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Shop organization tips and techniques

Feature | July 1, 2017 | By:

“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned.” That sage advice from American founding father Benjamin Franklin holds true for any marine fabrication business, because an organized shop can improve employee efficiency and affect the bottom line all while keeping customers coming back for more.

Streamlined Processes

Marine fabricators are always looking for ways to stretch space and resources while improving efficiencies. For some, it’s a necessity: High property prices mean less shop space for the money. For others, it’s a reaction to an uptick in business and a need for better-organized processes. For still others, it’s part of a quest for simplicity in a busy work environment.

Just ask married couple Kathy and Al Marozzi. They are two of the three owners of Bayview Canvas, a marine fabrication business that offers custom marine canvas and upholstery in Little Egg Harbor, N.J. Al Marozzi started Bayview Canvas as a small operation in 2009. The couple’s son Jamie began the gradual process of taking over the business a few years ago; he now heads up the shop’s estimating, patterning, installs, client meetings and decisions on prioritizing work projects. While Al handles much of the shop organization, Kathy has come on board during the last couple of years as the office manager.

“Our building is about 3,200 square feet. We are a true family-owned and -run operation with three owners all involved in the operation and two to three full- or part-time employees,” says Kathy Marozzi, who was interviewed for this article.

Charlie Kees, owner of Mister Sew-N-Sew Custom Canvas, relies on well-organized shelving units to streamline his design and production processes.

“We started in the basement of our house, moved to a small apartment, then to a large barn on our property; then two years ago we moved to the current space we have,” Kathy says. “We worked out of the barn for about five years; it was an old horse barn that we totally renovated. We finally just grew out of it and found the space we are currently in. We rent the current building from a marina and are very happy with the space. We moved at a crazy time of year for us, in April, and we basically moved a couple of worktables, one sewing machine, a chair for our sewer, sat him down so he could keep working, and then moved in around him for the next few weeks.”

The team at Bayview Canvas handles all types of work on boats, including covers, enclosures, biminis, winter covers, cushion upholstery and carpeting. Bayview Canvas also makes outdoor kitchen covers and porch enclosures for residential or commercial applications.

“We have one large workshop area that houses most of the worktables and shelving,” Kathy says. “We have the worktables lined up in three long rows, with wide paths between, a workbench along a back wall with supplies that are easy to get to, and shelving along two walls, with space to pass by without any difficulty.” Although many of their tables are stationary, seven tables are on wheels for easy movement and accessibility.

In addition, Bayview has three sewing areas in this room—one for each of the three rows—that are niched in, so they are not in the way. The company’s middle room accommodates a long set of tables (24 feet x 8 feet) put together for the Bayview plotter. They also store their finished upholstery projects in this room and have a small lunch table area. An additional room offers space for an office with three desks, file storage, printer, copier and a bathroom.

Bayview’s customers enter the shop through a door into the middle room, which has been set up with pictures of completed projects, as well as sample books of fabrics, vinyls and carpet—either hung or on shelves for clients to see.
Although large, the area for the Bayview team to work in requires creative storage planning. “We have a 40-foot-long storage bench that runs along the back of our workroom that stores all of the hardware in open bins, including rolls of tape and binding, tools and other sewing needs,” Kathy says. “We store our canvas and vinyl in rolls underneath the worktables on shelves. We have tall shelves that run along two walls for incoming and outgoing projects. We also have another area that we hang our completed curtains from on a track system. We hang zippers along a wall by size and color. And we also have a dedicated wall for a bender and crowner, and in the middle room we store our completed cushion work.”

Bayview’s sewers like to be in charge of their work areas and keep them neat. “We do cleaning and sweeping on a constant basis and make sure tools are kept where they are needed,” Kathy says. “We have different work bags that are kept in the van and go with the guys doing patterning and installing. Those have to be kept filled up with supplies. Everything has its place. That doesn’t mean things don’t get left out. My husband is constantly going around putting things back.”

Creative organization

When Tammy Golden first started Aureus Custom Canvas in Pasadena, Md., she began in the basement of her home, which offered about 200 square feet of space. She spent a little over a year in this small workshop before moving to her current larger location, which provides about 1,100 square feet of space for Golden and one employee.

“At this time, I fabricate upholstery and canvas—both interior and exterior, all specifically for the marine industry,” Golden says. “My shop is set up to take advantage of every square inch of space and includes the ability to handle small to large projects. Large tables accommodate layout, cutting, joining of products to final sewing.”

Golden’s storage strategy is simple, yet focused toward efficiency. “My sewing table includes my sewing machines and area to sit in front of them. My tables are at a working height to allow me to stand or sit on a high stool and have heavy-duty rollers on them—providing us the ability to move them around as needed. I have a designated area for my tools that are close, but yet out of the way of my work area,” Golden says.

Safety is always top priority at Aureus Custom Canvas, with tables featuring locking wheels, OSHA-compliant sewing stools and dangerous tools kept out of harm’s way. “We always wear safety equipment when handling any dangerous sprays or cutting tools,” Golden says.

While Golden has a designated entrance for customers, she has no need for a storefront display area. Due to the custom design and fabrication of her work, each project is geared toward each client’s unique requirements.

“The reality is, my storefront is each of my customers’ yachts,” Golden says. “I do keep my shop extremely clean, well-organized and I use all natural and LED lighting. When my customers enter, they are always amazed at how clean and organized I am.”

