Derek Steere and Lauren Cohen are the owners of San Juan Canvas Co., located in Friday Harbor, Wash. They have been in business for nine years and design and fabricate many custom marine canvas products including dodgers, hatch covers and enclosures. They also repair sails, fabricate a variety of canvas tote bags and build custom cabinetry and furniture.
What drew you into the marine fabrication industry?
Opportunity knocked! Though we both had a love of boats and Derek had a lifetime of experience sewing, boating, building and problem solving, we had not originally planned to become marine canvas fabricators when we moved from California to Friday Harbor. Living in the boating-centric San Juan Islands inspired us to take a chance on a new career when San Juan Canvas came up for sale in 2009.
What are your areas of expertise?
We consider our areas of expertise to be problem solving and creativity. We are up for almost any challenge a customer presents
and we do whatever we need to do to bring their vision to reality. Customer service and excellent communication are primary values
of our business.
How do you keep up with innovations in textiles, equipment and other materials?
We keep up with the latest innovations in marine fabrication primarily through the MFA both with publications and workshops. Also, online forums of fellow fabricators are very helpful, as are one-on-one conversations with colleagues who we have found to be generous and forthcoming with ideas and strategies.
We are a small husband-and-wife business with just one part-time employee to help with repairs and our bag business. We have never wanted to grow larger so we have not had to worry about the recruitment of employees.
What are your biggest challenges?
Our biggest challenge is time. Being a small business with only one primary fabricator usually means that larger canvas projects have a long wait time. We are often booked three to four months out, which is a frustration, but we have made the decision that we prefer to maintain control and choose quality and working to an exact schedule. Our scheduling structure allows customers to know exactly when we will begin work and when we will finish.
Why are you an MFA member?
We are MFA members because we want to support the professional organizations that promote, build and uplift the quality of our industry. The MFA encourages professionalism and good business practices. We always learn from the publications, workshops and annual conference, which have proven to be excellent. The networking with other fabricators is invaluable and the MFA helps to facilitate that while providing inspiration to improve and learn.