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Shop talk with Keith Purves of Riverside Covers

September 1st, 2012 / By: / In the Shop

How did you get started?

Our company was started in 1987 by my mother, Linda Rhoades, out of her home on the river in east Fort Myers, thus inspiring the name Riverside Covers. Like many canvas fabricators, skills of the trade were taught to the next generation. I began learning from my mother at a young age, later working as her apprentice, then business partner, and I now run the business with my wife, Tammy.

What is your product focus?

We fabricate all aspects of custom marine canvas and upholstery, “from
the bimini to the carpet.”

What unique design elements are built into
your products?

We emphasize using only the best-quality products with time-tested results, and excellent warranties to
back them up.

What other products do you produce?

We fabricate high-end outdoor patio cushions, and outdoor kitchen covers to protect expensive custom-made patio grill islands with granite counters and stainless steel appliances and grills. These items use the same types of materials and techniques as custom marine canvas, and are easily merged into our product offerings.

Describe your shop layout.

In 1992 we moved into a 20-foot-by-50-foot shop. In 2000 we expanded by taking a unit next door, increasing our space to 2,000 square feet. Then, in 2009, my mother left our shop due to health reasons, the economy was in the tank, and our lease was up for renewal. After long deliberation, we decided to reduce the size of our shop and go back to the original 1,000 square feet.

Let me tell you, its not easy squeezing 2,000 square feet of “stuff” into 1,000 square feet of space. To compensate for lost floor space, we took advantage of the high ceilings and open air nature of our shop by moving up and out. We expanded the size of our overhead foam loft to 8 feet by 50 feet and stacked shelves to ceiling height for less-often used items. Outside, we added shade sails and an 8-foot-by-8-foot shed to increase storage.

Along with a traditional sewing and layout table, we have an additional table outside that is used for cushion stripping, plastic cutting, gluing, and all things messy. I pay for square feet, but I use cubic feet.

After attending the MFA convention in New Orleans last January, we were inspired by Bill Ashley’s (Seafarer Canvas) seminar titled “closing the deal.” We repurposed the front of our shop from having just cleaners and sample books, to having a photo gallery of our work, recent awards and a few pictures of my latest catch. By adding a few stools and a table, we created a space to speak with customers and finalize job details, all without feeling like we are standing in the middle of the workshop.

How do you track your inventory?

We use a streamlined and organized visual system of inventory tracking. All of our small parts and fasteners are in labeled bins, with part numbers and descriptions written on them. Our spools of binding are stored on pegs out in the open where we can see them. Our fabric is stored under the table behind a clear curtain, and zippers are stored in boxes labeled with quantity, size and color. It is in no way high-tech, but it is practical and effective.

How do you market
your business?

I am big on showing product and workmanship samples to prospective customers during the initial sales call. I am always surprised to hear that I was the only shop to show any samples during an estimate appointment. We also offer guarantees to our customers that many shops do not. Along with the standard fabric guarantee, we offer a written lifetime guarantee on the thread, as well as a satisfaction guarantee and lifetime workmanship guarantee on our storage covers. Our thought is that if it is built properly to begin with, it is easy to stand behind.

What do you do to stay busy in the off-season?

A few years ago, Tammy created a website that drives a considerable amount of business to our door. Being in southwest Florida means that our seasons are reverse of the rest of the country. We stay busy year-round, but our busiest season is January through April.

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