Been around a long time

Since 1922, IFAI has been a part of Appleton Awning Shop’s life. Mike Dorschner, who co-owns the company with his brother-in-law, Mark Matz, says they renew their membership every year and always have. You might say it’s part of their routine, like delivering high-quality custom products to customers in the Appleton, Wis., area. 

Dorschner was just in the eighth grade when he started helping out after school in the shop his father owned. He worked summers during high school on the installation crew, which he says taught him a lot about the way awnings are put together and how they work. “How things get fastened to the building,” he says. “That’s how I learned.”

That knowledge has been critical to his success as the road salesman. “I go out to the customers, visit with them and put them in the right direction,” he says. “Everything is custom.”

Even though he settled into the family business eventually, he chose a different path right out of high school, working for a dairy herd improvement program. “I knew eventually—hopefully—I’d become an owner,” he says.

How it works

Matz handles supervising the shop and the projects for fire departments—a product line that has been important for them and includes large projects, such as fire truck covers and hose covers as well as smaller government-regulated products, such as restraining systems with webbing and strapping. But they make “anything made of canvas, really,” he says, which includes quite a bit of repair work for campers and tents, too.

Finding good employees could be an issue, but Dorschner is fortunate to have a steady group of 10 employees, including one who has been with them for 27 years. “It’s hard to find people who want to sew,” he says. “It’s a lost art. Schools don’t teach it, and moms don’t do it anymore.”

Continuing the tradition

The newest employee is his son, Ronnie, who’s working full-time as an installer, just like his dad learned the business.

Dorschner has two more children in grade school, so keeping up with their school activities, such as band and plays, keeps him busy after work hours.    Otherwise, “Mostly I ride my lawnmower and mow my lawn,” he says. He lives with his family on three acres with plenty of room for a garden, which he tills up and then turns over to his wife to look after.

Another tradition is a consistently good product and great customer service, which results in loyalty over time. “Treat the customers as they deserve to be treated. Stick to your word,” he says.

“They may try someone else,” Dorschner says, in order to get a lower price, “But they come back to us. ‘We’re going with you, we know you’ve been around a long time,’ [they’ll say.] “If you promise you can have something done, get it done on time, and make it to the highest quality that you can.”

By Janet Preus, editor, Specialty Fabrics Review