For Triton Networking on the first Wednesday in December, join us to tour the new offices and showroom of Admiral Yacht Canvas and Upholstery. After more than 30 years growing a canvas and mostly outdoor soft goods company, Admiral is adding an interior division.
Make plans to join us on Dec. 4 from 6-8 p.m. at 3101 S.W. Second Ave. in Fort Lauderdale (33315). Until then, learn more about the company and its services from its founder, Warren Cooper.
Q. Tell us about Admiral Canvas. What do you do?
We design, manufacture and install custom enclosures, canvas covers, biminis, cushions, runners and more. I started in 1986 as a one-man band and grew to have several locations but then consolidated to Fort Lauderdale in 1999.
In January, we are moving into our new location at 3101 S.W. Second Ave. We are excited that this expanded space will allow us to service our clients even better. The Admiral Design Center will have a showroom and lounge area just for clients to sit and look over swatches. We plan to add computer cutting to our services in the new year, which will enable us to streamline and perfect our patterning and manufacturing.
Q. That’s a lot more than canvas.
We grew with the industry. As the industry evolved, we began doing EZ2CY, the hard acrylic enclosures that have become standard for most high-quality sportfishing boats. We actually helped the company develop their product in the 1980s when they were first starting out.
While we don’t manufacture the acrylic, we manufacture the enclosures — everything from designing them, doing the templates, cutting and sewing them together, and the installation.
We also design and manufacture the stainless steel frames for our covers so it’s a one-stop shop. I’m proud to say we have always pushed the boundaries of “canvas” with innovative products and designs. In recent years we have been working with Makefast and have had great success with their automated bimini tops.
Originally, Admiral didn’t do cushions. As my clients started making requests, I saw a need to do custom cushions in-house. For the last 20 years, we have had a full upholstery department. Our team of skilled craftsman do amazing work on both interior and exterior cushions.
And due to high demand for our interior soft goods, this year saw the addition of Admiral Interiors, which specializes in custom wall liners, surrounds, headliners, Roman shades, helm chairs, banquettes and sofas.
Q. It’s hard to grow a business for 30 years. How did you do it?
By never saying no. If I couldn’t do it, I’d find someone who could. I didn’t want to lose the client. That, and being honest with people and not being afraid to say I can’t do something. Everyone wants to make their client happy so they say yes, but in the end if they can’t deliver, the client isn’t happy.
Q. How did you get started in the industry?
My grandfather was a tailor on Savile Row in London. He moved to Miami in 1974 and opened a tailor shop. My family moved over from the Bahamas in 1976 and together, my dad, his dad and my uncles opened several more tailor shops around South Florida.
So, of course, I swore I’d never sew. I became a bartender at The Button on the beach. This was the early 1980s in the heyday of Spring Break. But like all crazy times, I knew it was going to end, so a friend of mine was going to work with Blue Lagoon Marine’s canvas shop, and I joined him.
After about 18 months, I realized I was really loving what I was doing and wanted more control over the end product. I suggested to the owner we expand to West Palm Beach. He wasn’t interested, so I quit and, with my brother and dad, opened Mr. Canvas up in Delray Beach. But, after two years with three chiefs and no Indians, it didn’t last. After that I started my own business as Admiral Canvas in a 10×30 warehouse in Lantana.
I had been working with Dick Bassett, then of Bassett Boat Co. (and later president of MarineMax), first on 18-25 footers, then 35 footers, 40 footers. And we just grew.
In this business, it’s all about relationships. Companies would change, but the people stayed the same. When the Bassett people moved up, when they went along, we went with them. It’s about taking care of people. What we try to do above all else is have the boat ready for clients when they need it. We take their deadlines seriously.
Q. How do you distinguish yourself from so many other companies that do what you do?
I always say yes. I probably said yes too much in the beginning and worked every weekend, but people came to expect that from me. I said yes to driving to Key West for a job, yes to Fort Myers, when other companies said no.
If you want to stay small, you wait for people to come to you. If you want to grow, you go get the business. Now, every season, we go to New York and Europe. We’ve also gone as far as Venezuela — wherever our clients need us.
Q. So many factors come into play that you don’t have control over — sourcing your supplies among them. How can you promise on-time delivery?
There’s more than one place to get supplies. I’m not afraid to have my guys work Saturday and pay overtime to get the job done. I also work with other canvas companies; we all work to help each other. There’s enough business to go around for everyone.
But the best way to deliver as promised is to have control of your scheduling, knowing what can be produced realistically and how fast, knowing what’s available, and asking questions. Communication is very important, with the client and with suppliers.
Q. Is your key client a captain, or do you work directly with builders?
About half of our business comes from builders and dealers, a third is captains I’ve worked with over the years. About 10 percent are other service providers and 10 percent is owners directly.
Q. What tips do you have for crew in charge of taking care of the canvas onboard?
Keep it clean and air it out. And don’t use bleach. Bleach will ruin the thread and cause the seams to give out.
Don’t ever put runners in the dryer; let them air dry. Depending on what they are made of, you might be able to put them in a washer, but it’s better to lay them out on deck and scrub them with a brush.
Check all the canvas regularly, especially the snaps as they can corrode. The most damage crew do is that they don’t take the time to put the covers on and take them off correctly, so the snaps and fasteners give out.
Know what you have and how to take care of it. With enclosures, do you have isinglass (a soft, rollable vinyl) or EZ2CY (a rigid acrylic) or Makrolon (a rigid polycarbonate)? Only use the right cleaning material. Using the wrong product will ruin it.
Regular maintenance for covers is the same as for anything else onboard; have a schedule.
Q. What one thing will ruin the look of onboard canvas the fastest?
Sun is not the enemy. Leaving dirt on it and having inexperienced people clean it using the wrong products is what does the most damage.
Join us for Triton Networking on Dec. 4 from 6-8 p.m. at Admiral Yacht Canvas and Upholstery’s new location, 3101 S.W. Second Ave. in Fort Lauderdale (33315). No need to RSVP; just bring business cards and a smile so you can meet some new people. For more information about Admiral Canvas, visit admiralcanvas.com.