; not many homeowners pursue that route. If they do, however, Vintage Mouldings can help. ”We will help them at that point, but it doesn’t happen very often unless it is a big commercial project. We will talk about this with our developers, but we don’t specifically market it to the overall market. If ten percent of the market was looking for green products, then we might be able to make a case for bringing it into stock but, until we get there, it doesn’t make sense to force it. It will come in time.”

The company has a substantial portfolio with its Elements Collection and hundreds of different profiles available. But in the last five years, customers have been asking for something a little bit different and there has been an increase in requests for custom profiles. Often it is as simple as just a different size from a stock moulding profile. If someone comes off the street asking for one hundred feet of custom profile, the company will happily accommodate. While some may not consider this to be the most economical use of plant time, it has been a great way to win over new customers and generate new business.

Andrew Caldwell sums up his business: “We perceive ourselves, and I think our customers see us, as the choice for high quality products, exceptional service and great value in the market today. As a local manufacturer, we work hard to keep our costs in line and offer very competitive pricing. In fact, if you compare us to a traditional building supply store, we are typically going to be less money for similar sized profiles, with a huge selection of mouldings, always in stock.” Vintage Mouldings may have been started for a specific need, but it continued on a mission. That mission is to give the customer whatever they’re looking for. Sometimes it’s nice to not have to be a part of a cookie cutter world.

June 4, 2020, 11:32 PM EDT