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.
The buck starts here: Chris Ritsema, Canvas Innovations
Chris Ritsema leads his company by building a strong culture that encourages growth and success for his employees.
"It’s so important to find the right people, find out if they have a love for the business and give them a future and a vision."
Sustainable opportunity: Eric and Angie Riggins, Alpha Canvas
Eric and Angie Riggins create new products and capture new markets to ensure a steady stream of work throughout the year.
"We’re able to use all the same production and scheduling practices and setup for all three different product lines, so it all fits well into the way the products flow through the shop. Keeping the entire production process in-house allows us to control the quality and turnaround time for everything. "
Analyze this: Ed Skrzynski, Marco Canvas
Ed Skrzynski automates production, encourages teamwork and documents processes to deliver quality marine and shade products.
"Before [I implemented process improvements] each project was typically done by one skilled tradesperson from start to finish. The network was very labor-intensive and required a great amount of skill without too much thought about the business aspect."
Scheduled evolution: Eric Heischmidt, Arizon Structures
Eric Heischmidt approaches project management with flexibility and an architect’s eye for precision.
"As good as people are at their jobs, there is always some change that requires constant adaptation and rescheduling."
Owning your destiny: Pete Weingartner, Queen City Awning
Pete Weingartner builds a team—of staff, vendors and clients—to deliver turn-key projects and target continued growth.
"Everybody’s got to understand their part in the project, and you have to have a confidence level that the source can do what you need them to do. And then if it’s their specialty, you need to let them run with it and not micromanage."
The experience payoff: Blair Belluomo, Belle Isle Awning
Blair Belluomo brings a strong and appreciative management style to the family business after years of working in the auto industry.
"I realized that our workforce was getting older so I saw the benefit of assigning each of our senior employees an apprentice."
The third dimension: John Bland, Tecsew Ltd.
John Bland revolutionizes marine fabrication by applying 3-D CAD principles to the design process.
"There are often compromises to be made in a design. The beauty of 3-D CAD is that we can show them what compromises may need to be considered and they make the decision before the product is created."
Fabric engineering: Ben Fox, Legacy Building Solutions
Ben Fox expands design capabilities for fabric structures, focusing on innovation and education to solve customer problems.
"We believe that your route forward is through marketing. If you’re not marketing well, you’re not going to grow."
Tents, trends & technology: Mike Holland, Chattanooga Tent Co.
From RFID to GPS, Mike Holland uses all the newest tools to keep Chattanooga Tent Co. at the leading edge.
"We knew long ago from attending conferences and expos that coded engineering was going to become the standard. By being aware early and investing our time, energy and money into those products for our customers we were able to keep ahead of those changes."
At the intersection of textiles & technology: Qaizar Hassonjee, Adidas Digital Sports
Qaizar Hassonjee mines market opportunities and forms partnerships to bring smart fabrics to market.
"We saw a bigger opportunity if we opened it up and invited others to either build experiences on our products or create experiences based on data that is generated by other sensors for sports applications."
Ideas in harness: Michael Lester, MakMax Australia Pty. Ltd.
Michael Lester doesn’t shy away from a challenge. He builds a team of fellow innovators and comes up with tensioned fabric solutions.
"People ask me all the time what I look for in a person when I’m interviewing them. And the answer is: I’m looking for something they do in the real world that indicates a joy of working with their hands creating things. It might be sailing or building model planes or racing cars—anything that indicates a manual, creative bent in which they’re putting their mind to creating physical things."
Envision, build, repeat: Michael Catalano, Capitol Awning Co.
Michael Catalano treats his clients as strategic partners—and that keeps them coming back.
"I try to instill in our staff that instead of running out to see a customer initially, they ask the clients to send us a photograph of the site they want us to work on. Then we can work something up and come to them with an idea in hand. "
Fabric on the frontier: Eric Walton and Devlin McKee, Custom Canvas Alaska
Eric Walton and Devlin McKee bring fabric solutions to Alaska’s wild and wondrous terrain.
"“An educated/informed consumer is our best customer. An educated/informed employee is our best worker. An educated/informed owner has got to succeed—as long as the learning process continues.” "
Back to shore: Jeff Schmitt, The Coleman Company Inc.
Jeff Schmitt balances the reality of off-shore manufacturing with how to bring production back to the U.S.
"A lot of people say that the reason to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. is to improve quality. If they’re saying that, that means they don’t have the appropriate levels of quality coming out of their factories in Asia—which is a situation nobody should ever allow their business to get into. "
Charting a course: Katie Bradford, Custom Marine Canvas
Incoming IFAI board chair Katie Bradford takes the helm, using business expertise and networking know-how to lead the association.
"The captains of industry all had to start somewhere. Thirty years ago I was just a kid with a sewing machine in a leaky old shed thinking, ‘I’m never going to make it.’ But I did. I want those starting out to know they can make it too. "
Demand + Supply = Prevail: Robert Cole, Goodwin-Cole
Robert Cole brings decades of experience and common sense to the time-honored but always evolving economic model of supply and demand.
"Everybody in our company is a salesperson. They may not be doing sales work as such, but they’re all salespeople for the company."
No fear: Per Lindstrand, Lindstrand Technologies
Per Lindstrand sees obstacles as stepping stones as he develops new methods and products for fabric engineering.
"With our buildings, because they’re all fabric, if a strong wind comes they act like a wind sock. They can stand up again and there’s no damage."
Selling shade: Conrad Masterson, SHADE Industries
Conrad Masterson builds his business by focusing on what clients really want—and what employees need.
"I try to get the clients to spend a decent amount of time talking about their goals. It may not seem like an important conversation to them at the time, but it saves time down the road. "
Beyond the competition: Patty and Charly Smail, Shelter Structures Inc.
Patty and Charly Smail build their business by learning from each new customer—and finding gaps in what the competition offers.
"We feel very strongly that good customer service extends from when you first confer with a customer to design a custom product for them to after the sale is complete—almost as if we still own it. –Patty Smail We try to focus on what the client really needs, which isn’t always what they come in asking for. By working with the client on designing with an eye toward structure function, we often find that there are opportunities to generate savings. –Charly Smail "
Form & function: Maureen MacGillivray, Central Michigan University
Dr. Maureen MacGillivray uses her functional apparel expertise to design and test textiles and teach those skills to the next generation.
"Functional design is multidisciplinary, with the user at the very center of that design process."