Part of the heritage

Todd Brewer is now the president of a venerable specialty fabrics business, but he didn’t grow up playing in his grandfather’s canvas shop, or working a part-time job there in high school. He took another route: “I married the owner’s daughter,” Brewer says.

But when Brewer joined the family and Hoigaard’s Inc., St. Louis Park, Minn., he brought with him years of experience in sales, marketing and product development in residential construction product manufacturing. “When I look at our processes, it’s not much different,” he says.

Founded in 1895 as a tent and awning manufacturer by his wife, Jill’s, great-grandfather, Hoigaard’s branched out in the1960s, with a retail patio furniture business in the summer and skiing equipment in the winter. The retail business has flourished (Jill buys all the soft goods for it) but like many commercial awning manufacturers, the stagnant economy has had an impact on that division.

“From a marketing standpoint, obviously you can only do so much with commercial,” Brewer says. “But I see a real opportunity in residential to play up the environmental side. Yeah, your air conditioner can cool the house, but it can do it for a lot less if the windows are covered.”

An outside perspective

Brewer started in the retail side of the business, initially as a buyer for patio furniture, a segment that was closed down two years ago. He became president of Hoigaard’s Inc. five years ago, and has been getting more involved in Hoigaard’s Custom Canvas, the awning side of the business, in the last year.

“For me, it’s been really helpful to come in with an outside perspective and have really good people who know the business and are dedicated and I can come in and say “‘have you ever tried this?’ I tend to see my job as to push the boundaries.” That’s not always popular but once they understand that his motivation is the same as theirs, “to see the company go to the fifth and sixth generations,” the changes are more acceptable.

One of his goals is to use their capabilities to make more of the products they are now buying overseas—particularly bags and covers for sporting equipment. “We already have the outlet,” he says. “We can put them in the store and see how they do.

“There is a heritage movement, when you look at the high end of the market,” he says, and cites Red Wing shoes, made in Red Wing, Minn. as an example. Which [products] can we make and make effectively? Not trying to compete against imports, but make a look and value that really matters to the consumer—make one that I know will last forever.”

With the bulk of the retail business in winter sports and a summer business focused on paddle sports and camping, there are ample products in needs of covers and bags. “We’re excited to get more involved with this. For us the heritage is just so neat; we’re looking to expand what was the core of the business.”

They also participate in the sports that they represent: alpine and Nordic skiing, biking, camping, and water sports. Their four children—three in college and one in high school—are outdoor sports enthusiasts, too. “That’s how we spend all our time whenever we can. The hard part is that whenever we want to do these things that’s when we’re really busy.”

by Janet Preus, editor, Specialty Fabrics Review