Canvas and fabrics segment has it covered

The canvas and fabric segments appear to be faring better than other marine suppliers amid the continued downturn in boat sales. A robust replacement market keeps suppliers on their toes to fulfill those needs while continuing to bring innovative products to the OEM and aftermarket sales channels.

“While there are a large number of economic challenges that have the potential to negatively impact new boat sales, we feel that current boat owners will continue to love their ‘babies,’” says Cary Williams, marketing specialist for the marine, industrial and transportation segments at J. Ennis Fabrics Ltd. The company has its headquarters in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, with U.S. headquarters in Indianapolis. “Marine canvas shops that have built good businesses based on quality and reputation are still going to be in demand for repairs and retrofits.”

Michael Stenberg, owner of Dr. Shrink Inc. in Manistee, Mich., has seen an uptick in the replacement market. While it can be a challenge to sell during a slowdown, Stenberg believes in advertising and helping people to understand that replacing canvas is an important part of protecting a valued investment.

“Success is created by individual companies, but it boils down to hard work creating an aura of value and quality for a good price with good service thrown in,” says Stenberg. “This is the time to spend extra money at boat shows and in advertising to draw business in.”

An ever-larger array of fabric colors and types gives buyers more choices, but that large selection can make it difficult for suppliers to stand out in a crowded market. Taylor Made Products has seen a move away from cotton and cotton/poly blend materials to polyester, reports Dave Karpinski, vice president of marketing for the company. Polyester gives the Gloversville, N.Y.-based company the ability to introduce patterns for specialty products such as sailboat covers, pontoon enclosures and shades at lower retail prices. “The polyester fabrics are more durable; they resist tears and abrasions and repel water,” says Karpinski. “We are also able to offer a large variety of colors for boat covers, biminis and other fabric accessories.”

Syntec Industries, Rome, Ga., has introduced a Nano Block Technology upholstery vinyl that uses nano particles to create upholstery seating with added UV and mold/mildew protection and superior cleanability, says Cindy Steele, sales/textile design manager. In conjunction with the NBT product, Syntec has developed a marketing program that helps the boat builder promote the product.
“I see the biggest challenge as the influx of lower-quality and lower-priced import fabrics,” says John Pierce, WeatherMax product manager at Safety Components, Greenville, S.C. “It causes market confusion and takes two to three years for poor-performing fabrics to shake out of the market.”

Standing apart from the crowd
The challenge for any supplier is to distinguish oneself by providing reliable quality and service, says Richard Yale, vice president of sales and marketing at MarChem Coated Fabrics Inc., a division of DASH Multi-Corp., Maryland Heights, Mo. “To accomplish this a fabric manufacturer needs to partner with high quality raw materials suppliers, have experienced and conscientious plant personnel and employ knowledgeable customer-service-oriented sales and order department staff,” Yale says.

Shuford Mills LLC, manufacturer of Outdura marine fabric, maintains close relationships with key suppliers, collaborating closely with them to facilitate rapid product development and efficient supply chain management, says Jeff Jimison, vice president of sales for the company based in Hudson, N.C. For example, by sharing forecasted fiber demand with key suppliers, the company is able to maintain reasonable inventory levels while enabling suppliers to contain product costs by providing them with acceptable manufacturing lot sizes.

“We offer [a six-year] warranty against sun fade and loss of strength due to exposure to the sun and elements,” Jimison says. “We produce our fabrics here in the U.S. and stock what we make in order to reduce lead times and assist our customers.”

Education for marine designers, boat builders, marine fabrication shops and consumers helps differentiate Glen Raven Custom Fabrics LLC, says Derek Robinson, marine market manager for the manufacturer based in Glen Raven, N.C.
“Marine canvas is a fast-changing area,with numerous product innovations,”Robinson says.
“It is important that everyone involved with the industry understand best practices related to fabrication, care and cleaning and the newest fabric options.”

The manufacturer has made a substantial commitment to information sharing and education through its Web site (, where users will find extensive information and demonstrations for the care and cleaning of Sunbrella fabrics and trend information on new products, colors and styling.

Taylor Made Products provides comprehensive fit guides for a variety of products, including boat covers and biminis on its Web site ( Consumers can input information about their boat, then see a list of products and part numbers designed to fit specific needs. The Fit Guides are also accessible from customers’ Web sites, says Karpinski.

Best practices improve quality, service
“Every company says that service sets them apart, but with over 40 salespeople and 97 percent of orders on more than 11,000 products shipped within 24 hours from stocking warehouses across Canada and the U.S., we feel service really does set us apart,” says Williams from J. Ennis Fabrics.
Before launching new products, the company performs independent lab testing, asks key customers to perform field tests and implements quality control standards, including dye lot and production sample matching, before receiving shipments from suppliers.

Glen Raven’s North American manufacturing facility is ISO9001:2000 certified for quality processes, and the company sponsors extensive laboratory testing in its facility and through independent labs. Robinson believes that staying in close contact with OEMs and aftermarket fabricators helps the company learn about their changing needs, while participation in numerous consumer boat shows helps uncover how marine canvas can be used to enhance the on-the-water experience for the boating community.

At Taylor Made, “our cutters work on a single-piece flow, which means we can cut one full pattern at a time instead of full runs of the same pattern in the same color,” says Karpinski. “This allows us to produce and ship the cover, regardless of color, fabric or pattern, within three business days.”

The key to long-term success is providing a fabric with strong performance that will enhance the boat brand it is on, not diminish it, notes Pierce from Safety Components. “Canvas is often the most visible part of a boat, and, when it fades or mildews within a couple of years, it severely diminishes how people will view the boat brand, not just the fabric,” Pierce says. Safety Components follows a number of manufacturing best practices, including Lean manufacturing, Six Sigma and continuous improvement.

Jimison from Shuford Mills believes the industry is undergoing a fundamental change as new players join established ones to offer a wide variety of weights, styles, colors, raw materials, finishes and performance levels of marine fabrics. “As buying and specifying decisions are being made, it will benefit all to research and learn about the different offerings before deciding, keeping all factors in mind and not just buying a brand because that is what [customers] have always bought,” Jimison says. “Cost savings, styling and performance benefits can be lost if this approach is not followed.”

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