A self-taught success

Ron Root is the kind of guy that’s great to have as a neighbor—handy, resourceful and a certified mechanic with a knack for figuring things out. It was these qualities that landed him in the awning and marine fabricator business where “everything just sort of fell into place,” he says. “We totally started a business the wrong way—no money, no business, no business plan.” What he had was a natural talent and a yeah-I- can-do-that attitude.

His wife was doing quite a bit of sewing, but it was mostly clothing and small projects. “People had asked her to try some larger projects”—girl scout canvas tents to repair, for example—so, they bought the needed equipment. When the projects were too big for his wife to handle, he took them on. “I’d never run a sewing machine in my life when I started this,” he says. People continued to call them with more project requests, which he worked on in a home shop.

“Within about six to eight months we had so much going on that I quit my job and started doing it full time,” he says, and Root’s Canvas in Plainwell, Mich. was born. He soon moved the business into a rented building and eventually had to build his own as the business grew over the 23 years he’s been in operation.

Located about an hour from Lake Michigan and close to many smaller lakes, Root has chosen to concentrate on fabric projects for trailerable boats, such as smaller power boats and pontoons. The marine part of his business is the most profitable, he says, and takes up all his shop time for a good portion of the year, drawing customers from as far away as Chicago and Indiana—without any advertising. “It’s all word of mouth from dealers and others. I think we’ve made a pretty good reputation,” he says. He also does “a fair amount” of residential awnings and “anything that can be sewn”—other than smaller repair jobs.

But he’s built the business up about as much as he wants to. If he expanded any more, “then I couldn’t screw around as much as I do,” he says. “I do value my free time. I’m going to play while I’m still healthy.” And his kind of play requires being in good shape. His passion is whitewater rafting and kayaking, a sport he’s pursued on rivers around the country. “I love the outdoors,” he says, also spending free time “playing in the sand” in his jeep and riding his Harley—but not as much as he’d like to. “But I do take time off,” he says. “I don’t work weekends, and I don’t slave away at this.”

He joined IFAI because he thought it was time to do some networking. “I’m probably going to start going to warmer states in the winter time,” he says, “maybe work while I’m gone for somebody else, so maybe I could get to know someone who needs some part-time help.” There’s the kayak, the jeep and the Harley, of course, but “I’d get bored if I didn’t work,” he says.