If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” contains a lot of truth, but there’s also a risk of stagnation if a company doesn’t adapt to changing times. When the global financial crisis erupted in 2008, Matt Carroll knew it was time for his family’s fabric-awning business to stretch its capabilities.
“We had served residential customers for decades and had done well with patio canopies and awnings,” says Carroll, 41, president of Florida-based Hoover Architectural Products. “It’s tough to significantly grow top-line revenue, though, with such a strong focus in the residential market. About 10 years ago, we diversified our product line in an effort to sell more to existing customers within the commercial sector.”
There was growing demand for architectural metals. More architects, real estate developers and building owners wanted this sleek, modern look for shade control, outdoor dining spaces at restaurants, and more. While fabric and architectural metal were traditionally viewed as competing products, Carroll saw things differently.
“Our goal is to give customers the best advice and help them select the right products to fit their space. We decided to find practical ways to adapt and create the hybrid architectural metal and fabric products our customers want.”
This goes far beyond the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mind-set. “Let’s lead them by showing how fabric can soften architectural metal, making it more inviting and beautiful,” Carroll says.
Investing in efficiency
The textile industry’s roots run deep in Hoover Architectural Products’ history. Henry Hoover founded Hoover Canvas Products in 1949. When Carroll’s family got involved with the Hoover company in the late 1970s, they were no strangers to the fabric awning business. Carroll’s grandfather had established Carroll Awning in 1958 in the basement of the family’s home in Baltimore, Md. “My family has been working with textiles for five generations, with everything from old-school sails for ships to tarps and awnings,” Carroll says.
In search of better weather and new opportunities, Carroll’s great-uncle Tom decided to move to South Florida, eventually purchasing Hoover Canvas Products in 1979. “Hoover had a great reputation for quality,” says Carroll, whose father, Jim, moved to Florida in 1980 to help his uncle operate the business and eventually take over ownership.
While Carroll never expected to be an “awning guy,” he worked at his family’s business during school vacations. He also listened as his uncles and father discussed the family business around the dinner table. “I didn’t realize until I was older that I was getting an excellent education in this industry,” Carroll says.
After college, Carroll decided to join the family business and followed his dad’s advice. “Start at the bottom and work your way up,” says Carroll, who was 22 at the time. “That’s when I really learned how to build awnings.”
Sometimes different generations have different ideas, however, about how to keep a company competitive. It took Carroll more than a year to convince his father that a six-figure investment in an automated cutting machine was worth it. “The CNC is more accurate and faster than we could ever be,” says Carroll, who lobbied successfully for the machine in 2005.
Next, Carroll pushed for a custom AutoCAD® software plugin that would allow the CNC machine to meet Hoover Architectural Products’ specific needs. “Most CNC machines are used to cut high-volume orders where most of the parts are the same shape,” Carroll says. “But we don’t
do 5,000 awnings of the same type – every job we do is custom.”
This and other software packages proprietary to Hoover Architectural Products allow the team to take advantage of powerful tools like 3-D laser scanning. “We can scan the building where the awning will go, design a frame and the other components for the awning directly on the building, and see exactly what the awning will look like,” Carroll says. “Because we are working in a scaled, 3-D world, the whole process is incredibly accurate and much more efficient than having to do all this by hand.”
Growing in new directions
As a small-business leader with 43 employees, Carroll handles a variety of roles, from teacher to executive. “Sometimes I’m sharing my knowledge with our employees to help them become better craftsmen. I also spend my time on the top-level business, fine-tuning Hoover’s goals for the next three to five years and helping guide where we’ll be in 10 years.”
He knows that a fear of change can keep even the best companies from evolving. “For decades, Hoover had a very specific way of doing things,” Carroll says. “My great-uncle and my dad built a solid business on fabric awnings, but we never really moved beyond that customer base.”
Carroll had observed, however, how more commercial customers wanted architectural metal, from Bahama shutters to canopies. Why not offer fabric options and metal options?
