Meet the members of IFAI and hear about the benefits of membership in their own words. Members come from all over the world and from every market segment, and each brings a unique view on the industry.
Going the distance: Rob Kotowski, Lake Shore Boat Top Co.
Rob Kotowski rebuilds the family business with his father’s guidance and a commitment to quality and communication.
"I think the biggest thing in selling jobs is being able to communicate in such a way that you put the customer in a comfort zone—a place where they understand exactly what you’re trying to sell them."
A commitment to growth: Don Alhanati, CustomFab USA
Don Alhanati uses automation and lean manufacturing principles to ensure market diversity and continuous growth for CustomFab USA.
"It was ingrained in me that in manufacturing, if you’re short one component, you can’t build something. If you’re short even one screw, you can’t complete the product."
Riding the pendulum: Taylor Bigley, Awnings by Bigley and Hogshire
Taylor Bigley embraces teamwork and strategic thinking to meet the changes and trends of an ever-evolving industry.
"Architects sometimes draw beautiful sails that cannot be made—this requires us to be artists, teachers and engineers. Renaissance people are hard to find."
Strength in Movement: Harold Warner, Dynamic Air Shelters
Harold Warner is working to develop inflatable blast-resistant structures that are more protective than those of steel—with industry help.
"Our strength matched with the strength of others is twice as able. Our desire is to make ourselves stronger by partnering with others who have strengths or abilities in other parts of the world."
Fearless and Focused: Nigel Richings, Undercover Canvas and Awnings Inc.
Nigel Richings combines a hands-on, solution-minded approach and a vision for excellence to keep his custom canvas and awning business growing.
"No matter what kind of workshop you have—whether it’s a metal workshop or awning shop or a sail loft—it’s important to take into account the appearance. It matters what the customer sees when they place an order."
Tour de (Sales) Force: Brenda Hagerty, Porcupine Canvas
Brenda Hagerty matches her talent for client-focused sales with her resolve to tap into market trends.
"When you’re in the mines, that’s when you learn what the customer wants—not what you want to sell them. but what they need to make their lives easier."
Big Picture: Geoff Kilmer, PhotoWorksGroup
Geoff Kilmer keeps his business thriving in an ever-changing industry by matching emerging graphics technologies with niche clients.
"If your equipment is sitting idle, that’s a negative cash flow. The key is to keep your equipment running."
Like-minded Leadership: Mike, Joe and Dan Reilly, Miami Awning Co.
Mike, Joe and Dan Reilly approach the gradual transfer of company leadership with respect, integrity and a sense of humor.
"Because the fabric is removable, awnings don’t have to take the full wind load. As a group we were eventually able to change the South Florida Building Code and later the Florida Building Code to include some leeway for fabric awnings."
Of fabrics and physics: Amy Poe, Wyckam
Amy Poe uses systematic problem-solving and a willingness to explore new markets to build a marine canvas business into a custom industrial sewing shop.
"The marine market here in Portland is fairly limited. By adding industrial, residential and commercial projects we picked up architects, engineers and landscape designers as clients—and now our market is much bigger."
Dream big: David Murray, Fiesta Tents Ltd.
Inspired by tented horse stalls at an Olympic Games, David Murray launched a tent business that has evolved far beyond those initial dreams—and keeps evolving.
"I had a great staff, and hired more. It gave me time to hand over the day-to-day side of the rental business and devote myself to R&D and design."
Architectural adventure: Alan Bair, Pacific Yurts Inc.
Alan Bair launched his career living off-grid in a yurt, and used his passion for the structures to build a business and define a market.
"Since we were young, adventurous and just starting out, we decided to live in the yurt for a while and get better acquainted with the land. When a local news article featured our yurt, people started to call and ask if I could build one for them. Eventually word spread and a business was born."
Riding the wind: Liz Diaz, North Beach Marine Canvas
Liz Diaz designs inspired boat interiors—and is applying that expertise to bring shelter to the homeless.
"I don’t just make boat cushions—I transform the space. I like to think of myself as a life stylist."
Trailblazer: Bill Coppins, W.A. Coppins Ltd.
Bill Coppins guides a canvas shop from its roots in production to a design and development powerhouse.
"We’re only a small town of 7,500 people, which makes it a bit harder because you’re limited with what you can turn over."
To the point: Steve Ellington, Trivantage LLC
New IFAI board chair Steve Ellington shares his vision for a strong and relevant industry.
"IFAI’s board is always made up of a balance of suppliers, manufacturers, small companies, large companies and different market segments. Having that kind of diversity on the board is critical because our member companies are diverse."
From good to great: Lloyd Verduyn, Verduyn Tarps
Lloyd Verduyn embraces the challenge of continuous improvement to create and refine products that become the gold standard of the tarping industry.
"Before I first made a tarping system, I took the time to talk to drivers. They’re the ones who use the systems."
From foundation to future: Elissa Decker, Moss Inc.
Elissa Decker uses her expertise in fabric manufacturing to help Moss Inc., a leader in tension fabric branding, drive global growth and lead performance trends.
"Sometimes projects seem so daunting and overwhelming and it’s hard to envision the finish line. It’s important to have a process you can follow so I create a project plan with action items for everything I can think of that needs to happen. Usually it’s a pretty long list."
Winds of change: Chad Miller, American National Mfg. Inc.
Chad Miller and his family adjust to changing market demands through creativity, asking the right questions, understanding regulations—and doing the math.
"So it’s not just important to know what your customer knows. It’s as important, if not more, to know what they don’t know because they could be leading you to a path of liability. "
If people, then profit: Mike Peterson, SugarHouse Awning Industries
Mike Peterson restructures an awning company’s culture by asking hard questions, collaborating on the answers, and fearlessly changing the rules.
"I wanted to help management understand that if they could step back from their work, ‘sharpen their axe’ and start managing, we could get more work done with a lot less stress, and also become more profitable."
Guts, glory and the next generation: Kate Mitchell, NOMAR
Kate Mitchell transitions her diverse fabrics business on the Alaskan frontier to her children—who value a courageous past and anticipate a bright future.
"‘Don’t sub out your work. If you want the profits, you want to be in control. You’re just going to have to set up and manufacture it yourself.’"
Mastering the craft: Jerry Margrave, Specialty Trim & Awning Inc.
Jerry Margrave keeps his company on track by staying on top of industry skills, technology and opportunities to solve customer problems.
"Having my MFC has opened the door for me to explain my expertise to potential clients many times over."