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Owners share what tools they’d like to see in their shops

Miscellaneous | May 1, 2013 | By:

Shop owners who have built up businesses from the garage, patio or basement can be proud of their accomplishments. But by their very nature, entrepreneurs rarely stop dreaming.

“I would like more shaded space outside for customers’ boats, because I have run out of space inside. We are looking at permits for that,” says Mike Erickson, owner of Canvas Designers in Riviera Beach, Fla. This year, Erickson plans to buy embroidery and quilting machines (operations he has been outsourcing). But he has another item on his wish list.

“We always need talent,” he says. “I can’t keep up with what’s coming in my door.”

If he could have another piece of equipment in his Afton, Minn., shop, Tom Matson says he’d like an automated tubing bender to replace the hand bender that allows room for error. “It would be nice to slide the tube in and program the computer and stand back and watch,” he says.

In Harpswell, Maine, Mobile Marine Canvas owner Seth Hetherington’s ultra-dream shop would have a Carlson plotter/cutter to store patterns for future replacements and the cutting of fabric specific to the custom projects he builds. He also would have a building that was at least 80 feet long to accommodate the plotter/cutter. “And right across from the plotter, you would have layout tables,” he says. “You would have different work stations: biminis, dodgers, enclosures and upholstery. … The shop would be located on site at a local boatyard with deep water and a travel lift to haul in boats.”

Allerton Harbor Canvas owner Jay Hanks also longs for a CAD plotter/cutter. But he finds the cost prohibitive and says, “I might have to add a mezzanine” to his Hull, Maine, operation.

Hanks’ ideal shop would include a garage that could accommodate large boats. “I rent from a space that has a garage, but often they’re filled,” he says.

“The one thing I have always wanted and never been able to spend the money on is a long-neck sewing machine. But we have always gotten along without it,” says Larry Schneider, owner of Milwaukee’s Homestyle Custom Upholstery.

Mike Bennett is happy with his Toronto location, which is at the axis of major highway arteries and is about two blocks from Lake Ontario, but would like a long-arm sewing machine and a boat that he could use to service his clients on Toronto Island (he now uses a ferry to reach them). He’s got two full-time sewers and an assistant to help him off-site in the summer and considers himself lucky to have found people who “fit the mold” for his operation.

“This type of business requires an aptitude, and it requires foresight—an ability to visualize things in many different dimensions,” he says. “To find people that are capable of that and also interested in producing something of a higher quality—for me, that would be the No. 1 thing that makes the dream shop.”

“I’m happy with my shop, but it was too small the day we moved in back in 2003,” says Mike’s Marine Canvas owner Mike Johnson in Virginia Beach, Va. “We really need twice as much space to be really efficient, but not paying that extra rent has saved us a bunch as the economy has shriveled. So we make do with what we have. If I had more room or a second shop next door, I would get a heat sealer for doing waterproof seams and porch-style curtains.

“My dream shop would be at a busy marina with enough employees to get the job done, but not so many to worry about keeping them busy—plus a huge barn to drive the boats inside when weather strikes and three times the square footage we currently have—for the same rent. Keep dreaming!”

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer from San Diego, Calif.

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