“Accomplishments are built from challenges,” Carroll says. “Our challenge was trying to get our entire team on board as we shifted from being a one-dimensional company to a multi-faceted company.”
This meant taking a fresh look at everything. It also meant moving away from traditional Yellow Pages advertisements, building a good website, restructuring how the company operated, setting ambitious long-term goals and adding new team members. “We empower our employees to make decisions, which allows us to stay nimble,” Carroll says. “We also have a ‘train your replacement’ mindset, not so we can fire people, but so employees can grow their skills while adding depth and value to the company.”
A big part of this involves listening carefully to each other. “One of the greatest gifts you can give another person is your rapt attention,” Carroll says. “It helps you make a connection, know what’s important to people and set expectations properly.”
Carroll created the Hoover Insights team, which meets monthly to check in on the progress of the company’s various projects. The team also meets off-site annually to review Hoover’s accomplishments in the past year and set goals for the year ahead. “If you improve one or two things each year, these little changes lead to major progress over time,” Carroll says.
As Hoover’s vision to become a leader in the architectural metal market has unfolded, this has generated buy-in from Carroll’s team. In 2018, Carroll launched Datum Wholesale as a spin-off company to support the architectural metal business. “Datum ships fully fabricated product all over the country, and our innovative solutions have been well-received by architects,” Carroll says. “We always want to add value for our customers.”
Learning from diverse industries
A big part of adding value involves “humanizing” the business. “My dad always stressed the importance of building strong relationships,” Carroll says.
Since 2013, Carroll has been part of Vistage, a group of nearly 20 local CEOs from industries as diverse as manufacturing and healthcare. The CEOs meet monthly and share openly about issues they’re facing in their organizations. “I adapt ideas from other companies in different industries and use them to improve our business,” Carroll says. “It’s a phenomenal opportunity for continuing education not found anywhere else.”
Hoover Architectural Products remains committed to steady, strategic growth, Carroll adds. “Opportunities come and go all the time. I’m always asking, ‘Are we positioned to take advantage of good opportunities when they come along?’”
Darcy Maulsby is Iowa’s Storyteller and a fifth-generation Iowa farmer. She helps businesses discover and share their “wow” stories to help inspire their team members and clients to dream bigger, become better versions of themselves, and change the world for the good. Visit her online at www.darcymaulsby.com.
SIDEBAR: Project Snapshot
Hoover Architectural Products define Dolphin Mall’s distinctive style
When the Neumann Smith architectural firm asked Hoover Architectural Products to create larger-than-life, fabric tulip shades for the Dolphin Mall in Miami, Fla., Matt Carroll tried to dissuade them.
“I told them they should just use plastic,” says Carroll, president of Hoover Architectural Products. “They didn’t take no for an answer. ‘We heard you’re the guys who can do this project,’ they said.”
Carroll and a Hoover manager decided to try creating a 19-foot-diameter tulip. “We were shocked that it worked,” Carroll says.
The Hoover team hand-built a number of these tulip shades to exacting tolerances, using hollow structural sections (HSS) galvanized steel for the frame and Serge Ferrari Précontraint® 502 vinyl fabric. The company also designed a 5,200-square-foot, exposed structural steel and fabric canopy for the 2018 expansion of the Dolphin Mall.
How do you recruit and retain talent at Hoover Architectural Products?
By encouraging referrals from existing team members. “I’ve hired employment agencies before, but no one knows our business and company culture as well as our employees,” says Matt Carroll, president of Hoover Architectural Products. “Our employees are our best ambassadors.”
Hoover Architectural Products offers a referral bonus of $1,000 for a new hire and $1,000 for the employee who referred him or her, as long as the new employee works for the company at least six months. “I’d rather pay my employees than a head hunter,” says Carroll, who notes that many of Hoover’s employees have been with the company 25 years or more.
Carroll adds that specialized skills like cutting an awning accurately aren’t taught in school but are learned in the workplace. “Give employees the best tools and training you can, and then get out of their way. It’s amazing what they can do.”