Marine plywood maker Santa Clara pitches product to homebuilders too

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IN General Santos City, boat makers and hard ware stores have one lingo for marine plywood: Santa Clara.

A plant worker cuts plywood — SMWPI Wood products, Inc.

“It’s like Colgate. When they buy plywood, they say Santa Clara. They don’t say plywood,” Randy Ng, executive vice president and part-owner of SMWPI Wood Products, Inc., the company behind Santa Clara, said in a recent interview.

Marine plywood is used for building fishing boats, or bancas, so that the tuna fishing capital of the Philippines is one of the company’s “strongest markets,” he said.

How the 94-year-old manufacturer made a mark in that tuna fishing industry could be largely traced to its quality testing — its plywood could withstand the elements.

The company makes its own plywood, the raw material coming from Eucalyptus trees planted in Uruguay – a supply strategy it employs as supply issues niggle Philippine wood manufacturers amid a government moratorium on logging and one that’s different from other local plywood sellers that import finished plywood from China.

At its mill in Davao, Santa Clara boils Eucalyptus wood for 72 hours. “They cannot delaminate. The most important thing is for it to withstand the 72-hour heat test,” Mr. Ng explains.

Marine plywood maker Santa Clara pitches product to homebuilders too
Boat maker builds the framework for a bancaSMWPI Wood products, Inc.

“The principle of plywood is veneer stuck together and glued together. The grain is always intersecting each other for every ply… The plies cannot separate – that’s what I meant by delaminate.”

That’s the process that prevents the plywood from swelling, so that for boat makers “it’s cheaper at the end of the day because you renovate less,” Mr. Ng said.

“If they buy inferior plywood, it won’t last. The downtime repair and copper nails will come out more expensive,” he added.

It’s the same pitch that the company is making to home builders and furniture makers. To builders, marine plywood can be used for asphalt shingle roofing, ceiling and wall panels. To furniture makers, marine plywood would be the building block for kitchen cabinets, tables and counters.

“An architect told me they use our product for flooring. Usually they buy narra, and beneath the narra, they put a layer of plywood to absorb moist,” Mr. Ng said.

Marine plywood maker Santa Clara pitches product to homebuilders too
A worker checks inventory. — SMWPI Wood products, Inc.

“Wood is always moving depending on climate. If it’s humid, it expands. If it’s dry weather, it contracts. That’s the main problem with flooring in houses that’s why you will see cracks in the joints.”

“So they put marine plywood underneath the solid wood flooring to absorb the moist,” Mr. Ng explained.

Santa Clara has tapped Wilcon Depot, Inc. to help it sell marine plywood to retailers. It earlier had been distributing its product on a wholesale basis.

Plywood in the home makes it cooler, he said, as the material can be used as insulation instead of concrete. Cooler homes allow for lesser energy consumption apart from the fact that wood flooring is more conducive to walking bare foot compared to cold cement floors.

The company also takes pride in having its Uruguay supplier certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) that makes sure that the wood comes only from well-managed forests across the world.

“Eucalyptus is renewable. We’re using renewable resources. Our plywood is more durable so you end up with less waste on the wood so you save the forest,” Mr. Ng said. — Maria Eloisa I. Calderon