Just a shade better

There’s no title next to Nathanael Berges’ name on his business card. It says simply, “Fourth Generation.” For Berges, that’s all it needs to say. “I think that’s something to stand on,” he says. And Berges Trenton Awning in Pleasantville, N.J., is still using the company slogan coined by his great-grandmother, Minnie Mary: “Awnings just a shade better.”

“That’s what we live by,” he says. “There’s not a single thing that leaves our doors without our stamp of approval. The quality of the product is what is going to give you longevity.”

Number coincidences

There’s more about the company that’s worth noting. Founded in 1927 by his great-grandfather, Louis, it has stayed in the Berges family, servicing its original area, for its entire 85-year history. Nathanael, now 27, was born in 1985, 27 days premature. His dad was 27 at the time. He spent his first seven months in the hospital and was sent home just in time for Christmas. “I contracted every sickness that came through,” Berges says. “My mother was by my side all that time.”

The baby who fought for his life now puts in long hours helping to run the business. “Three generations are still here; my grandfather is 80 now,” Berges says. But joining the family business he insists was his decision. “It wasn’t forced upon me,” he says. “It was very much a choice of my own. I’ve always been handy. Awning work let me use my creative side and my craftsmanship.”

“We’re looking forward to 100 years,” he says. “I know this will happen.”

Like father, like son

“I always wanted to be like my father. There wasn’t a summer off or days off from school that I wasn’t here doing some work.” He even arranged his own work study program when he was in high school—half days in school and half days in the shop. He started full-time with the company in 2004.

They usually have between 10 and 15 employees, depending on the season, but he and his father are the main fabricators. “My dad does a lot of the canvas work; the metal fabrication work is mine, but both of us can do any of the work in the shop,” he says. “We have each other in mind as we’re designing and fabricating.” The company does awnings and canopies exclusively with all work done in their own facility.

Newlyweds

Work is great, but life is even better. He married “the love of my life,” he says, just a year and a half ago. His wife, Cigi, is a kindergarten teacher who “believes in the best of everyone.” She’s the one who introduced him to his new hobby, riding motorcycle. “I’ve been in quite a few states from tip to tip on the eastern seaboard—small adventures,” he says.

He’s also an accomplished drummer, playing in quite a few bands since he was a teenager. “I won my first drum competition when I was 16 and beat 35 other people,” he says, but being in a band was difficult. “It’s been hard to find a good mesh [with people who] took it as seriously as I did.” Now he lends his talents playing in the band at the church where his whole family is actively involved.

The IFAI match

The company is relatively new to IFAI, but “in our hearts we’ve been members for much longer,” he says. “Once we were educated on who and what IFAI stood for, we felt it matched the way we feel as well about excellence in fabrication.”

By Janet Preus, editor, Specialty Fabrics Review