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Illustration: Ryan Snook

Candidates arriving for job interviews at Maxime Knitting typically have low expectations. Most of them have never heard of the Montreal-based company before seeing a posting, let alone “ticking”—that is, the fabric used to cover mattresses and the firm’s core product.

“They’re often reluctant at first,” says president Maxime Thériault, 31. “But once we give them a tour of the place, they’re like, ‘OK, wow.’”

Maxime Knitting’s 125,000-square-foot factory houses 60 top-of-the-line German industrial knitting machines. Each is three metres tall and resembles a jet engine turned on its side, sucking in thread from large spools. Inside, 4,800 computer-controlled needles knit long sheets of ticking fabric that’s then shipped to mattress makers. “You make the design, and two minutes later, you see the result,” explains Thériault.

The family-run company enjoyed a 274% revenue growth over the past five years, with sales in Canada, United States and Mexico, and was No. 204 on the 2016 PROFIT 500 Ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies. This year alone, Thériault plans to add 90 employees to his team of 160.

Things haven’t always been so exciting. Maxime Knitting was started in 1985 by Maxime’s father, Denis, to make textiles for the apparel industry. The company found some success, but in 2005, could no longer compete with low-cost Asian manufacturers. “My banker told me that when a business doesn’t make money, you close it,” recalls Denis, who remains CEO. Instead, he went to Europe to scope out the latest trends and technology in the textile industry, and spent $750,000 for equipment to make knit ticking, which is softer than the woven ticking common at the time. “Thinking back, it was crazy,” says Denis. “I didn’t even know what kind of thread to put in them.”

But with few knit ticking suppliers in North America at the time, the gambit paid off. For mattress makers, having a fast, reliable, local provider is key—as such, the company has a warehouse in North Carolina for U.S. customers, who can request a custom design and receive a sample within days.

Like the apparel trade before it, the mattress industry is going through deep changes, with a wave of startups, such as Casper, Endy and Yogabed selling mattresses online. But this time Maxime Knitting could benefit from the upheaval. “The people behind these companies are programming and marketing geniuses, so they outsource most of their production,” says Thériault. Sensing an opportunity, he opened a new division to cut and assemble the ticking, handling an extra step the upstarts prefer to avoid. “Most of them are our customers now,” he adds.

Thériault is currently expanding to a new area of the textile industry. He doesn’t want to give details yet, but he says it’s a niche everyone overlooks. Just like ticking.

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