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How Lakeside Marine Canvas went mobile

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Company outlines steps to take when building a mobile shop.

Lakeside Marine Canvas of Buford, Ga., has been creating custom canvas marine products—from small boat covers and biminis to an engineered Party Top designed to withstand winds up to 100 mph and snow loads of 20 pounds per square foot—for 20 years. About 10 years ago, owner Daymon Johnstone started down a path that greatly increased the company’s mobile service by developing a buggylike battery-powered mobile dock cart for moving tools and equipment. The batteries power electric wheelchair motors adapted to the cart so it can be “driven” straight to the work site, and Johnstone designed toolboxes and tray slots on the buggy to store everything he might need onsite. Sounds efficient, but there was a hitch—the buggy itself weighs 400 to 500 pounds, without the enclosure or fabric for a specific job on top of it.

“Because the thing was so heavy, we couldn’t just put it in the back of a car or even a small truck,” he says. “I ended up buying a Mac Tool Truck off of eBay. It had lift gates, air conditioners, everything we needed right off the bat.”

Johnstone designed the interior of the truck around the cart, building a table at a height so the cart, at 35 inches, could be tucked under it, and adding a sewing machine. Pegboards on the ceiling and walls keep every tool within reach. The shop-on-wheels is so convenient Johnstone takes it even when he’s going only a few miles from his permanent shop, but it has also allowed the company to travel as much as 500 miles for a job. Most recently, Lakeside Marine Canvas has done a lot of work in Chattanooga, Tenn.—a three-hour drive from Buford—following a storm that did enough damage to overwhelm the local marine canvas fabricators.

“If I was three hours away from my sewing machine and I had to move a zipper a half inch to make it right or make one little dart or make one little piece over again I couldn’t feasibly do it,” he says. “I couldn’t begin to try to do some of these jobs if I knew if I had one little mess-up it was going to be a day’s worth of driving back and forth just to make a five-minute stitch.”

Still, Johnstone says that 99 percent of the company’s sewing is done in his permanent shop.

“If we were to do a four-hour project out of my shop, it seems to take eight hours to do the same project in the truck just because of the space,” he says. “The mobility truck is a big benefit for us, but I wouldn’t try to do it all in the truck.”

Jill C. Lafferty is editor of InTents magazine.

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