CEDAR FALLS — Despite several inches of snow on the ground, a Cedar Falls family-run business has their eyes firmly set on spring. Their family-run business, repairing and manufacturing industrial-strength custom fabric projects, depends on it.
“Spring and summer are definitely our busy seasons,” said Chad Everly, owner of Canseal Canvas in Cedar Falls.
Everly took over the business from his mother, Jo Everly, five years ago with the help of his sister, Derise Vlasak. Both had been groomed on the job from a young age.
It all began in the early 1970s when Jo Everly wanted to work from home when she began having children with her husband, then a John Deere employee, Gene Everly.
Jo had worked in an overall factory in her hometown of Pella, as well as a bean bag company in Cedar Falls when she combined her passions and launched an industrial sewing business in 1975 in her basement.
Jo originally thought she was going to be making canvas covers for semi-trucks, which she never ended up doing because her customer’s had their own ideas of what they wanted covered and protected from the harsh Iowa elements.
Canseal Canvas was not just the name of the company, it also was an explanation to her customers — When something is broke, see if it can be fixed before throwing away.
“People don’t know you can repair things. They just replace them,” Vlasak said.
Once word got out, Jo’s business quickly picked up.
“It’s basically word of mouth, period. You do a good job on something and word does get out,” Jo said. “We’re super picky, and that was something I’ve really stressed,” she said. “I think that’s the reason we get picked to do a lot of jobs.”
Over the nearly 40 years Jo spent working on projects, boat covers were the main request from customers, as well as canvas tents.
“I’ve repaired a million tents,” Jo said, “putting in new zippers and that kind of stuff, and now they’ve made tents too cheap,” she said, noting tents now are often made with plastic instead of canvas. “People just throw them away.”
In the beginning, boat covers were about 70 percent of the business, Chad said, noting he has seen several covers come back to the shop for repairs that their mother made 20-30 years ago.
“That’s kind of our pride and joy,” he said. “Now, it’s like 20 (percent of business). But we haven’t gone down on boat covers,” just expanded in other areas.
They use a specialized material, as well as a cotton polyester blend of thread, to ensure durability in all conditions.
During the winter months, the crew — Chad, Vlasak and their cousin Brittanie Kochheiser — focus on a variety of projects, including a 378-foot, 18 ounce vinyl canvas for Print Transformations, which will eventually go up on Luther College’s softball field.
“The wind wreaks havoc on typical banner material,” Chad said.
The crew also creates custom fittings for odd jobs, including parts for grain machines, as opposed to metal, at Roskamp Champion and hog flags for Tyson Foods in Waterloo for herding.
Being an entrepreneur in this industry seems to suit Chad well, his cousin and sister said.
“He wakes up in the middle of the night and searches sewing machines,” Kochheiser said, as well as thread. “Sometimes he’ll get really frustrated and be like, ‘OK, I need some sewing time’ to calm down a little bit.”
“I really, really like to sew. It’s very therapeutic for me; you concentrate on what’s right in front of you, and that’s it,” Chad said.
Although he admits he’s also been thinking about expanding.
“We definitely need the room. In the summer, we’re way too close to each other.”
But Chad, like his mom, depends on word-of-mouth advertising.
“A lot of our customers are promoters,” he said. “She (Jo) didn’t advertise or nothing. She’s got a good reputation and ... that’s why she’s picky about our standards. We count on that to keep going.”