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Marine fabricators find work out of water

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Pat Fleischman of Bear Creek Canvas in Spencer, Wis., has worked on boat canvases in the past, but camper work now is the company’s mainstay. He found great success working with canvases for his pop-up camper trailer repair business for some 14 years now.

Bear Creek Canvas is in the dry, central part of Wisconsin, and two factors that play into the demand for repairs of trailer canvas are mice and carpenter ants. The company receives nearly all of their business from its web site.

“We were one of the first in the industry to have a web site,” Fleischman says. “We’ve sold our repair work to such far-off locations as England, New Zealand and Chile, along with every U.S. state and Canadian province. A customer can ship a panel in need of repair to us. We’ve worked on campers from as far back as 1948.”

Bear Creek Canvas’ busy time of the year is from January to November. Now, due to a winter discount it’s offering, December is Bear Creek’s only slow month. In years past, the slow time extended from September to February or March. Since the company started offering a winter $25 discount to boost sales, it has found a lot of people taking advantage of it. Currently the backlog for items they don’t have in stock is approximately 10 weeks.

The company keeps its own patterns of many of the campers manufactured, and has gone to full-sized patterns for some of the camper sections that the company sells in large quantities. “Being able to cut 10 at a time has helped increase production, and is something to do in downtime—focus on one specific model to try to perfect its construction,” Fleischman says. “We have some 150 types of pop-up camper brands we work on. It’s almost impossible to have a pattern for all of them, so it’s good to focus on popular ones.”

Fleischman has been a Master Craftsman since 1992. In 2000, Bear Creek Canvas moved from a 1,500-square-foot building to one of nearly 10,000 square feet. The company has three full-time employees and two part-timers. The company may be hiring additional help, as the faltering economy has not affected it. In fact, because fewer new campers are being purchased, Fleischman thinks that customers are doing more repair work on the units in an effort to get more life out them.

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