Looking at the storefront, even with its massive black-on-yellow sign facing King George Boulevard in Newton, one might not guess Cloverdale Paint’s Surrey plant is such a massive operation.
The company’s four-decade-old hub is a beehive of paint-related lab work, manufacturing, warehousing and more, on a five-acre site.
By volume, it’s the largest of six manufacturing plants operated by Cloverdale Paint Inc., which last year repurposed part of the building to make space for a state-of-the-art lab on the second floor, above the store.
This year is a milestone one for the company, which celebrates 85 years in business as the largest family-owned coatings company in Canada, and also North America.
It all started on a farm located in, yes, Cloverdale – at 19006 60th Ave., to be exact. That’s where Rudy Henke, a German chemist and farmer, grew apples and made apple cider. He also made paint, for himself and his neighbours.
“Then he started selling paint and he’d give apple cider to people when he sold paint, and then my grandfather (Hunter) joined him in 1938,” explained Tim Vogel, company CEO and chair.
“Rudy started in 1933, so it was five years later, when my grandfather bought shares, bought into the business. Rudy was older than my grandfather and eventually he just bought the company. It was a small operation in those days, of course, nothing like this now.”
Vogel recently toured the Now-Leader through the company’s Surrey factory, which opened in the 1970s as a distribution plant, following a move from the corner of 64th Avenue and King George Highway, as the road was then known.
“We used to be right on the corner there, where the Surrey Public Market later opened,” Vogel said. “But it’s gone too now… Our building was an old roller rink, one piece of it.
“This building,” he continued, “was purpose-built for Cloverdale (Paint). We were a fairly small company when we first built here, and then we just grew and grew and grew. It’s one of the last of its kind, too, because there’s been a lot of consolidation in our business, and we’re the only remaining independent, family-owned company like this.”
The site’s year-old coatings research-and-development lab focuses on waterborne and low-VOC (volatile organic compound) technologies, while solvent-based lab work continues in an older part of the building.
“We are 10 people here right – seven chemists and three technicians,” said lab manager Thelma Longakit. “We moved things around and made more space for this, and now we have enough space.”
“The warehouse is around 30,000 square feet, the lab here is 8,000, and the plant is 15,000 maybe,” he explained.
“Before we opened this, it was all administration in here, where the lab is now, and we needed more space for the lab, because people were sitting on top of each other in the old lab. We literally couldn’t put one more person anywhere, so we looked at a bunch of options – moving the store and repurposing that as the lab, we looked at moving the lab off-site, and then the simplest thing, because finding office space is much easier than anything else, for fire and ventilation requirements, things like that, we decided to pull all of our administration down to Morgan Crossing, so that’s a new facility for us, in South Surrey, and we moved into there two years ago, December.… The building footprint is the same here, we just reconfigured how the space was used and repurposed some of it.”
Ninety people are employed at the King George Boulevard site.
“It’s a unique facility in Surrey,” Vogel boasted. “I don’t know of anything else like this, and it’s pretty unique in all of our industry, the way we do our R&D with an international group of people like this, from all over the world.”
Among them is Longakit, originally from the Philippines. Chemical engineer Damiano Palmegiani arrived from Venezuela to work for Cloverdale Paint some 14 years ago.
“We are looking at new things all the time, doing the research into products,” Palmegiani explained. “If you don’t go with them, new polymers, new technologies, you are behind. Things are better, more resilient, less contamination, and you have to go with those. That’s what we do here, work on new things, new coatings.”
The new space includes an application laboratory in which chemists, sales and marketing staff, along with customers, can experience and provide feedback on new and existing coatings technologies.
The back area of the building, meanwhile, is where walls and machines are paint-splashed places for making and distributing all that product.
During the building tour, Vogel got talking about some Vancouver rock ‘n’ roll history connected to Cloverdale Paint, around the time the Vogel family bought back control of the company from Kelly-Douglas, the grocery-products distributor, in the mid-1970s.
“We owned Mushroom Studios when Heart recorded (the albums) Dreamboat Annie and Magazine there,” he said. “I remember going there as a kid when they were recording, so it was cool, and I’m a big music fan as well. My father Wink’s a big guitar collector, avid, into American-made guitars. My parents still live in the house I grew up in, in the Kerrisdale area, but the hub of the company has always been here in Surrey, and always will be.”
At the company’s AGM on Thursday (June 7), Vogel’s parents, Wink and Noelle, retired from the board after many years of work, and his siblings, Randy and Tracy, stepped in to fill vacant positions. In addition to company CEO, Tim Vogel is now chairman of the board.
“There are lots of family connections here,” he said. “Not only my family, but some of the employees have family members working with us as well. It’s just always been that way.”