General International … if the name doesn’t sound familiar, it soon will. For the past few years, the Montreal-based company has brought the well-known General woodworking equipment, plus a few unique pieces of their own, into the American market. Search “General International” in the archives of any woodworking forum and you’ll find plenty of conversation about the company and its products.
Christian Chérnier, vice president and one of the owners of General International, recently updated us on the company’s products and strategy.
The company was specifically set up to enter the United States market. According to Christian, they’re mostly active in the Midwest and on the West Coast. But with the addition of a new representative in Philadelphia, that will soon be changing. They’re also planning a larger presence at the Atlanta-based International Woodworking Fair (IWF) show coming up in August.
“We’ve sold some equipment to other countries … Russia and Mexico,” noted Christian, “But our plate is full with Canada and the USA. That’s plenty big for right now.”
Another point in the company’s favor is its clearly defined market focus.
“Unlike the competition, we are not also in the hydraulic business, not in metalworking, nor in material handling.” Christian explained, “We are in woodworking. Period.”
An important aspect of their strategy was the decision to work mostly through medium-sized distributors. That means they’ve deliberately avoided going through the big box outlets such as Lowe’s or Home Depot.
“You’ve got to walk before you can run,” explained Christian, “And our dealers really appreciate the extra service we can give them.”
To remain competitive, the General International is continually upgrading its products. Christian cited their contractor’s saw as a good example.
“We kept the same model number, but it’s really sixth or seventh generation now,” he clarified. “It’s a beautiful saw and we’re trying to keep price at the same level.”
Fabricated offshore under strict supervision and quality control, that same saw also features a fence with a noble pedigree. For many years, the company made a fence for Biesemeyer. When Biesemeyer was bought out by Delta, General decided to continue making it under its own name in Canada. A magazine review a few years ago came to the conclusion that there was no difference in performance between it and the Biesemeyer.
Not content to rest on its laurels, the company continues to innovate.
“Our machines have features you don’t find anywhere else,” explained Christian. “Our mortiser has a tilting head. Our new tenon jig works for right and left table saws. A lot of people claim theirs can be adapted for both. But — probably because I’m a woodworker, too — ours is made specifically to work on either. We’ve even applied for a patent on the design!”
Safety is also a priority. On every machine, all the pulleys are orange, all the guards are yellow, and all the inserts are orange or red. The fact that these colors also look really good with General International green, noted Christian, was a happy coincidence.
What else is in the works? The company is currently working on a downdraft table for routers and sanders and a new, higher capacity bandsaw. Like all General International products, the new equipment will be cast-iron.