To help streamline the production processes in her shop, Golden has movable shelving on wheels that can be rearranged for large projects. “My tables include wheels so they, too, can be reconfigured for different tasks. The only tables that are stationary are the sewing table and sewing machines,” Golden says. “My best practices are those that make it easy to find the right tool when I need it and to maintain a clean and neat work environment.”

Sorted and labeled

Golden has fabrics stored by type and color in appropriate areas for easy access. Vinyl glass products are rolled, stored and labeled by gauge with protection to guard against scratching. Zippers are stored by length and the shop’s different snaps are stored in labeled containers to allow for shop or field use. All scrap fabric is placed in labeled bins by color.

Golden says she learned the best organizational techniques from colleagues in the marine fabrication business. “My mentors at Hood Canvas and Marine Training have been my technological influencers,” Golden says. “They have many years in the business and know what works well. I look to them often as they are always on the cutting edge of design techniques and aware of the latest tools and gadgets that work best in the business. I also read several magazines like Marine Fabricator magazine and Specialty Fabrics Review and I attend the Marine Fabricator yearly conference and local regional workshops; plus, I attend my local Chesapeake Marine Canvas Fabricators Association conference yearly.”

To help keep everyone working in her shop aware of the organizational processes that are in place, Golden uses simple policies. For starters, all tools are unique to their purpose, and the tools and equipment are cleaned and returned to their appropriate place after use. If a tool or piece of equipment isn’t functioning well, work stops immediately, the tool or equipment is fixed right away and then work continues.

“Quality is second only to safety,” Golden says. “At the end of every day, all employees’ workspace is cleaned, which includes sweeping, garbage taken out and the table washed, if necessary, and ready to start the next day’s work.”

Embracing what works

Charlie Kees, owner of Mister Sew-N-Sew Custom Boat Canvas, in Waterford, N.Y., is a one-person business with an on-site shop located on his home property. Being a one-person shop means that Kees has developed an organizational system using peg boards, towering well-organized shelving units and other methods that suit him.

Mister Sew-N-Sew produces cockpit upholstery, instrument panels, v-berth cushions and bedding cushions, and most types of marine seating.

“I have my shop organized in such a way that everything I need is always within reach,” Kees says. Kees designed and created a mesh covering for his shop door that allows fresh air into his shop while keeping out debris, dirt and insects. This mesh structure is an innovative way to use fabric as a “door” while maintaining his shop’s safety, cleanliness and security.

“Not only does this let me keep fresh air flowing throughout my space, but I can also keep watch to see if people are approaching my shop, which is situated in a residential area,” Kees says. “People going by can’t see into my shop at all, but I can see out.”

To allow for an open environment in his shop, Charlie Kees, owner of Mister Sew-N-Sew, utilizes a mesh screen covering as his shop’s front door.
Your process, your way

Like Kees, Tammy Hampton, owner of The Cover Girl in Buford, Ga., also works onsite at her home and oversees a 750-square-foot workspace plus a foam loft and a 250-square-foot shipping department. Hampton offers upholstery (primarily marine, outdoor living), marine canvas, prototyping, race car industry specialty covers, marine drapery, marine bedding, miscellaneous bags and industrial requests.

The Cover Girl has three sewing stations, each with under-table storage. Two stations face each other at opposite ends of a 27-foot by 8-foot table. The smaller station is at an 8-foot by 6-foot table. The shop also has two large racks for completed work and work waiting. Tools are stored in an under-table tool chest and rolling metal rack for mobility.

“We also have storage shelves, many of which are out of sight, with labeled bins—such as grommets, furniture upholstery, brackets, etc. We do keep wire baskets at each sewing machine; these are really just upcycled Laundromat baskets,” Hampton says. “These are one of the best things we have ever used. We can put in miscellaneous scrap, projects waiting for sewing or really anything we wish to temporarily get off the main table and out of the way. We also have a hoist-style cardboard carpet tube that we can put enclosure panels over and lift up and out of the way when we need the extra room.”

In terms of advice for other marine fabricators looking to enhance their shop’s organization, Kees says it’s important to establish a system that works well for you and your processes.

“Everybody’s shop is different,” Kees says. “I organize my shop in a way that works well for me and how I manage my projects.” In the end, industry experts agree that it is important for marine fabricators to continue to monitor key measures of success to identify opportunities for improvement in their shops’ organization. Ask what’s working and what’s not. Then make tweaks to optimize business results and roll out your enhanced organizational strategy to your employees.

Maura Keller is a freelance writer from Plymouth, Minn.

  • Get rid of unnecessary stuff. Be ruthless about clutter. If you absolutely must keep more than you can store in your shop, face it: It’s time for mini-storage. Figure out what can go in the storage bin and then create a log of the items that have been stored.
  • Take advantage of unused space. Use overlooked space in your facility for storage. Be creative and evaluate how every inch of your shop can be used to its fullest potential.
  • Think vertical. The beauty of wall storage is it’s inexpensive and easy. By installing shelving units or wall racks, you can add a significant amount of storage space to your existing rooms without purchasing expensive storage units. Don’t miss the space above the door. This is an ideal spot for key tools and other items that you typically grab on your way out the door, perhaps to work on a vessel in a marina rather than in your shop.
  • Devote only the most frequently used items to your most active space. Try to eliminate clutter in high-traffic areas of your shop.

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