Sherwood Industries makes Island hot place for pellet stoves

They hold down a massive footprint in the Keating Industrial Park, employ more than 200, and by all accounts are leaders in their industry.

But there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Sherwood Industries, even if you warm your home with one of their products.

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“We like to fly under the radar,” explains Sherwood president Cherbel Yousief, noting the 26 year-old company, which manufactures pellet, wood and gas stoves and fireplaces has made a habit of doing things quietly.

In fact, Sherwood Industries — which manufactures more than 20,000 units each year — doesn’t even have a showroom or retail location in its own backyard, instead selling each unit through a network of 853 dealers in North America.

Even Sherwood’s products — under its Enviro brand — that are to be sold at retail locations in Victoria are shipped to a distributor in Vancouver before they are sold to retailers on the Island.

Yousief said the business model can be both a blessing and curse given it limits the company’s profile.

But it doesn’t seem to be hurting business. Sales over the last two years have grown significantly — in excess of 20 per cent in both 2013 and 2014, while they are on pace for double-digit growth again this year.

“We are definitely in a growth pattern,” said vice-president Stuart O’Connor, the son of co-founder Martin O’Connor. “We have seen a lot of gas [product] sales driving that, as we have invested heavily in that side of the business over the last five or six years as that market is so much bigger.”

Sherwood has also sharpened its focus. Instead of expanding international sales, they have pared back to focus on North America.

O’Connor said that’s down to spending too much to have units certified in different countries, and realizing the North American market has plenty of potential.

“The return on investment [certifying in Europe] didn’t make sense,” O’Connor said, noting when they test and certify units for the Canadian market they are covered in the U.S. as well.

The recent growth is nothing new for the company. When it started in 1989 with Yousief and brothers Martin and Tom O’Connor, Sherwood was focused on pellet stoves. As the first Canadian pellet stove manufacturer, it grew quickly into a world leader and, in 1994, it made its next move to expand into gas stoves and fireplaces.

“We wanted to offer a full range of products to our customers,” said Yousief. Sherwood Industries grew from a company of 12 employees into a 200-strong team.

Along the way, the company consolidated four locations in the Keating area into one large facility covering almost 100,000 square feet.

Pellet stoves account for more than half of the business, followed by gas-burning models and wood-burning stoves.

When asked to look back, Yousief and O’Connor concede the company has succeeded despite a number of hurdles —- chief among them its location on an island.

“It is difficult,” said Yousief. “Ideally we wouldn’t be here.” There are the obvious transportation and distribution hurdles that come with Island living, and the cost of real estate cuts hard into the bottom line.

“This is the Beverly Hills of manufacturing. We could do the same thing in Arkansas out of a steel building and costs would be about 16 per cent cheaper and that’s huge when you’re doing tens of millions in sales every year.”

But there seems to be no regrets in setting up shop here. “We are here and committed to the community, we employ so many people who have been here a long time and they are a big part of our success,” he said.

The company is bigger and busier than ever, and prides itself on never standing still.

Sherwood has 40 models of stove or fireplace available. Each model comes with options, and the company re-designs and improves its offerings each year.

All of the work is done in-house, from research and development and engineering and design to punching parts from sheet metal, fabrication and assembly.

The company even manufactures some lines for competitors.

“I think we are looked at by other manufacturers as a leader in pellet stoves,” said O’Connor.

The target for Sherwood’s products is at the higher-end with the bulk of their products hovering in the $2,900 to $5,000 range.

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