Little competition among fabricators is nice now, but what will it mean in the next decade?
Most marine fabricators have little concern about referring overflow work to other businesses. And they don’t worry much about potentially losing customers when they are backed up or projects do not match their skills, staffing or equipment capabilities. After all, what goes around comes around regarding referrals, and industry competition is minimal.
“There’s more than enough work for anybody around here,” says Tom Matson, a master canvas craftsman at the Afton (Minn.) Marina and Yacht Club.
That’s the good news generally throughout the industry. The bad news? “There’s getting to be fewer and fewer canvas shops that produce boat canvas,” says Matson.
Could fewer and fewer canvas shops mean a dying industry with a dwindling workforce of skilled help? “It’s a hands-on business, a craft,” explains Faith Roberts, owner of Banner Canvas, Ham Lake, Minn. “In spring and summer, you’re working 18 hours daily trying to capture as much work as possible before it goes into storage.”
Roberts adds that people who don’t have a passion for the work don’t survive. She says, “It’s not glamorous, and there’s a workforce that doesn’t want to work those long hours and get their hands dirty. If we as an industry don’t do something, this problem is only going to get worse.”
Fortunately, the Industrial Fabrics Association International is doing something about it. “I have been a part of The Maker’s Coalition that offers technical school training in the Twin Cities and other areas throughout the country to people interested in the canvas and upholstery business,” says Roberts. “It gives me hope that there will be a workforce that can step into the job.”