A passion for old-fashioned quality

Roughly 20 years ago, Tim Bischel attended his first IFAI Expo in Denver. He was working at the time for a company that made greenhouses and was interested in getting a better understanding of how fabric could be used and the equipment that would be needed to make fabric covers. He took “the leap of faith” at that show and later bought some equipment—a good move for the company, even with “zero knowledge about fabricating,” he says. “We took one of our most talented guys, a welder, and threw him in there like Rumpelstiltskin and told him to figure it out, and he did.”

History repeated itself in early 2009 when he bought fabric fabrication equipment again to make covers—this time for his own company, Superior Structures Inc., Harrison, Ohio. Demand had increased, and Bischel was looking to increase quality, too.

“The equipment has also allowed us to save money, control quality, reduce lead times and respond on a dime, if required,” Bischel says. It also allowed the company to pursue new types of projects. “It has even taken parts of our business in a different direction,” he says.

How not to start a business and succeed

In 2000, Bischel started Superior Structures with his friend and colleague, Chuck Hatfield, a designer Bischel had hired several years before. “We’re the prototypical way to never start a business,” says Bischel. “We were just going to tinker around on the side and see if we could build some structures for Home Depot.” At the end of a meeting at a Home Depot regional office in Florida, the company had given them four stores to build. “We didn’t have a shop; we didn’t have business cards; we didn’t have a bank account. We had nothing,” he says.

But they had the know-how and they went to work. “One thing led to another. What grew our business was word of mouth within Home Depot’s maintenance division,” he says— specifically about quality. “We’ve got a passion for just old-fashioned quality,” he says, “and we stand behind our work.”

Today they may make fabric covers for existing frames or they can build an entirely new structure in their own shop. Projects are customized according to the customers’ needs, the demands of their locations and, in some cases, in response to natural disasters.

Time off—for work

Bischel’s leisure time is pretty well taken up with family, but that’s to be expected when you have ten children at home. “The oldest is 17 and my youngest is one-and-a-half. We’re your typical family after that,” he says. Time is devoted to the kids’ sports and other activities. “Just more of it. When I go to work, that’s leisure time,” he jokes.

He does occasionally get to play golf with his kids, which he enjoys, but his real passion is woodworking—a skill that has helped him understand how fabric structures need to be built. “It has catapulted my understanding of how to do some of these things,” he says. “When Chuck and I started this company, we started with our hands. We sat behind desks for years, but when we started this, we did it all—fabricating to installs.”

Word of mouth has carried the business so far, Bischel says, and they are starting to expand with new product applications, including shade structures, awnings and custom structures. They’ve also teamed up with a company from England that makes biogas containment domes. “We know now that if we’re going to grow, we have to go out and sell,” he says.

And, yes, they’ll be at IFAI Expo Americas this year, too. “We joined IFAI to get our name out there and expand our product line.”

by Janet Preus, editor, Specialty Fabrics Review