When Rick Berkey’s marine shop was closed for three months due to COVID-19 restrictions, “it became clear we couldn’t rely on marine work alone to sustain us and our employees during the ebbs and flows of market changes,” he says. Berkey is the owner of Rick’s Custom Marine Canvas and Sail Repair, based in Cornelius, N.C. He discussed the business changes he’s made during his presentation at Expo 2022 in Charlotte, N.C.
For most of his 14 years in business, Berkey says he has concentrated primarily on marine canvas and sail projects in his 20- by 40-foot two-story shop. He also has a mobile van that allows him to do repair work at various marinas. He says he was used to the seasonal slowdown in marine work each winter, but once his shop opened up again during COVID, “the phones stopped ringing because so many consumers bought new boats that didn’t need my covers or canvas repairs.”
“We knew we had to do something different,” says Berkey. So, he started saying yes to covers for decks, grills and backyard sunshades and enclosures. Some local taverns asked him to make patio enclosures, and a real coup came when he was asked if he could sew webbing onto solar panels for the military.
“We started saying yes to projects nobody else on the lake would touch,” says Berkey. “I decided to take on all these custom projects because nobody knows what the future will bring.” Berkey points to high gas prices, inflation and other economic unknowns that can affect how boat owners make decisions about their needs.
He encourages fabricators to expand into other markets using their existing skillsets. “Sew what you know, but don’t take on a new skill level unless you want to invest.” For example, he decided not to move into interior upholstery because he says he’s too slow and unskilled. It wasn’t worth it to him financially.
Berkey says he bases his life and business philosophy on his favorite quote from Evangelical Pastor Charles Swindoll, “Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent of how I react to it.”