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Marine fabricators translate skills to other markets

June 1st, 2013 / By: / Marine, Markets

Upselling works with marine fabrication skills that transfer to other applications.

Terri Madden moved to Puerto Rico 18 years ago and established a marine fabrication business servicing the marina located near her shop, Sand Sea and Air Interiors Inc. in San Juan. In the entrepreneurial spirit, she was determined to grow her business and soon realized that what she was doing for boats and yachts could be done elsewhere.

“Each of my customers has a home and most likely an office where we could expand our services. If we’re doing sofas and ottomans in marine, why can’t we for restaurants and commercial spaces? It’s almost a given to translate to other areas,” she says. “Also, the local aviation runway ended next to my shop at the marina, and there is a similarity of design in marine and aviation seating.”

That led her to offer aircraft services after achieving an FAA certification in 2006. Today Sand Sea and Air Interiors provides solutions for aircraft, residential and commercial spaces in addition to marine. Madden works with local designers, architects, hotel managers and housekeeping staff, as well as individual customers, providing interior and exterior fabric solutions that are posted on the company’s Facebook page in enviable tropical paradise settings—her biggest marketing tool, in addition to a newsletter and word-of-mouth advertising.

Doing business on an island could be limiting, but Madden is always seeking ways to upsell to her customers, drawing on her breadth of knowledge of textiles to educate them on how fabric can provide solutions in an environment that can be harsh on exterior surfaces. A one-time project often turns into three or four additional projects. She also collaborates with local artists and designers on special requests. As a business person, she’s always concerned with profits and where a project might lead.

“Being on an island, we have a lot of clients that want something very unique; it’s not the same as being on the mainland,” she says. “We try to think of the larger picture—that maybe it’s not just going to be this project or that material. We might start showing a client other materials that would work better and come up with reasonable propositions that are profitable for us and affordable for clients.”

The lampshade project

Madden recently collaborated with local artist and designer Marxz Rosado, who designed a palm tree lamp and shade to illuminate beach areas at night so they are safe and pleasant places to “hang out.” Rosado is co-owner of Seiz Dedos, a design studio, and he teaches product design and fabrication at the School of Fine Arts in Puerto Rico.

For the Palm Shade, Rosado chose Fleetboat Dacron® Cover from Bainbridge International for its light-diffusing qualities, affordability and its suitability for outdoor and marine applications. He’s now working on a version of the Palm Shade with collapsible capabilities that is easier to ship and to install in windy conditions.

“The markets around tropical island, beach, recreation and hospitality areas are those concerned with creating social environments, meaningful landscapes and quality lifestyles,” he says. “We haven’t gone that far concerning the green economy. There are a lot of possibilities to reclaim, retrofit, adapt, sustain, assist and reincorporate strategies for long-lasting quality standards and bio ethics.”

For example, the Palm Shade demonstrates how an environmentally friendly solution can be accomplished. It hangs from a palm tree and does not require a traditional street pole with underground concrete foundation—a structure that is not suitable for sand substrates or protected habitats.

Rosado also points to a study on the use of engineered natural fiber composite panels for the interior of doors, trunk and consoles for the automotive industry, using hemp and coconut fibers. Using natural raw materials such as these, especially since they are abundantly available, cuts production costs, and reduces carbon footprint and toxic byproducts. It’s not a new approach, says Rosado, but it can motivate and establish trust between consumers and industry with respect to environmental hazards.

Recycle, reuse

Recycling materials is definitely hot, adds Madden. For example, a backpack she designed with leftover fabric pieces has become a popular item on the island. She also used kite sail materials that were no longer serviceable and fabricated them into beanbag seating for a marine customer. It became part of her repertoire of product offerings, which led to a project to provide beanbag seating for the Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment Center at the new six-star Ritz Carlton Reserve in Puerto Rico. It was the only project she was supposed to do for the upscale client, but it was just the beginning.

After attending IFAI Expo, where she sourced new materials, she showed a client some material that matched perfectly with the coral rock around the hotel. Within days she was ordering a roll of it for a privacy panel project to hide solar panels that were visible from the rooftop seating area.

Madden noticed that cushion bottoms in an outdoor seating area were wet from constant exposure to the elements, so she also suggested an underliner protection for the seat cushions using HyperVent Marine fabric to prevent inevitable deterioration. HyperVent, made by HyperVent Marine in Marysville, Wash., is used on boats to reduce condensation under cushions and mattresses and prevent mold and mildew. It was a perfect solution for the $1,500-a-night outdoor suite.

“I never had an opportunity to recommend this material, but when I saw that the cushions were soaking wet, I discussed the disadvantage of this and suggested a solution,” she says. “Maybe we don’t have a market for the beanbags, but it got my foot in the door for several other projects. We also fabricated and have new bids for several dozen covers because everything needs to be covered here. It’s material I can offer that somebody down the road doesn’t know about.”

Madden credits the Marine Fabricators Association workshops and IFAI Expo for providing information about the latest fabrics, technologies and solutions that others in her area do not have. With this knowledge at her fingertips, she has a competitive edge when she’s working with clients. She’s now extending her repertoire to working with architects to provide shade solutions, and offers design services, as well.

“We all have the opportunity to somehow increase our business,” she says. “It’s about being savvy, drawing on your experience and having the tools in your toolbox.”

Barb Ernster is a freelance writer based in Fridley, Minn.

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