On-the-job training

When Dawn Taylor was a little girl, her dad started out ‘doing canvas’ in his shop in Ohio, then moved the family to Florida when she was just 13 and started a custom shop there. “He hired people, trained them and then they would go out on their own,” Taylor says.

In competition with him. Even though that might be the way business works sometimes, it didn’t seem quite right to him, so he sold the custom shop to Taylor’s sister and started the school, which is how the Marine Canvas Training Institute came to be more than 25 years ago.

“We’ve probably trained just about everybody we know that’s in this business in this county,” she says.

Taylor’s career path veered from the family business for a time, but when her sister needed help, she willingly abandoned real estate appraising to work in the shop. “I just kind of walked into it,” she explains, but it’s also how she got the experience she needed for her next opportunity. With her dad’s retirement in 2003, she stepped forward as the natural successor to run the school and has since discovered that she really enjoys teaching.

“I like meeting all the different people and finding out how they came into doing this,” she says. Especially gratifying is watching the students come to understand the process. “When the light comes on,” is the way she puts it.

With very small class sizes, instruction at the school is a highly individualized, hands-on experience. Three different one-week classes are offered. For each of the two classes on canvas she admits up to six students; she accepts only four students in the upholstery class.

“They’re very appreciative at the end of the classes,” she says, and she continues to hear from them years later. Eventually she would like to offer refresher classes for former students to audit.

After school activities

With an entire lifetime working with marine products, one might expect the same enthusiasm for boating. Taylor’s family does enjoy some lake time and had three boats—from a skiff to a 40-footer—parked behind their house at one point. But then they got involved in horses, moved off the water and out into the country.

“My daughter started it all. We bought her a horse; then we had to have a companion horse.” Although their daughter is now away at college and they no longer have those horses, Taylor very recently bought a new one—a thoroughbred—just for pleasure riding and jumping, she says. “I have fun with it; that’s all I want to do.” She also enjoys recreational flying with her husband, who pilots the Cessna 182 he owns with a partner, and some day hopes to do more travelling with her husband, revisiting many of the places across the U.S. that she visited as a child.

In the meantime, she’s content to be running the school and would like to see the business grow. “I see myself doing this for quite a while,” she says.