Shop talk with Darren Arthur of Nautilux Custom Canvas

Published On: January 1, 2012Categories: In the Shop

Grass roots

I worked for a small sail loft and canvas shop during high school and college while I studied engineering. After getting married, I wanted a more steady career because the sail making and design path I chose was very time and travel intensive.

I took what I knew and started Nautilux Custom Canvas in my garage with one machine.

I got my first few jobs through people I knew while at the sail loft, and word of mouth took it from there. I did my first boat show in the fall of 2003, where I got several jobs and made several key connections.

Main customers

We do a lot of work with marinas as their exclusive canvas shop. Several dealers use us exclusively. Most customers are individuals.

Shop layout

Three machines: two for finishing and one set up for binding only. One large table with machines on three sides and a long cutting area on the fourth side. A workbench. Panel storage hung from the 18-foot ceiling. Loft of balcony built to hold foam; under that, cubbies for good scrap cloth, items in for service and pattern storage. Racks for bent frames, several hundred feet of stainless tubing and EZ2CY glass. Two large pull-out drawers hold all soft glass flat for quick access. Tubes to hold track and scrap stainless; tip-out bins for hardware. Front office with samples, pictures and awards.

Product focus

The bulk of our work is with dodgers, biminis, enclosures and upholstery, but we’ll do whatever a customer wants. I’ve always focused more on quality and service than the type of product.

When I started, I needed to learn what the area dictated as far as the types of products and how they were made. Service was lacking in the New Jersey area and I got several jobs just because I showed up and was on time. I made it my mission to return phone calls, be on time and just do what I said I would do.


Phone calls are recorded on a work order form and a meeting is set up with the customer. Quotes are usually sent by email. When deposit is received, the work order is filled out with job description and sent to job rack on shop floor. The work orders track time and materials. When job is complete, work orders are turned into the office and the job is billed out. The floor process is simple since we are a small company. The person who patterns will oversee the production or produce it himself. That person will also install.


We schedule first-come, first-served based on when the deposit is received. We do leave some room for emergencies and rush jobs for dealers.

Weather is a big factor. Weekly schedules are done Monday mornings using weather as a guide. I view it as setting the goals for the week.

Daily tasks and goals are written into a calendar, which is adjusted as the week goes on. Customers are not given a specific date that the job will be done, but rather a three-to-four-week window. However, if they request a date, we try to make it happen.

In the off-season

We give incentives to customers who order late in the season to provide work during the winter months. I keep a list throughout the year of candidates for upholstery work to be done in the off-season.

We build a number of standardized items, which gives us a jump on the warm months.

This is also a good time for employee training and to clean shop and organize.


We partner with another shop that does not overlap business. We share info, referrals, advertising costs and a booth at a boat show.

We donate to and sponsor events at local yacht clubs and fishing tournaments.

We have an informal partnership with several charter boats that we work on. In exchange, they write blogs or post on their website about Nautilux.