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Napoleon lays off 80 workers as barbecue industry goes cold

'As supply chains and inventory become more balanced, I would expect we would look to be hiring more people,' says company president

Well-known barbecue manufacturer Napoleon, one of the region’s largest private employers, has laid off 80 full-time staff members.

And while this seems troubling, the company's president says it's nothing new at this time of year for the company, which has a large facility in Oro-Medonte Township, just outside the Barrie city limits. 

This week, Napoleon laid off 80 permanent, full-time employees from the three manufacturing facilities they have around the north end of the city. 

Napoleon president Mike Tzimas said while he understands why the layoffs are making the news, he says it's something the company has done for many years.

“I get it. We’re a very large private employer in the area, but truthfully this isn’t anything we haven’t done, pre-pandemic, for decades,” Tzimas said. 

Tzimas said that during the pandemic, Napoleon saw all-time production highs and needed to attract people in what he called a "hot labour market."

“Our casual labour model wasn’t appealing and we had to move to a permanent, full-time model,” Tzimas said. “What's unique in this situation and different from the last decade is two-fold.

"One, we’re making the same seasonal adjustment we’ve always made; it just so happens to include the permanent, full-time workers rather than the casual ones we have had," he said. “Secondly, for two years we have been adding people because during COVID there was significant turnover and absenteeism.

"Frankly, our direct labour is still 23 per cent higher than it was pre-pandemic.”

Tzimas said the dismissals are happening for various reasons, such as people getting out more as COVID restrictions have loosened.

When he started with the company just before the pandemic began, Tzimas said the number of people let go was in the area of 75 to 125, as opposed to 80 recently announced.

Napoleon has four sites in the region, including two manufacturing facilities and a logistics centre at 24 Napoleon Rd., near Penetanguishene Road and Highway 11, and one facility at 214 Bayview Dr., in Barrie's south end. Within the four facilities, Napoleon has approximately 1,300 employees.

Tzimas said it's not yet known if the company will have a hiring boost as they usually do to prepare for a busy upcoming production season.

“Our peak build-up is the first quarter, which is getting ready for the busy barbecue season in April to June, so we manufacture ahead of time,” he said. “The only caveat to that is the sheer amount of inventory that has been built up over the last couple years — we are trying now to rebalance that.

"As supply chains and inventory become more balanced, I would expect we would look to be hiring more people.”

One employee who was not let go during the recent layoffs said the mood at the facility is still relatively good and it's a great place to work. 

“We're all like one big family,” said the worker, who asked not to be identified. “I was both surprised and worried that I could be part of (the layoffs). Those that were unfortunately let go are the most recent hires, so it's a last-one-in-first-one-out kind of deal.

"With that being said, with the reductions I'm now in the situation where I'm transferring over to the 24 Napoleon Rd. location to (provide) support over there during our hearth season until we pick back up on grill season, which is around December-January time frame," he added. 

The worker said the mood Friday morning was initially not good, but there was a meeting where feelings were aired and everyone felt better after that. 

“As of now, no more people will be let go," he predicted. "However, the majority of us will get moved to the other locations to help with the production there. For me, I'm just excited to get back to working and doing the job as we've been slow and hardly working for six weeks now.”