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When furniture wholesalers cancelled factory orders at the start of the pandemic, LH Imports decided to instead support their partners and keep production rolling. Putting relationships first is one of the contributing factors to their success–along with a measured and methodical approach to growth.

Canadian businesses are intensely proud of their roots, and brands often use their country’s heritage as a point of differentiation. When these companies begin to sell internationally, their Canadian legacy sticks with them and remains a competitive advantage. Our #GoGlobal series showcases Canadian businesses that have successfully expanded into international markets, even during challenging times. Learn how these businesses have shown the world Canadian creativity, innovation and imagination at work.

LH Imports is a Vancouver-based company, founded twenty years ago by Lisa Calkins. With a love of home décor and roots in Mexico, she started what was then called ‘La Hacienda’ with the intention of importing furniture and accessories from Mexico. After some issues with manufacturing in the country, she steered the business to South East Asia with a focus on sourcing recycled, sustainable and reclaimed materials.

It’s around that time when Jade Merriman, currently partner and Vice President at LH Imports, joined the team. In a recent conversation with Merriman, she shares the company’s journey through periods of growth and the COVID-19 pandemic, and how they have successfully navigated both.

Growing Pains – And Pointers

After Merriman and Calkins spent time travelling through Asia – finding partners, sourcing ethically produced products and picking furniture and accessories they would like to see in their own homes – the company began a significant period of growth. “We were thrilled to see that our customers – and their customers – liked the products we selected, so we continued to grow our product line that way,” says Merriman. As demand grew, they opened a third-party warehouse in Ontario (in addition to their warehouses in Vancouver) to reach the East Coast. A few years later, they started to expand to the U.S.

While the growth was exciting, it came with its share of growing pains. When the company was doing business on a smaller scale, for example, orders would be recorded with a paper-based system. When Merriman came on board, she implemented some processes to keep the orders organized and easy to track – but she found as they grew, a paper-based method was not sustainable. They invested in basic accounting software but quickly outgrew its capacity too. “We started to look into SAP, which became a huge part of our growth. It provided us with a structure, allowed us to implement standardized processes based on best practices and enabled us to have all of our data available in one place,” says Merriman. The team also invested in a new space, given they needed more products to meet the needs of their growing customer base.

While they experienced growing pains, Merriman admits that pushing themselves to grow was rewarding and the right thing to do. “We had the faith in ourselves to get a bigger place and upgrade our progresses significantly,” she says. She also identified that having a trusted funding partner in RBC through this period was key. “We needed a banking partner to support where we were going, as these upgrades were very expensive.”

Supporting Partners and Customers Has Paid Off

The LH Imports team was at the Vegas Market as the pandemic was gaining steam in early 2020. “I remember coming home and wondering: What do we do? Do we cancel stock or production?” recalls Merriman. Out of respect for the factories they work with, they didn’t cancel their orders, but heard that many of their competitors put a stop to everything. “It was a huge risk to take when everything was shutting down,” she says, but it was a move that paid off because their wholesale competitors ended up having no stock when people were looking to buy.

With the decision to stay the course with production, the team then established two areas of focus: The first, to boost their digital channel given the shift to online shopping and second, to make sure their retailers didn’t shut down. “We needed to support our retailers so that they would still be here when we came out of the pandemic.”

They put together a number of programs, including steep discounts for their customers, which they could in turn pass on to their shoppers. “We put ourselves in their shoes and that ended up working really well,” says Merriman. “I know now that we could have made double or triple if we had increased our prices, but our move solidified relationships – we had so many customers tell us we were the only ones doing something for them.”

A Secure and Steady Approach to Global Trade

For the first 10+ years of business, LH Imports focused on selling exclusively in Canada. About eight years ago, they began expanding into the U.S., given the size of the opportunity south of the border. Now, 50% of their sales are in Canada, and 50% in the U.S. They also continue to expand their vendor network internationally. “We carry rugs from Pakistan, we are looking at Brazil for upholstery and Turkey for textiles. We are already purchasing and working with factories in India, Indonesia, Vietnam and China,” says Merriman.

RBC’s Global Trade portal has helped LH Imports do business globally and has provided some peace of mind during uncertain times. “We use the RBC Global Trade platform for Letters of Credit, which are essential to our growth and enable us to purchase product based on our projections,” says Merriman. A Letter of Credit guarantees to international suppliers that they will get paid for goods or services, provided conditions have been met – for example, ordered product has been shipped. “The Letters of Credit protect our international vendors and protect LH if anything goes sideways with our vendors. These were especially key during the last two years in order to supply the increased demand in home furnishings from stay home orders,” she adds.

The secure and convenient platform, which offers easy-to-use applications, templates, reporting insights and access to historical data anytime, anywhere, also allows Merriman and her team to quickly make changes online when needed, helping them avoid production delays. “This is important as you do not want to lose your spot in production for containers as the lead time is already significant when making furniture and shipping overseas,” says Merriman, who adds that they plan to use the platform more in the future as a way to seek international vendors and customers. RBC Trade Club, for instance, can help them find, connect and be matched with new global opportunities.

Through measured growth, a focus on maintaining relationships and implementing scalable processes and technology, LH Imports is well-positioned to serve their customers – despite surging demand and supply chain challenges – and to expand globally, leveraging tools and software that can simplify international trade.