Plantation Shutters – Chinese Made vs Australian Made
Timber Plantation Shutters with their clean linear lines and classical good looks have always been a sought after window furnishing treatment. More than 10 years ago, they were the realm of the high end segment of the window furnishing market and I would say a big investment for anyone thinking of purchasing them. A common complaint I would always hear is that they were unaffordable. Back then most of them were made right here in Australia with the most common timber choice being cedar, cedar or cedar.
Over time there were big changes in the industry with custom made ones being imported from overseas factories such as China, Indonesia and Russia etc at substantially lower prices. For the sake of this blog I will only be discussing the Chinese vs Australian made.
Downturn for the Australian Manufacturers
As more and more retailers began selling imported ones, the manufacturing industry could not compete with the overseas competition driving the price down, and eventually forcing many of these manufacturers to either close their doors or to start importing timber shutters.
Even though I aggressively support Australian made, the reality is that the market place has dictated that there is a huge demand for cheaper overseas products. With prices dropping, so was their demand increasing as they became more mainstream and affordable.
With the flood of timber plantation shutters into the Australian market also came the increase of timber varieties, composite materials, stains and finishes, carvings as well as also huge fluctuations in their quality.
Who am I to talk about this?
Being a modest person, I still feel I should validate my background and expertise if you’d like to call it that!
My experience with plantation shutters in Melbourne is as an installer. I have personally fitted thousands of timber panels and frames over almost 2 decades. I am also very familiar with the manufacturing processes and also have very experienced peers in the industry. I have installed both local and imported products from many different manufacturers.
As an installer I was pretty much the person at the end of the line. It did not matter how glossy and pretty the brochures looked, or what the sales rep said about how good their products were, I was the person who saw what really came out the other end, and let me tell you it was not always good.
In the early years of installing them, I was only ever installing Australian made. Like everything in this world, there were good manufacturers, bad manufacturers and everything in between. I worked with companies who consistently supplied good quality items. They had great systems in place to produce and deliver excellent quality panels, starting from the quality of their timber, through to their manufacturing, componentry and final finish, even the way their products were handled, packed and shipped. I have also installed products from some very big and well know blind companies, whom I will not name, but who manufacture shutters here in Australia that consistently failed in every way, from their design, manufacturing, poor finishes, bad packaging and missing parts. So the moral of this story is that just because it is made in Australia doesn’t always necessarily mean it is going to be a great buy! Like I said, I aggressively support Australian made and would preferably sell something made right here in our country, but let’s call a spade a spade, not all manufacturers are equal.
When Chinese plantation shutters first started to appear on the Australian market place, it was just a trickle that would soon become a flood. At first, I was pretty resistant to installing anything but Australian made ones. The quality of the products I first began installing from some retailers were pretty lousy. I was receiving Chinese made timber panels that were packed with their paint still wet, only to be stuck to the packaging when we tried to unpack them. I would also find uneven frames, warped louvres, different coloured panels and components and the list goes on and on.
As I installed more and more Chinese made shutters from various manufacturers, I found that similar to the Australian manufacturers, there were also Chinese companies supplying good quality products. Their panels were well constructed and finished with very few need for returns and well-priced. There are a lot of scare mongerers who are preaching that all Chinese made are of substandard quality when this is simply not true.
“Is what you pay for really what your going get?”
Even though this sits very true today, it is not entirely the case. There are organisations selling cheap shutters who are misleading people about their quality and selling them for exorbitant prices. On the flip side though, to buy well-constructed window furnishings, you will always pay a premium price for them. It simply costs more to make these products regardless of whether they are made in Australia or China.
How low can the price be?
There are companies peddling extremely cheap imported plantation shutters. So buyers, beware. Most of the time, there is such a huge variance in quality. It can sometime be hard for the end consumer to know what they are going to get until they are finally installed. At the end of the day, based on the retailer’s true representation of the product they are selling, you as a consumer have to determine your reason for buying the item, your budget and what is important to you when it comes to quality vs price and the country of origin.
Other Factors that determining price
Country of origin and retail margins are not the only factors that will determine the end price to the consumer. Here are just a few others;
How they are constructed, e.g their design, how they are jointed (are they mortise & tenon joints or just dowel joints), the level of craftsmanship, the quality of componentry. Just remember that better craftsmanship does cost more.
The type and quality of materials that are used in to construct them play a big role in determining the final price. There are also panels made from various materials such as composites, plastics and aluminium. The timber can be joinery grade, finger jointed, laminated or craftwood type composites. The actual species of timber used to construct them such as Cedar, Basswood or Phoenix Wood will have a bearing on the final price. Just ask the person selling you the product about what they are actually made of.
The Final Finish
How is the plantation shutter going to be finished….. will it be painted, stained, oiled, lacquered etc. The type of finish and number of coats will vary the final price. What is the quality of the finish and how many coats of paint will the manufacturer put on the raw product.
The installation is another component of the final price. There are literally thousands of installation scenarios….too many to discuss in this blog which does have a direct impact on the final price. A straightforward ground level fit will always be cheaper than a high window installation which may require height access equipment. The location of the installation may be remote, or the installer may be fixing to crumbly bricks and the variations go on and on.
Some questions to ask yourself when purchasing
- Why buy?
Apart from the obvious reason such as, privacy, light & heat control or wanting that ideal look, are they being installed in a rental property, are you buying them for your dream house, are you preparing a house for sale, is it going in a low or high traffic area of the home etc.
- What is my budget and what I am prepared to spend?
At the end of the day, if you have a budget and you must have plantation shutters, this will determine the quality, material used and country of origin.
- Is it important for me that the product to be made in Australia?
If you are prepared to pay a little extra, Australia has some world class window furnishings.
- How much quality am I prepared to compromise for price?
Assuming that the person selling you the products has given you a fair price, only you can decide what you are willing to compromise in terms of quality, timber species, design etc to meet your budget.
- What type of material would I like my shutters to be made from?
What plantation timber species, composite material, plastics, aluminium etc
I would conclude that good quality Chinese timber plantation shutters will stack up well against premium Australian made ones provided we are comparing apples with apples in terms of the type of materials used, design and construction, finishes as well as components. The Australian made do have the additional advantage of having a quicker turnaround. When you support our local economy, there is also the possibility of getting some manufacturers to have your timber recoated when they start to look a bit tired many years down the track.
Even though Chinese window furnishing products generally do have a longer lead time, a good quality one can be great value for money.
Unfortunately there are a lot of cowboys out there peddling all sorts of things. So you really need to do your research, ask lots of questions and also ask yourself what is important to you when considering to buy your window furnishings.
Finally, please keep in mind that the manufacturer of a quality timber plantation shutter is as only as good as the person measuring it and the person installing it, regardless of which country it is made in and how well it is built.