Dutailier to close forever
ST-PIE, Quebec – Dutailier, the solid wood glider rocker specialist, will close forever this summer, the victim of a changing labour market, evolving consumer buying habits and its product’s incompatibility with the requirements of automation.
In an interview with Home Goods Online, David Fontaine, president of the family owned and operated manufacturer said the production line will stop for the final time on July 7, 2023.
“This was not an easy decision to make,” he said. His father started the company in 1977 and he has been leading the charge as president for the past five years. “We were hoping someone would give Dutailier a second life but that’s not going to happen.”
Like other furniture manufacturers, Dutailier experienced a boom with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 “but over the past months, our order entries have been very weak.”
“No one realizes how difficult it is to build a glider rocket,” Fontaine observed, adding, last summer, Dutailier commissioned a study to determine what could be done to improve manufacturing efficiencies in the hopes of improving both productivity and operating margins. The study determined the product doesn’t lend itself well to automation and robotics.
Computers could be taught to make metal components for a glider rocker – which is why manufacturers in the People’s Republic of China and other Asia Pacific countries have made such great strides in the category – but solid wood can’t be bent and shaped in the same way.
Complicating matters further is the changing labour market. Many of Dutailier’s employees have been with the company for 20 years or longer. They’ve developed a skill set many young people aren’t interested in learning, making the search for replacements difficult at best.
The retail landscape has also changed significantly in recent years. Fontaine points out that his product was often sold by stores either specializing in or having a major commitment to infant and children’s furniture. Many of these merchants – such as Babies R Us – have disappeared in recent years, particularly in the United States.
Particularly since the onset of the pandemic, e-commerce has been driven of glider rocker sales. These platforms tend to be more price sensitive and since Dutailier’s product is definitely in the better-quality price points, it struggles to compete. This means, Fontaine notes, the company’s channels of distribution are getting narrower.
Consumers are also feeling the pinch. “The demand for our product is no longer there,” Fontaine said, noting Dutailier’s primary target customers – people with young families – are being squeezed by higher interest rates as well as higher costs for almost everything from gas to groceries.
However, for the next few weeks, Dutailier’s 105 employees will be working flat out to fill all the orders it has received since the decision to close was announced to its existing retail network. And, Fontaine added with some pride, almost everyone on his payroll already has another job to go to when the plant closes.
Once it does, Fontaine said he’ll be busy winding down the business and selling off the equipment and figuring out what to do with his 136,000 square feet of manufacturing space. It will either be leased to another company or sold on the open market.