Rick Low doesn’t have a lot of free time as co-owner of Canvas Tech because business has been good for him and his wife.
“We’ve cut back on our advertising because we’ve got just so much work it’s incredible. We’re backed up three weeks now — going on more than that, really,” Low said Monday, July 27.
The Pine River-based custom manufacturer of boat tops, covers and upholstery serves the Brainerd lakes area.
“Today, we started a top for a guy that fishes for salmon in the Great Lakes. He needed a top that was at the height that he wants it, so it will fold down in a particular way when he has a fish on … so he’ll be able to lower the top quickly, easily, out of the way,” he said.
Low and his wife recently returned to Minnesota from South Florida to take care of his mother, who was in her 90s, and decided to start Canvas Tech following their decades of experience in the Sunshine State.
“We bought a place in Backus and bought the old Shamp’s Meat Market that was pretty much a staple up here in the Pine River area,” he said. “It was empty for two years, and we thought maybe that’ll be a good place that we can set up shop, right in the heart of the lakes area.”
Founded in 2018, Canvas Tech was responsible for the recent large awning installation at Bob and Fran’s furniture and appliance store in downtown Brainerd.
“Mostly, we do where the person will bring us the boat — say, ‘Here’s my boat. I want to make a cover for it,’” Low said. “And I’ll ask a few questions — like ‘Do you keep it in the water? Is it on a trailer? Do you keep it on a lift?’ — those sorts of questions.”
The family-operated business with 35 years of experience uses digital measurements and plotting to get the correct fit for a boat.
“We’ll discuss how we fasten it down — snaps, rope or ratchet — for a cover and the types of materials. There are different types of fabrics we use depending upon the type of customer,” he said.
Leaving a boat uncovered when not in use can damage it, but there are other reasons to use a properly-fitted cover, from keeping it clean from dust to protecting the parts from cracking.
“With the higher-end customer, we lean them towards the product called ‘Sunbrella,’ which is a water-repellent, breathable fabric that holds up about 20 years here. If they’re, you know, more economical and want something that’s tough as nails then we lead them toward a product called ‘Aqualon,’ which is a vinyl waterproof material that’s light,” he said.
Canvas Tech offers mooring covers, travel covers and slipcovers for boats in addition to custom covers.
“If they’re an older client, you know, we want to make sure that they’ll be able to put it on, or we want to use a lighter fabric for them … that's not going to kill the person trying to put it on because it weighs, you know, 75 pounds,” he said.
Canvas Tech also offers long-lasting boat and pontoon enclosures that are custom-made and vinyl see-through windshield and pontoon covers, but that’s not all the business does.
“We do so much custom stuff. … A guy calls us and goes ‘The sun is shining in my porch, and I have screens up, but I need a visor that’s going to hang down 24 inches, 14 feet long that will block the sun in the late afternoon. It’s just shining in and it’s killing me,’” Low said.
Other services and products offered by Canvas Tech include custom upholstery for boats and yachts, such as cushion, foam and wood replacement, and vinyl seat recovering; for auto, such as street rod and hot rod interiors, and classic car restoration; and for recreational vehicles.
“We also go mobile to the bigger boats up in Walker. There are some 30-, 40-, 50-footers up there that we’re working on,” he said. “We go out there, we’ll make a fitting, and we’ll bring it back here, we’ll sew it up, and we’ll go out there, put it back on and fit them, or bring it down here.”
Canvas Tech also restores pontoons, boats and vehicles; offers patio mesh and furniture cushion replacement, patio umbrellas and patio furniture storage covers; and repairs canvas for suitcases, umbrellas and tarps, in addition to making awnings like Bob and Fran’s in Brainerd.
“We contracted out the metal fabrication,” Low said of the 50-foot awning. “Actually, we bolted it together. … I sewed it up here and then brought it down there … and we had like 11 people carry that thing out of the building, out into the street.”
Bob and Fran's is a local family-owned furniture, appliance and mattress store with a four-floor showroom of in-stock merchandise.
“We got into position, so it was ready to go up,” Low recalled of the awning installation process. “And we had a couple of manual forklift jacks, and we raised the thing up to the side of the building and bolted it on there.”
Low said he even had a Saudi Arabian prince as a client in the late 1980s.
“We were just, you know, at the right place at the right time,” Low said. “He was in the country buying a lot of things to bring back to Saudi Arabia, and he bought several boats, cars, all kinds of things, and he needed covers for all of it.”
Business: Canvas Tech.
City: Pine River.
Number of employees: Four.
Interesting fact: Made a cover for a horse trailer for a Saudi Arabian prince.