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Morbern Inc. stitches its own success in Europe

Have you ever wondered who dresses your chairs?

If so, it might surprise you that many of the coated fabrics used in commercial seat covers in both North America and many European countries have their origins in a company established in 1965 in Cornwall, a small city in Ontario.

Morbern produces specialized, designer-coated fabrics for a variety of commercial applications worldwide: textiles to be used outdoors; transport seating for cars, trucks and boats; and medical and hospitality facilities.

A dozen people are gathered around a water hand-pump

A Morbern employee stands at an inspection table inside the company’s factory in Cornwall, Ontario.

With knitting mills in Montréal and North Carolina, just over 400 employees and annual sales of approximately $160 million, Morbern is well established in the North American market.

Its recent introduction to Europe was so well received that a warehouse in Amsterdam, Netherlands, was added to facilitate Morbern’s operations there.

However, the company’s attempts to break into the European market were hampered by the complexity and variety of regulations across the continent.

That’s when two Morbern executives, Mark Bloomfield, CEO, and Carine Equeter, European Director of Sales, turned to Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) for help in expanding the company into bigger markets.

Bloomfield and Equeter knew the company’s main challenge in Europe would be to adapt its products to the varying standards for fire-retardant products of the various European Union countries.

To address this situation, the TCS helped put the company in touch with local partners in Europe who could provide additional treatments to the fabric to meet various standards. However, Morbern eventually opted instead to develop a line of inventory specifically for European markets all made in its Cornwall plant.

The TCS also helped the company find a German firm to perform quality inspections on the products shipped from Morbern’s Amsterdam facility to European customers.

A dozen people are gathered around a water hand-pump

An aerial view of Morbern’s factory in Cornwall, Ontario.

In addition to the assistance provided by the TCS on the ground, Morbern also credits the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with helping the company to compete in European markets.

“The CETA agreement helped us be a lot more competitive with other European manufacturers,” says Equeter, adding that because CETA makes it easier for Canadian workers to relocate to Europe, “it certainly gives us opportunities in the future, if growth continues.” 

Equeter appreciates CETA’s role in helping to keep Morbern’s production costs competitive while opening doors for Canadian companies to huge, lucrative markets.

“CETA was a huge help for us in terms of logistics, costs in shipping to Europe, and obviously the tariffs on materials going to Europe,” she says.

Though Morbern has much of Europe “covered,” Equeter says there is room for growth.

When the company began exploring markets outside of Europe, the TCS once again came to the rescue by putting Equeter in touch with TCS staff in Jordan and Türkiye.

Equeter says Morbern is very interested in changing the perception of vinyl plastics and their effects on the planet.

“We really feel that there’s a place in the market for this kind of green technology because there’s so much you can do to ensure products have all the qualities associated with vinyl while using sustainable ingredients,” she says. “There are actually a lot of green initiatives at Morbern, not just in what we put in our products, but also how we produce the material and what happens at the end of its life.”

Equeter says that being green is aligned not just with Morbern’s values, but Canada’s as well. And this is another competitive advantage: “Canada is rightly perceived as a country that cares about green issues and we, as a company, from our senior management down, share this commitment to our planet.”

That translates to many opportunities—and a growing demand—for innovative, green thinking in the industry, not just in the technology and types of vinyl used, but also in the recycling and product lifecycles.

One area Equeter is particularly focused on now is the quest for fire-retardant products that meet the myriad fire regulations for the various North American and European markets while satisfying demands for sustainable products that don’t contain harsh chemicals.

While Morbern’s production remains predominantly in North America, the company has a global footprint with an office and production partnerships in Asia as well.

When asked how COVID-19 has affected the company’s sales, Equeter admits that Morbern’s sales were actually slightly behind compared to the previous year, but due in large part to the fact that the company had increased its customer base by 30% before the pandemic, it is on target to grow well beyond pre-COVID numbers.

And despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, Equeter believes that being a Canadian company has helped its European sales.

“Obviously, in France, there’s a special connection with Quebec, and in other parts of Europe,” she says. “The perception of Canadian companies and Canadian products is one of quality and reliability.”

Learn how, like Morbern Inc., CETA could help your company gain a valuable foothold in the very competitive European market.

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