Charlie and Marcia Kees are the owners of Mister Sew-N-Sew Custom Boat Canvas. Based in Halfmoon, N.Y., the marine fabrication business designs and sews boat covers and marine upholstery for a variety of makes and models of boats. From bimini covers to mooring covers to camper-style marine covers, all custom work is professionally designed and sewn with attention to production of a high-quality product. Here, Charlie talks about how he got involved in the industry, the challenges his business faces and how Mister Sew-N-Sew keeps customers “sew” very happy.
What drew you to the industry?
I found myself unemployed one summer while in my 20s, so I taught myself how to sew on my mother’s Pfaff sewing machine (which I still own, but it’s now an antique). Twenty years later, one of my friends asked me if I could sew a boat cover. I made that cover and next thing I knew, I had two more requests for boat jobs. I thought “Aha, there’s something to this!” I decided to investigate the industry, so in 1999 I attended an MFA Regional Canvas workshop in New Haven, Conn., where I learned about Kathie’s Canvas in Marblehead, Ohio. I attended three of her canvas training workshops. My experience as a machinist, coupled with my years of sewing, helped me make the transition into canvas work. My wife and I founded Mister Sew-N-Sew in 2000 and I’ve been busy ever since.
What are your areas of expertise?
I design and sew custom boat covers and marine upholstery for many makes and models of boats. I create mooring and bimini covers, camper-style enclosures, windshields with optional “U” zippers and screens, cockpit upholstery and most types of marine seating. I bend frames and create other custom-fitted items as needed. I also repair canvas and install window replacements to extend the life of boat canvas.
What are your biggest challenges?
We’re challenged sometimes by having more work than we can handle in a timely fashion. This is a good problem to have, but you never want to disappoint your customers by taking too long to get to their job. We’re a small shop and we pride ourselves on producing quality work so we often need to explain that custom work takes time. I also like the unique jobs that come my way, such as designing and making covers for reproduction cannons onboard the Onrust, a replica 1614 Dutch vessel that sails the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers.
How do you develop your skills and attract new business?
Having grown up on Cape Cod, I’m an old salt, so I enjoy how this business keeps me in touch with boaters. I visit marinas in our region on a regular basis and I always wear a shirt or jacket with our business name while I’m working on a job. When boaters see me, they often ask for a business card, so much of our business is word-of-mouth. Increasingly over the years, however, much of my first-time customer contact comes though our website. It’s important to have a good website because that’s how people find you these days.
Why are you a member of IFAI?
Attending the shows and conferences provides me with the opportunity to network with the talented people and friends that I’ve made throughout the years. I enjoy comparing notes with others and keeping up with new products. I’ve seen some beautiful work from the people who have presented at shows. I’ve also been a presenter of some of my favorite techniques, particularly tools, tricks and tips.