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October 24, 2019updated 30 Jul 2020 3:12pm

Florian in its Prime

Hardwood timber products giant Florian has expanded greatly in the past two decades. Stephen Powney went to see first hand its facilities in Italy and Croatia

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Watching the corporate video for Italy-based hardwood sawmilling and wood product manufacturing company Florian is a bit like seeing a Hollywood film trailer.

“Feel the Power of Wood” is the message booming out and it’s clear from watching the extensive growth of the group in recent years and the sheer number of facilities in different countries that this is a major player in the European hardwood industry.

Delegates at last year’s International Hardwood Conference in Venice would have seen Florian’s name as event main sponsor.

I joined Florian UK customer and distributor James Latham for a tour of the former’s operations in Italy and Croatia to see both the sawmilling and downstream value-added manufacturing operations.

Many UK timber buyers will know of the Prime oak and Super Prime walnut products originating from Florian but might not be aware of the extent of its businesses.

The group is headquartered in Treviso, Italy and comprises 17 companies, each specialised in different divisions and products. Some 2,900 customers can be counted on its books in 78 countries, with 10,200 deliveries being completed annually.

Plants are located in Italy, France, Croatia, and Hungary, with 310,000m3 group production capacity and 850,000m2 group storage facilities. Group kilning capacity is 28,000m3.

In total, Florian has 1,006 employees, of which 750 are in Croatia where the bulk of its raw material is sourced, and group turnover is €190m.

Products include the core square edged timber offering, engineered three-layer solid wood panels, laminated window components, stair components (mainly for the UK), flooring, furniture, wood pellets and briquettes.

Family History

The company is run today by Elvio and Stefano Florian, sons of the founders who originally started the company in 1950. Other family members in Florian include Elvio’s son Enrico, daughters Nicole and Claudia and son-in-law Antonio Battaglia.

President and CEO Elvio Florian, who started working at the company in 1976 is very hands-on and a well-known businessman in Croatia due to Florian’s big investments there.

He is very proud of the company’s raw material efficiency, which means every piece of its log is used in products or to make pellets/supply firewood, as well as its FSC forest certification.

The group’s growth accelerated in 2000 with an acquisition strategy in Croatia with a goal of creating an integrated supply chain and security of raw material supplies.

Investing in value-adding and downstream processing was a Croatian government condition for having access to the raw material in Croatia’s forests.

This focus on value-adding is an increasing feature as Florian can use a higher proportion of wood in value-added products compared to square edged lumber.

One of these value-added products is engineered wood flooring produced by the business situated at the heart of the group in Riese. Some 3,000m2 of different thickness flooring is produced every day.

Products are named after wines, such as Prosecco, Valpolicella and Chianti. Boards are produced with a 4mm wear layer in widths of 142mm/152mm/192mm/242mm in five principle grades – AB / character / rustic / KR / mix grade. Certifications include FSC, CARB2 and Eurofins Indoor Air Comfort Gold.

All the lamellas for the solid top layer are produced by the group in Croatia, with 150,000m2 of lamellas stored on site.

Extensive production technology in an integrated line includes Cursal cross-cutting, Orma press, Costa and Viet sanders, Par-Filler technology (CSP Engineering) for filling knots and cracks in wood flooring elements, a GM Machinery tongue and groove line and Cefla finishing technology.

Lathams has exclusive UK distributorship for the engineered wood flooring range.

Uk partnership

Florian’s sales to the UK are worth approximately €20m, making it an important market for the group. Nearly half of that figure is through James Latham. In turn, Florian is Lathams’ single largest supplier of European hardwood.

James White, Lathams timber sales development manager, said Florian had been ahead of its time in supplying square edged hardwood boards to the UK over 15 years ago. At the time the market had been dominated by waney-edged boards, apart from imported North American product, he said.

“Florian produced square edged products for other markets, so the timing worked very well for both parties,” said Mr White.

“Lathams is a big company and very strong,” explained Elvio Florian. “It also has a long history and we chose it as our partner because they are really good in distribution and they trust our product. Both are family companies with shared values.

“The Florian mentality is not to have more than 20% of our exports going to one country.” The Italian domestic market and English export market have a Florian market share of 15-16% each, with about 52% in Europe as a whole.

Mr White said the Florian name was known for its prime oak quality throughout the world.

“The way logs are selected, graded and the wood kilned means you get a much better product.”

Mr White compared Florian’s products to the likes of BMW or Mercedes in the automobile sector. “Our customers want to be buying the same product with the same consistency.”

Florian colour codes the waxed ends of its lumber for easy identification with green representing prime, red being rustic and blue is character. Florian is also now colour matching boards.

Production sites

Florian is reckoned to be in the top three of European beech producers. Our site visits included the Iskralegno beech mill in Italy, focused on volume production with a specialism on longer lengths and steamed product. Low grades go to furniture makers and for kitchen worktops, chopping boards and mouldings for fire doors (for painted application).

Morocco is a very important market, as is Israel, while the UK generally takes two products (painted and not painted) in two lengths – 8ft and 10ft.

At the site a new saw carriage and handling equipment has recently been installed, with a Paul edging line being a main feature. Group wide about 80,000m3 of beech is produced.

Onto the Croatian operations, where Florian has invested a staggering €25m over the past two years.

The Cazma site, established by Florian in 2014, specialises in wood processing and wholesale as well as the manufacturing of contract furniture. Two bandsaw lines cut oak logs for engineered wood flooring top lamellas, with a Primultini bandsaw logmill for bigger and long lengths.

Among products produced here include textured layered internal walnut cladding, 210-230mm wide FAS walnut, ash destined for kitchen cabinets and lime which is popular with big Italian kitchen manufacturers for painted kitchens (typically substituting ayous for consistency of supply).

The site also manufactures high-end contemporary feature tables, using oak and walnut slabs. These are sold through a big furniture manufacturer and cost thousands of euros each.

Florian wants to do more work in the furniture sector and is having talks with other companies, as well as working with hotels in Croatia.

Our final visit was to the Lipovljani Lignum site, Florian’s first Croatian mill acquisition back in 2012.

The 150,000m2 site heralded a big moment in the expansion strategy of Florian, with the group’s hardwood expertise transforming the mill into an efficient operation with extensive value-added production.

This site will be how all of the group’s Croatian mills will look in the future after the completion of investment plans.

Laminated stair strings, engineered door and window components and three-layer wood panels are manufactured here. Finger-jointing is employed to use lower quality wood on the cores of products.

Three-layer panels for table tops and fire doors come in two different constructions – the first consisting of three solid wood layers glued together crosswise with two external faces of solid oak lamella.

A more cost effective alternative is another product featuring a plywood core and two external solid oak layers. Panel sizes are a standard 1210mm width and lengths of 2350/2150/1175mm.

The Future

For the future, Florian has hinted at one more potential big acquisition and another co-generation plant before it closes the present cycle of investment.

It recently secured a joint €10m loan for Lipovljani Lignum from the EBRD and Enterprise Expansion Fund (ENEF) for building a wood pellet plant and supporting investments in the flooring business and further expansion in Croatia.

“This transaction provides a boost to our Croatian business, allowing us to reduce waste and increase the efficiency of our production process,” said Elvio Florian.

“At the same time, we are proud that EBRD believes in us by financing our initiatives, which are devoted to sustainability and better material utilisation, respecting wood as a fundamental resource in human life.”

2020 will be Florian’s 70th anniversary year but it shows no signs of slowing up as it reaches the landmark.

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