By Kevin Werner, News Staff
If Baffin Inc. wants customers to enjoy a healthy lifestyle, then the Stoney Creek-based company will assist in creating one not only for its customers, but for its employers and surrounding community.
Since 1996 when owner and president Paul Hubner bought the footwear company, he gradually helped to make it a global powerhouse among cold-weather enthusiasts, workers in highly skilled industries, and inculcating the Baffin name among people living the outdoors lifestyle.
Over the years the company has made the Baffin name synonymous with industrial workers, and refusing to stand still, adding cold-weather apparel to its line of polar proven boots, and shoes lines.
But as the busy season looms on the horizon, company officials decided to upgrade its leased building on Arvin Avenue, as well as re-located its Burford Road warehousing next door to its manufacturing operation.
“It’s cost effective, and it makes sense to move the warehouse here,” said Marvin Mimms, chief financial officer for Baffin.
Only rubble now remains of the former We Bend Stuff building, after it was demolished to make way for the new building. The remaining concrete is currently being chewed up and spit out into dump trucks.
He said a building permit should be issued soon, with the new warehouse building completed by July. The building will stretch from Arvin Avenue back towards Barton Street. There will be an access off Barton to the property, he said.
The relocation will mean about 150 people will be working at the location, a jump from the current 130 employees.
“It will be nice to have everything under one roof,” said Mimms.
Baffin is also renovating its existing building to accommodate its growing merchandise. A former tenant in the back of the facility moved opening up even more storage space, and delivery bays, which in total will add 58 per cent more space, to about 130,000 square feet, said Mimms.
The company is also adding more office space, a larger, state-of-the-art showroom for its global products, and there will even be a gym for staff to work out.
Not only will there be more space, with an improved work environment, but the building will contain a number of environmental improvements, including an energy efficient HVAC system, energy-saving lighting, and eventually about 500 solar panels that will produce energy to be sold back to the electricity grid under the province’s Green Fit program. Outside, people will see a more pleasing entrance area, with more trees, shrubs and a distinctive-looking sign better suited in a forest, which will stand out amidst the brick and drab-looking buildings along what is considered Stoney Creek’s industrial corridor.
“We will be the best-looking building along Arvin,” said Jeff Wellwood, marketing co-ordinator, who a day earlier returned from a sales trip to Germany. “We sell a product for the outdoors. So it just makes sense for us to create a more environmentally-sustainable area for us to work. We are an outdoor company.”
Baffin has become one of only two companies that still manufacture boots and shoes in Canada. They have not only survived the high labour costs of making their polar proven boots in this country, but have thrived through innovation, investing in technology, and exporting to such diverse countries as Russia, Germany, and other European markets. The United States right now is a limited market for Baffin products because of the country’s high tariffs.
“We are driving the technology,” said Wellwood. “We make a quality product that is dependable. Failure is not an option.”
They make about 140 styles of boots, from industrial – which is about 65 per cent of their business – to such cold-weather footwear that can endure 100 degree temperatures in the South and North Poles, and the arduous hiking in Nepal, and monsoons in India, all courtesy of Hubner’s trips.
During the company’s peak season, they can produce about 24,000 pairs of boots at the Arvin Avenue building, said Wellwood.
The last few years though, Baffin has expanded into outdoor apparel from socks and slippers, to down jackets for adults and children.
“We are not just making products for the extreme cold weather,” said Wellwood. “We are dressing people from head to toe. We have products for the outdoors, and for the whole family.”
Despite their unique manufacturing status, Mimms says they still have to send work to China for stitching and other handiwork.
“We are a rare breed in North America,” he said. “It’s based upon product development and design. We are 100 per cent Canada, whether it’s made here or in China.”
The decision to go to China was forced on them because the skills needed for the footwear, and their cold-weather apparel line introduced two years ago isn’t available in Canada.
“We looked for them,” said Wellwood. “We left messages with companies, but they didn’t call us back.”