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.
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."
From surviving to thriving: Dan Hooks, Party Reflections Inc.
Dan Hooks propels his organization to new heights by maximizing regional opportunities and building a management team.
"We know that we can only provide the best possible equipment and service if we make the profit necessary to maintain that equipment and pay for the services provided."
Productivity paired: Stewart and Ross Brown, Brown Sales Corp.
Father and son team Stewart and Ross Brown embrace the challenge of change by making the most of their strengths.
"There’s no harm in trying new things, and you can always go back to Plan A if Plan B isn’t working. —Stewart Brown The interesting thing about systems is that once you start organizing one piece of information, it soon has a domino effect. Soon you’re able to organize other areas because you’ve tackled that first one. —Ross Brown "
Good, Better, Best: Charles Webster, DOWCO Inc.
Charles Webster uses lean techniques to continuously improve production and efficiency.
"It’s really important to establish an integration plan when you’re opening a new facility. With a new place full of new people things can easily get off course if there’s confusion about communication."
Trendsetter: Vernon Schaefer, Glawe Awnings & Tents
Vern Schaefer is what is known as an “early adopter,” trying new equipment as soon as it’s available. As he transitions company leadership to his daughter, he’s still setting trends.
"“Before you make a significant purchase you have to start laying the groundwork with the employees. They’re the ones who are going to be using it, and if they’re not comfortable with it, it’s not going to work.”"
Rest stops on the road to success: David Snoad, Pinz Pty. Ltd.
David Snoad implements systems and empowers employees so his business can flourish—and he can take a vacation.
"When you give people new responsibilities, they’re going to make mistakes—and some of them will be costly. You have to let them know that you’re aware they’ll make mistakes and when they do you’re not going to blame them."
Everything’s connected: Mr. Sadao Izumi, Izumi Co. Ltd.
Mr. Sadao Izumi moves the tent industry forward—by keeping the big picture in mind.
"While of course your individual business is important, you have to be aware that the industry has to survive or your business will not be able to grow. You can’t only focus on being competitive."
The human factors: Aris Makris, Med-Eng
Dr. Aris Makris and his team keep their sights on the end user when developing personal protective equipment for Soldiers.
"Between the person and the threat that may endanger his or her life there is a pile of materials—and materials science. Understanding the threat, the person and what the materials can do is how we solve these problems."
Boldly genuine: Bob Jacquart, Jacquart Fabric Products Inc.
Bob Jacquart uses the “power of pluck” to expand his company and build a strong brand identity.
"But I also always made sure to have somebody around who could help pull me up to the next level. It's important to have someone who can criticize and challenge you."
Entrepreneur in action: Steve Frost, Stamford Tent & Event Services
Steve Frost advances his company by standardizing processes—and being willing to change.
"I think at some point, companies reach a level where the best move is to specialize."
Partners in leadership: Susan Shields and Mike Miller, Airtex Design Group
Susan Shields and Mike Miller foster leadership skills and personal accountability to pursue entrepreneurial excellence.
"I think at the core of this process is getting the right person in the right seat—making sure they can do their job in the best possible way, defining what that possibility is, and connecting the dots of people to make sure they’re accountable and that they understand that accountability. –Susan Shields"