Fifth generation in fabric

Matt Carroll was just a baby when his family moved from Baltimore, Md., to South Florida. His great-uncle purchased Hoover Canvas Products in South Florida in 1978 and invited Carroll’s dad to join the business. Extended family still runs Carroll Awning in Baltimore, “our sister company,” he says, maintaining a generations-long connection with canvas fabrication, as well as IFAI. 

“When I was old enough to sweep, I swept the floor and hung out with the cutters and the sewers,” Carroll says. Even on family vacations, they didn’t leave business behind completely. In the towns they visited, he says, “We were always looking up at the awnings.” He moved up to running machines in the shop, learning to cut and assemble frames, and eventually working on an installation crew. “A lead installer was my boss,” he says. “I got to do all the ‘fun’ things like digging holes and overhead welding—all the things nobody wants to do.”

When he graduated from college, he also graduated to running his own truck and handling project management. In other words, Matt Carroll learned the business from the ground up. “I’m fifth generation. It’s a family tradition. It’s in our blood.”

The value of experience

As vice president and co-owner of Hoover Canvas, he offers ideas every step of the way. “You always have to keep an open eye when you walk through the shop as an owner; it’s easier to have ‘an eye’ when you’ve done it.” 

“To have a successful, high-quality craftsmanship shop, [as an owner] you have to know what you’re talking about,” he says. “They have to know that the advice you’re giving your people is right.” He works closely with the company’s five salespeople, in particular, to make sure they understand the more technical aspects of what they’re selling. 

Carroll is not the only one with high expertise. “We have employees who have been with us for 35 years,” he says. “My cousin is the general manager. We have a lot of really good people.” 

Connecting with IFAI 

Hoover’s membership in IFAI, the Professional Awning Manufacturers Association (PAMA) and Fabric Structures Association (FSA) have meant different things to the company over the years, but IFAI and its divisions have always been a source of relationship building for them. 

“Reconnection, sharing ideas and thoughts—one of the biggest things IFAI does is bring people together,” he says. “It’s more than an organization just for fabricators or suppliers.

“Where else can you go and meet your different suppliers and see them at least once a year?” he says, in reference to IFAI Expo Americas. I don’t know anywhere else where you could go.”

After about 50 years of fabricating primarily awnings, the company started to expand its offerings with tensioned structures and free-form fabric design. With more automated equipment and computer-aided design tools, “We’ve really branched out and opened up to new designs and products,” he says. “That has helped us grow.” They’ve also added metal awnings, “constantly trying to stay ahead of—or at least with—the curve.”

The ongoing challenges are just part of what keeps Carroll in the game. “I love business,” he says. “It’s always been exciting to me.”

The Florida lifestyle

Since Carroll grew up by the ocean, it’s not surprising that his recreation time is likely to be spent at the beach with his wife, Erin, two young children and the family dogs. He used to do a lot of diving, but now it’s mostly snorkeling, “at a level the kids can enjoy, too,” he says. 

“That’s the fun part with the kids, now, just floating near the shore on sandbars. Even on really windy days, we can stay nearby and see a lot of fish.” The family loves boating and fishing, too, and he’s already talking about the day his kids are big enough to handle a marlin on the end of the line. 

Maybe about that time they’ll be in the shop, too, sweeping the floor and hanging out with the cutters and sewers.

By Janet Preus, editor, Specialty Fabrics Review