From ads to awnings

You see them everywhere—or maybe you don’t see them at all. That’s Bill Stoody’s observation about awnings. He’s partner and sales and marketing manager at MacDonald Awning & Shade Products of Kitchener, Ont., Canada. “Even at the movies,” he says. “Go to any movie, and even there you’ll see plenty of awnings. You just don’t notice them.”

Stoody admits even he rarely noticed awnings until he got into the business in 2010 after decades in the newspaper advertising field. Now, he says, “I never noticed how common awnings were until I started in the business.” Their popularity, combined with the many documented benefits of awnings, presents a significant opportunity for growth, in his opinion.

MacDonald Awning, a manufacturing firm based about 65 miles west of Toronto, started in the 1970s as an eaves trough and other aluminum products manufacturer. Stoody explained the company’s first foray into shade products was aluminum pan and step awnings, which were quickly followed by fixed-frame, canopy and commercial awnings. MacDonald serves both commercial and residential markets. It retails locally and wholesales outside of its immediate area through an expanding network of dealers. In the late 1970s, MacDonald introduced retractable awnings.

A new partnership

The company was purchased from the original owner in 2010 by a trio of partners, and a year later Stoody became a partner. A survivor of the diminishing newspaper publishing world, Stoody had been looking for owner/operator opportunities when an old friend approached him about handling dealer sales and marketing for MacDonald; he later became an equity partner. “I wish the opportunity would have presented itself sooner,” he says.

Today, MacDonald Awning is the exclusive North American distributor of German-engineered retractable awning components by Erhardt-Markisen. At the 2013 Specialty Fabrics Expo in Orlando, Fla., MacDonald introduced a new line of retractable awnings called Nordic Light, engineered by Hunter Douglas Scandinavia.

“Any business has to be customer-focused,” he says, noting that his years in advertising honed his sales/marketing skills and drive for customer satisfaction. “Whatever we do on the retail front, I can export or capitalize [those skills] and I’ll help our dealers to sell.”

Showing a commitment

One of MacDonald’s priorities was to join IFAI; the company is now actively involved with the Professional Awning Manufacturers Association. “We believe membership in organizations enhances our learning and illustrates our commitment to our customers, our community and industry,” Stoody says. “That’s why we are also members of the Better Business Bureau and the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce. The benefits of our association with IFAI include access to resources, research and networking opportunities. We are the only member in our area—a fact we promote to our customers.”

Family and fun

Stoody has been married for 25 years to Diane Shantz, an award-winning news graphic artist and illustrator at the Waterloo Region Record.“We actually met at the newspaper,” he reports. Daughter Angela is a 2013 honors business graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., where son Alex is also studying business and plays hockey. And then there’s Lulu, their Bichon Frise dog.

Though work and family obligations keep Stoody relatively close to home, when he can get away it is to spend time fishing in northern Ontario. “I usually manage a few trips a year for extended weekends,” he says. “Whether it’s in the spring or fall or the dead of winter, it is a great opportunity to reflect and enjoy the outdoors.” And he maintains his Canadian “cred”cheering for his son’s hockey team.

By Jim Tarbox, editor of Marine Fabricator and regular contributor to the Review.