A decision to pre-coat timber has led to new income streams for Brisbane suppliers Classic Improvements and Woodstock Timber Specialists, thanks to support from Intergrain.
There are a lot of quality timber suppliers in the Australian marketplace. When it comes to standing out, added services represent a clear advantage. With this in mind, two top suppliers in Queensland have formed a relationship with each other that has strongly benefited both, backed up by a major coatings supplier.
Classic Improvements, based in Geebung, has been manufacturing wall and ceiling lining products for 28 years and is famous for its wall sheeting and mouldings.
Over 15 years ago, they began offering a pre-primed product as well. “We were an innovator in the VJ sheeting market and started using a clear primer then transitioned into an opaque primer soon after,” says Anthony Mole, manager at the company.
The product met with a successful response, but the equipment wasn’t required constantly, which led to a clever response from the Classic team: “We decided to provide a coating service to businesses that don’t have the room or the need to purchase the machinery, or who simply wanted to outsource this service,” says Mole.
Enter Woodstock Timber Specialists. A premier supplier to Brisbane, Logan and surrounding shires, they specialise in Kwila/Merbau, but wanted to extend their offer to add a pre-oiled decking product.
“Coatings have always been a part of the product range at Woodstock, and Intergrain is our preferred coating system,” says Mark Chant, manager at Woodstock.
“We have an ever-expanding trade base that relies our timber and services, so when we decided to add this line, we spoke with our Intergrain rep, Mark Deo. He suggested we collaborate on the product with Classic Improvements, another client company.”
Pre-oiling was one of the services already provided by Classic, both water-based and oil-based, so it was a simple matter to provide the desired result. Woodstock now offers a complete range of pre-coated decking, including Merbau, Spotted Gum, Pacific Jarrah, Ironbark, Tallowwood and Blackbutt in widths from 86mm to 140mm, and various thicknesses.
“Coatings are a great value-add to the builder,” says Chant. “Educating our customers about the coating system has been an ongoing process, but our builders are able to show their customers that the results are superior to what you could expect when done by an installer, and that they’ll save money overall.”
For Intergrain, a Cabot’s Premium Woodcare Brand, it’s not the first time they’ve been able to bring people together. “Our account managers go out and visit timber merchants and manufacturers and say ‘this is what we do, and how we can help add value to your business,” says Sonia Tousis, senior brand manager at Intergrain. “But we’re also getting cold calls ourselves from merchants and suppliers who are interested. They’ve seen some advertising, or heard that other suppliers are getting into pre-oiling or similar and they want to know more.”
As a specialist timber coatings brand, Intergrain is more than happy to facilitate these sorts of connections. “It’s all about the results,” says Tousis, “With decking, most of the time, installers or DIYers are only ever coating the top surface of the deck which leaves the underside really susceptible to moisture absorption. Timber that gets primed or pre-oiled by suppliers with the right equipment will have at the very least one coat of protection on all four sides which ultimately improves the durability of the timber.”
The result is a quality product that lasts, and which upholds the reputation of timber as a lasting, high-quality material: a win for the broader industry as well as the companies involved.
For Classic Improvements, the expansion of their pre-coating service has meant more than just the ability to keep the plant from lying idle, it’s also expanded their own ranges.
“Over the years we have realised the potential in pre-coated products,” says Mole. “We started with priming VJ MDF sheeting. When this was first marketed, there was little interest in the pre-primed option and 90% of customers chose the raw board. But since educating our customers, we now sell 90% of our product pre-primed. It’s because of the time and money savings to the customer, as well as the quality.”
The range has expanded significantly over the years. “In the last five years we’ve moved into pre-priming mouldings and chamfers, using high quality products. Once again, we’re going through the education process with our resellers and wholesalers, so they can inform their customers of the same benefits.
“We’ve also made investments into new machines to make this more efficient, reduce turnaround times and produce a better quality product,” says Mole. “And now we also pre-oil decking, which I believe will soon be the only way for the product to be brought.”
Classic Improvements, Woodstock and Intergrain have all found the importance of educating the industry and consumers about the product to be central to the success of the new lines.
“We’ve had great support from our Intergrain account manager,” says Chant. “He calls on our customers and architects and creates awareness about what can be managed with coatings and why pre-coating is worthwhile. Intergrain has also helped with producing finishing documents that are sent out with every pack of timber.”
“Word of mouth is always the best form of advertising in business,” says Mole. “Once the builders, home owners and even the end painter realised the time and money savings from using a quality pre-primed product, we found that news soon travelled. We may need to repeat the process when we introduce new lines, but the message is really sinking in to the broader market.”
Intergrain has fielded multiple enquiries about the process. “Builders and installers see timber coatings applied further up the supply chain as a way to save time and money,” says Tousis. “Timber manufacturers and merchants are interested in coatings services as a way to add value to their businesses. Our representatives are focused on working as closely as possible with them to provide coatings and/or equipment solutions tailored to their businesses.”
Getting the details right
Despite the growing popularity of pre-coating, it makes economic and logistical sense for most timber suppliers to outsource the process. Quite aside from the expense of installing plant, the process can take up a lot of physical space.
The equipment at Classic Improvements has grown over the year, and represents a significant commitment of money and space. As Mole says, “Originally we invested highly in an automated paint line for our sheeting product. From the start end, the machine loads the product, paints, dries and re-stacks the boards for us, with little labour and a high-quality product. We have recently invested in a vacuum-coating machine that provides an even, high-quality finish for products like mouldings. The finish this provides us with competes with that on any other technology on the market.
“After priming our products, we have a sanding machine which smooths the product off for our customer. In the past 24 months we purchased a Ceetec oiling machine, which also provides a quality product using oil-based finishes. In the future we’ll look to automate these machines to increase productivity and quality.”
