Testing the waters, jumpin’ in

Nobody would say that canvas work is child’s play, but it turns out that naming a business could come pretty close. As owner Jeff Almas of Toledo, Ohio’s Sew Your Boat tells it, “We were walking around the lot trying to think of a name for the company, and we were just singing ‘Sew, sew, sew your boat …’ and it just came to us.”

Let’s back this up about eight years and get the whole story.

Starting small

Almas, 46-year-old father of two girls—Halie and Hannah, with whom he lives in suburban Sylvania, Ohio—got his start in the marine fabrication business almost as a hobby. “I was a partner in a small car lot, and we always had some down time, and I’d always been a boater, so I thought ‘let’s dabble around in this area and maybe we can make some extra money there, too.’ Well, one referral led to another,” he says, “and through a lot of trial and error it just took off.”

He started with what he calls “a really small sewing machine most wouldn’t believe could handle interior work.” But it did, and he did, and Sew Your Boat became a viable business. In time, Almas and his partner split—the partner taking the cars, Almas the boats—and he was off plying new income-producing waters. With the city sitting on the shore of Maumee Bay at the western edge of Lake Erie, there proved to be no end of opportunity for an enterprising start-up to succeed.

Today, Almas works with two additional employees, and they all specialize in marine canvas work and upholstery, though they have since branched out into a bit of commercial work, including restaurant seating and shrink-wrapping.

You just gotta ask

Jeff says his initial introduction to the Industrial Fabrics Association International was through Marine Fabricator magazine. “I read about the IFAI Expo and got involved,” he says. “I really like it and use it a lot to my own advantage. They’re very helpful; you just gotta ask. If I ever need anything, like the name of a supplier or some other new resource, they always have connections to get in contact with.”

He was particularly complimentary about Marine Fabricator magazine: “It’s my favorite part about IFAI. Every month they have information about how somebody did a project; I’m always interested in learning how others do what I’m trying to do, too.”

Free time

When he has a little time away from work, he tries, with only middling success, to get out on a nearby golf course. He also remains an avid boater. Good thing, too—turns out that when it comes to doing something for fun, he ends up working. “I work a lot,” he says—but he’s laughing when he says that.

Jim Tarbox is a freelance writer and editor based in St. Paul, Minn.