Dave Lowitz is the owner of Lowitz Custom Shoppe in Kalispell, Mont., which is located near Glacier National Park. The shop has been family owned and operated since 1957. Dave has spent 38 years in the business, approximately 30 of them in marine canvas and upholstery. Currently, there are four people working at Lowitz Custom Shoppe; three of them are family members.
What drew you into the marine fabrication industry?
I am the third generation in my family to work at Lowitz Custom Shoppe. I started when I was in junior high school, but actually got on the payroll in 1979. We were a large upholstery and design center at that time, with 13 employees and family members. I specialized in custom auto upholstery until my dad needed extra help working on the boats. I really enjoyed working on boats and decided to specialize in custom marine canvas and interiors.
What are your areas of expertise?
I design and fabricate custom boat top sets, covers and interiors. I also fabricate commercial awnings, but boats are my favorite. I was able to learn about canvas fitting and framework design from my dad, and over the years I developed my own techniques as most people do when they gain skills and knowledge. When a customer contacts me about a boat project, we meet and talk about how they use their boat and what their needs are for a cover or top set, or maybe a complete redesign and upholstery of their existing interior. A pleasure boat customer has different needs than a fishing boat customer.
What are your biggest challenges?
One of the biggest challenges for my business is trying to get all the work done by the time summer arrives and everyone wants their boats. Winter in this part of the country can last anywhere from October to April, so you have to have the winter’s work lined up before the snow flies. It is not uncommon to be scheduling work for June by the time the boat show comes to town in February, and then we get flooded all summer long. It is a good problem, but also quite stressful making as many people happy as possible.
How do you keep up with innovations in textiles, equipment and other materials?
I read Marine Fabricator magazine and talk to all my suppliers. I do research online quite often. I try to travel and stop in at other shops whenever possible and visit with them about what people are looking for in their areas of the country.
How do you recruit and develop employees?
We downsized in the 1980s to just the family, so we have complete control over quality and costs of production. We actually make more of a profit with just the four of us than we ever did with 13 employees plus the family. We have been able to stay very busy year-round the last several years and have enough business that we could easily expand. I decided last year to bring on another person to learn the canvas side of the business. He works side by side with me and learns by watching me design, measure and fit the canvas for a project. He has also been learning to carpet boats. My daughter Kayla is a fourth-generation worker in my business and is extremely talented. She specializes in marine upholstery and has been a huge help.
Why are you an MFA member?
I decided to become an MFA member because we are in a small town and isolated from other people in the industry. Being an MFA member opens the door to meeting other people in the industry and there are some good training opportunities available.