The sheeting products and interior mouldings are coated with an Intergrain industrial interior primer. “We like the consistency this product gives us,” says Mole. “When used with the appropriate products it doesn’t require another undercoat before top coats.
“We also give our customers a number of external grade and higher quality finish options within the Intergrain range, including an industrial exterior primer, and we use a number of products from the Teknos range, which have some great advantages over the Intergrain products, including tannin-blocking properties and mould inhibitor qualities.”
For the pre-oiling process, the team uses water-based products in the vacuum-coating machine and oil-based products in the oiling machine. “We provide a number of options,” says Mole, “including Intergrain Nature’s Timber Oil, Tannacoat Decking Oil and Cutek CD50. By far our most popular is the Intergrain Nature’s Timber Oil due to its consistency. We’ve also put Intergrain UltraDeck and Woca water-based oils through our machine. They all have their different properties and benefits depending on the timber being used on and the application.”
The team at Woodstock are more than happy with the choice of product. “We’ve tried several brands,” says Chant, “But we prefer the Intergrain oils. We give our timbers an extra, final coat on site to cover any timber exposed in installation and make sure the finish is spot-on.”
The coatings products used are generally compatible with other brands. In some cases, such as overcoating an oil-based product with a water-based one, additional preparation may be required.
Educating the market
Of course, the one thing that always slows innovation in building products is price. Even when a product delivers an overall cost saving, some purchasers can be put off by a larger initial outlay.
“I put it to customers like this,” says Mole. “They are simply looking after their investments. In the same way you guard your investment in your house by using insurance, pre-coating is insurance for the timber you are purchasing.
“You spend large amounts of money on good quality timber, and although it’s an extra cost, pre-coating the timber is a very small cost to pay to protect your timber all through the installation process up until the painter comes in. In terms of decking, it’s an even better reassurance, because it protects the vulnerable underside of your decking boards and will continue to do so for years.”
Woodstock have found their high-end customers to be more focused on results. As Chant says, “At the prestigious end of the market they demand high-quality products, and our pre-coated timbers have met those expectations – and the expectations of the regulatory authorities (QBCC and Timber Queensland).”
Pre-coating has also helped suppliers and retailers deal with some of the issues attached to new products on the market.
“It’s great to see the market adoption of new and different timber products such as charred timber and Accoya,” says Tousis. “We’ve worked closely with a number of suppliers in this space to deliver coatings systems that really optimise the performance of those products. For example, one of the challenges with charred timber is the rub-off. Charred timber will generally leave a black residue on anything that rubs against it. It can be a problem for both exterior and interior applications, depending on the location. But we have several products that can seal that in. You don’t get the rub-off, but it doesn’t interfere with the charred, matt look.
“We also supply mould prevention primers for lighter timbers, including Accoya, in susceptible environments (see Accoya story, below).”
Ultimately, it’s a process that provides benefits up and down the supply chain, “Here at Woodstock we speak a lot about being the best in our industry,” says Chant. “By delivering pre-coated timbers to our builders, this also allows them to claim the best product standards and is an opportunity for our builders to generate extra profits by value adding.
“We aim to become the number 1 supplier of pre-coated decking and timber products, whilst value adding to our customer experience. The relationships we have with Intergrain and Classic Improvements are every bit as valuable as our well-trained staff. We rely on their industry knowledge to deliver the best outcomes for our current and future customers.”
There’s no disagreement from Mole: “We believe that pre-coating will be an increasing industry in Australia going forward and we are working with Intergrain to continue to improve our products and product range.
“By providing it as a service to other suppliers, we improve the whole local market. They can forward the pre-coated products to their customer and are then able to compete with similar imported products. There are benefits through the entire product chain. At the end of the process, the homeowner receives a high-quality product that has had its coating applied consistently in a factory situation. Very few tradies would be able to match the quality of that finish.”
Tousis sums the collaboration up best: “There are many ways businesses can work together on solutions that meet market opportunities and benefit both industry and end consumers. Sometimes, all it needs is someone thinking outside the box, reaching out and collaborating with others.”
“We do a lot of research to keep up with new timber trends and meet their technical needs,” says Sonia Tousis, senior brand manager at Intergrain.
One such product is Accoya by Accsys, a modified wood that is produced from certified sustainable fast-growing timber and treated with an acetylation process that removes its ability to absorb moisture. This renders it indigestible to a wide range of insects (including termites) and virtually rot-proof, with Class 1 durability and a 70-year minimum certified service life. At the same time, it remains dimensionally stable and free from toxic treatments.
Distributed in Australia through Mathews Timber, Accoya is an attractive blond colour in its natural state, but takes a stain or opaque coating well. Its rot-proof qualities have seen it star in waterfront homes and commercial buildings in Europe, where it has been released for just over a decade. Popularly used as a cladding and decking material, it shows remarkable lasting properties.
One issue Accoya can have in damp locations that lack adequate ventilation is surface mould, as any moisture will not be absorbed by the timber.
“Our Teknos coatings systems are fully endorsed by Accsys and one of the primers is especially relevant,”” says Tousis. “It’s basically a mould preventer and it comes in clear or opaque options to use under whatever top coat you prefer, exactly as you would a standard primer.
“We’ve seen it used in a lot of humid locations and people are extremely happy with the results, especially in designs that show off the beauty of the natural light-coloured timber.”
For more details, visit www.mathewstimber.com.au/accoya
Image: From left, Mark Deo of Intergrain, Mark Chant of Woodstock Timber Specialists and Anthony Mole of Classic Improvements, with the pre-oiled decking they created in partnership.