Written by Janet Davies
Kyle Lane’s company is called North American Select Inc. He settled on that name because it sounded right for an operation that aims to produce quality goods locally and export them globally. Kyle grew up in Prince Edward County on Fish Lake Road where, despite being just 14 minutes away from downtown Picton, you hear a lot more birdsong than traffic. He left The County 11 years ago to pursue his passion for woodwork and explore the world, but he came back. Why? “Well, I cut some of my fingers off in Toronto,” he says coolly, declining to give details. “I’ve been back about seven years, and when I came home I was overwhelmed with the love from the community. Long story short I decided to stay. I hadn’t really anticipated staying, because I didn’t feel there was enough going on to sustain me, but in reality this is a great hub. We can manufacture here and export outside The County.
“I was 19 when I left The County. I loved it, but I didn’t see opportunity for me here. Things have changed quite a bit in 11 years, but back then Toronto looked like a better place to grow a manufacturing company.” Was it better in Toronto? Surely there’s more competition there. “Well of course there is more competition,” he says. “There was also no shortage of work. Honestly, though, the environment was wearing me down. I found it all a bit too hostile, maybe because I’m from a warmer, more welcoming place.”
What is it you do?
“My passion is design. Three-dimensional design. I wanted to be an architect when I was younger, and in a way, furniture is like tiny architecture. You have to engineer it, it needs to be beautiful and functional – the same sort of parameters but on a much smaller scale.” Kyle’s recent clients include the jazzy chicken place in Picton called Angry Birds and the stylish, steeped in history Parsons Brewery. “It’s nice to work with creative individuals when they have a total concept design. I’m just one part of their overall vision, but they often give me a lot of liberty when it comes to design. They give me their parameters, which in fact sometimes benefits my creative process, even when they’re quite stringent, because you’re not left up to your own devices and you can’t go totally wild.”
I think the current and trending aesthetic with newcomers to The County tends to the more rustic. But it’s that polished rustic. It alludes to, or makes an ode to, The County history but elevates it with bare metals and rough hewn woods. That’s good news for me. I try to use a lot of natural materials and I strive to source as much as I can locally. A lot of clients feel really good about that.”
How busy is North American Select?
“We’re busy,” he says decidedly. “What is happening currently here, the sheer number of new builds, is keeping the architectural millwork side of our business busy. Custom and renovation replication work is a smaller portion of our work. But there is undeniably an influx of money, people moving here and wanting work done. Most of our clients are originally from Toronto or Ottawa. I’d say 75 to 80% have moved here. As to demographics, almost 100% are second-careerists – not necessarily retired but doing something different in this phase of their life. For new builds, we produce a lot of trim and flooring. It’s hard to quantify and distill exactly what defines our work but I suppose it’s the aesthetic of, say, the Muskokas. We’re doing a lot of what we call Muskoka panels, sort of hardboard with a reveal in between it. It’s a strong new aesthetic and it’s coming to The County, and we are well placed to capture that market.”
Why do people choose you, rather than Home Depot or a bulk supplier?
“Because we’re local,” he says simply. “Plus we are typically a better price for any kind of volume, and because the quality is very good. “Some of our more creative, custom projects are for the rental industry. Currently we are working on 50 eight-foot benches as well as a zinc and curly walnut table, and we do hundreds of folding harvest tables. It keeps the guys busy, and, because that stuff usually has a much longer timeline and the millwork is quicker, we can juggle the two. I call the creative work our soul food. Production stuff is more bread and butter. Me, I like to get the chance to design and build custom chairs in between production stuff.
Our chairs are going through a bit of evolution in terms of process and scaleability. We are making 42 chairs for Parsons Brewery right now, yes they’re due next week,” he grins and takes a big breath. “The longer vision is we want to think on an institutional scale. I think back to my time at P.E.C.I. high school and those horribly uncomfortable chairs and how they made the experience of learning harder!” He laughs. “I was constantly shifting trying to get more comfortable, it makes it hard to concentrate. If I can design chairs that will actually improve people’s experience, their learning experience or their dining experience that will be really satisfying. It’s a direction we are going to focus on down the road, or as a sideline. There is the potential for a design to be picked up by a big commercial manufacturer, although truly I’d like to keep things in-house. If we can employ more people in the institutional furniture division that would be ideal. Keep it in The County!”
It’s in the Blood
He muses on his inspirations and formative years. “Creatively I am a hybrid of my mother, Mia Lane, who is an artist and my dad who is a millwright. I guess I have a creative bloodline, and art is not bound by a two-dimensional substrate. As a child I could explore my creativity in a non-judgmental environment which was great, and The County really is an inspiring place with all the beauty that surrounds us. I mean it! There’s nothing like a good bike ride to get the creative juices flowing. Artists always have to struggle with how to make a living and still be able to follow their passion. I’m lucky I can balance by turning something into a production process, having a manufacturing and selling side, seeing the bigger picture of what it can become commercially as well as following my purely creative side. I don’t just have to do one-offs. I probably picked that up from my mum. She made prints of her originals and even licensed images to companies that put her paintings on tens of thousands of pillows. I don’t feel that does her work a disservice, and it certainly gave her a lot of freedom to explore her craft and experiment and do more personal work.
Currently our company structure is about 10% custom work, 40% commercial furniture and rental furniture and 50% architectural millwork – so trim, flooring, siding. Eventually the trim and flooring and siding and a few other products in the development stage right now will take over the majority of business. I will do the custom work on an individual basis, or even subcontract it so we can focus our attention on the trim, wall paneling, millwork. That’s where the potential is to ramp up volume and provide local jobs. Right now there are four of us. In about six months with the right momentum we could have 10 to 15. Actually right now we have enough work to have six guys on fulltime. It’s going well, and we’ve got our vision.”
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