Homes to Go

Story Darlene Day

In March, 1996, 100 crates marked Made in Canada left Vancouver’s harbour for Tokyo and Osaka, thus launching the second phase of a marketing plan that has generated over $100 million in sales of value-added wood products from British Columbia.

The promotion strategy is the brainchild of B.C. Wood Specialties Group, a government-and industry-funded trade association representing more than 100 B.C. companies. So when the crates arrived at their permanent homes in Japan, B.C. Wood Specialties was there to meet them. The crates contained everything needed to assemble two six-metre-by-nine-metre exhibition houses built entirely of value-added B.C. wood products-fir floor panels, staircases, handrails, wall panels, cedar doors, decking and windows. Backed by $500,000 from Forest Renewal BC (a B.C. Crown Corporation) to design and build the units, B.C. Wood Specialties set up and is now managing the project in Japan.

Japan is attempting to make housing more affordable, but there is not enough material being made in Japan to meet this need.

“They are actually walk-through exhibits of part of a typical North American house,” reports Brian Hawrysh, manager of product and market development for B.C. Wood Specialties. It’s a way of promoting packaged houses and their components to Japanese buyers and developers wanting a 2×4 home.

“In the first five months of activity,” says Bob Holm, the association’s executive director, “this part of the project generated confirmed sales of over $1 million.”

Enthusiastic about the opportunity to showcase B.C. products and talents, Holm speaks with pride about an earlier phase of the project. In 1993, a display now travelling throughout Japan was sponsored by BC Trade, B.C. Wood Specialties Group and the federal government. “We entered the market at the right time,” he says. “It was a great start.” Sales from the travelling exhibit now exceed $100 million and continue to grow. “There are 27 B.C. companies represented in the travelling display,” Holm says, attributing much of its success to their commitment. “They maintain a presence in Japan, and hire Japanese-speaking staff. They make it work,” he says. “Japan in part and Asia in general is a growing marketplace for value-added wood products from B.C.,” Holm says. “Japan is attempting to make housing more affordable, but there is not enough material being made in Japan to meet this need.”

Will there be other displays like the ones now located in Tokyo and Osaka? “We have a five-year program,” Holm says. “We’d like to duplicate the effort in other places, like Taiwan and Korea, next year.”