Unilock – How it all started
In 1972, a European stone mason, installing a fireplace at our family home north of Toronto, sparked an idea. That discussion would mark the early beginnings of the establishment of the first successful paving stone manufacturer in North America, Unilock®. We are proud that Unilock continues to be a family owned business which has grown to employ over 500 people in Canada and the United States.
Ed Bryant was new to concrete manufacturing when he and Heather, his wife, started building the business together. Ed’s early years in the military combined with his experience in both the construction and computer businesses provided him with the endurance, relationships, ‘know-how’ and the ‘sense of urgency’ to make the vision a reality. He credits, “a great product, great people, perseverance, planning and some luck” for Unilock’s ongoing success.
Leveraged to the max, Unilock was founded on humble beginnings focused on providing a quality product to a new market. It probably isn’t a stretch to say that the market didn’t know what a paver was, never mind the inherent benefits and installation requirements. Fortunately, Ed was able to develop European connections to provide the seed money to put the vision into motion. These investors had grown up with segmental paving products in Europe and were willing to take the risk of developing the North American market with Ed at the helm.
Not only was investment required for the first production facility in Barrie, Ontario, but Ed knew that the investment in marketing was key to success. The market had to be educated. The aesthetic and functional benefits of the paver over more traditional paving products had to be communicated to the fragmented mom and pop dealers, installers, architects, designers and to the homeowner. Ongoing investment in people, marketing and innovation ensures that our customers continue to have access to unparalleled business building resources.
The first Unilock installations continue to endure with resilient beauty, whether residential or commercial. Our family home is one of the original residential applications. The Unistone® product looks as good as ever. One of the first commercial jobs was the 1974 installation at the Toronto Zoo, sold by Heather. Proper installation of our quality pavers ensures that these pieces of history will continue to remind us of our history of quality.
Unilock continued to grow through the building boom of the 1980’s as plants were constructed around the greater Toronto area. By 1984, the first Unilock US operation, in Buffalo, was established; this was the start of the Unilock presence in north eastern US. By the 1990’s, production facilities were in full operation on the outskirts of Chicago, Detroit, New York, Boston and Cleveland.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Like other successful companies, Unilock has withstood the highs and lows of the economy. We like to think that we have even turned some of these economic challenges into opportunities. Diligently managing our cash, we have been able to seize opportunity and continue to innovate when most of the market was focused on cut-backs. During the 1990’s recession, the competition looked on with disbelief when, Unilock introduced a new product that used secondary processing to batter and bruise pristinely pressed product to look prematurely aged. We fondly call this the first North American tumbled product; Unilock’s Brussels Block®. Since its introduction, we have been flattered by the numerous copies of this product as we have continued to bring new and improved innovations to market, like the unparalleled durability and natural aesthetic appeal of RichCliff®.
Exclusive international relationships we have with other manufacturing and concrete design groups provide Unilock the unique advantage to harness global innovations. The meetings with these groups not only serve as a platform to share successful ideas, but also those that didn’t work out so well. We all know that local markets have unique tastes, but there are also solutions to shared problems that benefit the international market.
Dirt, grime and in particular gum are an unsightly reality in all markets. Rain and street cleaners can do their best to clean pavement surfaces, but gum has traditionally been stubborn to remove. Don’t forget the oil left by a delivery truck in your driveway or the food spilled at your recent patio party? Metten’s German innovation delivers new StayClean technology to facilitate ease of cleaning of all stubborn stains including gum, oil and food. Unilock exclusively brings you this technology in our Select Umbriano® product which boasts beauty and stain resistance for both commercial and residential applications.
Almost 40 years later, Unilock has not forgotten its humble beginnings. Our employees, some that have been with us since the beginning, continue to evolve with the market while maintaining our brand values. Integrity, passion and innovation are words set in stone to give us that daily nudge.
We continue to learn a great deal from our successes and our mistakes as we endeavor to pursue the ultimate in paving technology.