Blue collar/white collar

In 1881 Duncan Pike was a sail maker on the east coast of Canada. Before the turn of that century, Pike expanded into awnings, tents and something on the order of a sporting goods store. Pike would be pleased that Pike’s Awnings Inc., the company he incorporated in 1894, remains a fixture in the Toronto area—under the guidance of a newcomer to the business.

Just 10 years ago, Hugh Kayler was hired to “fix the business,” as he puts it. “It was in bad shape and had absent ownership. It was described as having a whole lot of one-time customers.” Kayler set about making major changes.

“About 11 months into it, we were in a good situation,” he says. Kayler wanted to make sure that customers would be happy to recommend the company to others, and the approach worked. “The biggest factor in our survival was increasing the level of customer service—ongoing contact with customers.”

Hands-on approach

Kayler believes in doing one thing and doing it well, so they stick to awnings and canopies for the most part, but they’ve also branched out into other product lines, such as food and beverage cart covers, to reduce the seasonal impact of the residential awning side of the business. He’s also making better use of their graphics capabilities, printing soft products—not so much changing what the company makes as “just doing it better,” he says.

Kayler also took a hands-on approach to learning the business and it wasn’t long before he made the move to buy it, finalizing the purchase in 2004. “I’m more of a blue collar guy stuck in a white collar position,” he says. “There isn’t one thing at Pike’s Awning that I can’t do. From sitting in the corner office, to sewing, welding, install—I can do it all.”

With just 12 employees, “Pike’s is like a family. We work very hard to maintain that,” he says. “Seems cliché to say that, but it’s true.”

Reconnecting with IFAI

When Kayler took over Pike’s, the company was a member of IFAI, but didn’t take advantage of IFAI’s resources, he says. “That’s one of the things we changed. We started to use the services that are available: sourcing out materials, asking other manufacturers questions. The networking, that’s the biggest part of it. People got to know us; nobody had known us before.”

Kayler also takes in IFAI Expo Americas. It’s very easy to take the attitude that, ‘I was at the show last year, and it’s kind of the same every year.’ It really isn’t,” he says. “It’s what you go looking for while you’re there.”

Playing with cars

In his spare time, Kayler says he “plays with cars and motorcycles. This is a fairly serious hobby; he has 11 cars and six motorcycles, to be exact, and some impressive recognition for his restoration projects. He just finished a 1966 Chevy Caprice woody wagon that took top 12 at the Syracuse Nationals in Syracuse, N.Y., where close to 7,000 cars compete.

“One of my motorcycles that I built ended up being green, which is a Pike’s color, so it’s known as ‘the Pike bike.’”

Typically, he’ll restore the cars to a hot rod level and then show them. “I get a little bored with them when I’m done,” he says. “I ride my bikes more.” A lot more. “I spend three to four weeks on my bike every summer and end up in Sturgis,” he says. “I’ve covered a lot of the country.”

By Janet Preus, editor, Specialty Fabrics Review