Local furniture maker retools to meet hot sauna demand

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Durham Furniture has purchased local brand Vokes Furniture and now the former Vokes Furniture company has a new name and mission to meet growing demand for outdoor home saunas.

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Mike Vokes opened True North Saunas to build outdoor barrel-style saunas and others with less expensive pine in a market dominated by more expensive western red cedar, he said in an interview Wednesday. “And this opportunity is huge.”

Vokes, the company’s president, employed 24 people in the furniture business before moving exclusively to saunas.

Seven or eight of them now work at Durham Furniture in Durham. Ten employees remained with Vokes and the rest found employment locally, he said.

On Wednesday, all employees were shown how a sauna is assembled. Most of the time, they will manufacture parts to crate in kit form, which will be assembled at the customer’s site, Vokes said. A sauna weighs about 2,000 pounds.

The company will sell directly to customers through its website within 120 kilometers of Owen Sound, and beyond through North American and European dealer networks.

“Right now there is a huge undercapacity in sauna manufacturing, especially for North America and Europe,” said Paul Oehm, an experienced business consultant in the leisure market at backyard, who advises Vokes.

“There are a lot of little moms and dads, especially the Amish, who maybe do a sauna or two a week. There are very few big players like True North Saunas now that can crank out the volume now through the back door.

True North’s advantage will be the ability to build a distribution network and meet market demand, he said. And they’re entering a whole new market because they’ll sell at a lower price, Oehm said.

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He said some US distributors are happy to offer this product for less. “As a few of them told me, it’s now a worker’s sauna, not a rich person’s sauna.” Instead of paying $15,000 or $20,000, pine saunas cost $7,000 to $10,000, Oehm said.

Vokes said a chance encounter at a furniture show in Dubai five or more years ago led to his decision to get into the outdoor sauna business. He helped a sauna salesman at the salon assemble his sauna and they became friends.

He turned to Vokes to make the saunas and four years ago Vokes Furniture started making saunas in addition to his furniture. Now this European sauna manufacturer leads the European distribution of True North Saunas.

The company can do two saunas a day. Within six months, they’ll be doing more than five a day, and within two years, 10 saunas a day, he said. He then plans to have up to 20 employees.

“We can probably sell up to five saunas a day, every day. So we needed a bigger place and the opportunity was too much to hold on to,” Vokes said. “I think its people are fixing their backyards. They’re looking for health benefits to feel better at home, and we’re trying to foster that.

The origins of Vokes Furniture can be traced back to Alvin Vokes, who died last month aged 74. He started working in his garage in 1987. His son Mike Vokes joined him in 1989 and by the end the company had $4 million in annual sales of hardwood bedroom furniture. , 95% of which in Canada.

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The business was called Frontier Furniture until it was sold in 2000 and then Vokes Furniture opened. It’s been in the Springmount Business Park for about 12 years.

Luke Simpson, President of Durham Furniture, said the Vokes Furniture brand complements the Durham Furniture ranges.

“We make very similar products, but at different prices. Durham has always been quite upmarket. Mike was targeting more, not entry-level, but more mid-priced, with a different build style, different finishes.

Additionally, Durham Furniture has a much larger dealer network than Vokes, whose sales were largely concentrated in Ontario, Simpson said.

Simpson hired seven or eight employees from Vokes, who continue to make furniture as they did before, Simpson said.

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