Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Tradition Meets Technology at Marco Island Canvas

Ed Skrzynski decided high-tech was the way to go when he purchased Marco Island Canvas and Upholstery in 2008.

So after buying the business from his father, also named Ed, Skrzynski took an enterprise that was then focused on traditional services and injected with 21st Century technology to expand offerings and boost revenues.

The decision is one that Skrzynski hasn’t regretted.

“I wanted to grow it, but I wanted to use automation skills that came from my past in robotics and also in process engineering (discipline focused on industrial processes, especially continuous ones),” he said. “I looked at the type of products we produced and wondered whether I could use math and science to create products, or should I be doing traditional, old-school tailoring. Through research over the course of two years, I concluded it was very possible to produce products in a digital environment.”

Marco Island Canvas, as it’s commonly known, offers a wide assortment of custom products and services for the retail and commercial markets, including boat tops, Skrzynski’s patented Liberty retractable boat covers, bags, upholstery, fixed and retractable awnings and canopies, and solar screens. There are also retractable wall enclosures, platform shade systems, tensile structures, custom signage and a variety of custom metal fabrication services.

The business’s commercial clientele include a wide assortment of Marco establishments, including restaurants such as The Snook Inn and hotels such as the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort. Marco’s police, fire, and parks and recreation departments are also customers, as are the Collier and Lee county school districts.

Marco Island Canvas products are also marketed statewide, and in the case of the retractable boat cover, nationwide, and some are even sold overseas.

Skrzynski said that when marketing his company, “I basically tell people that anything with fabric, metal, wood, plastics, chances are we’re going to be able to make it.” 

It was his father who opened the shop 40 years ago after moving his wife and children to Marco in the mid-1970s from the Chicago area. The family had operated a similar business there since 1922 when Skrzynski’s great-grandfather, Leo, opened Skrzynski’s Trimming.

Leo Skrzynski was working as an upholsterer for railroad-car manufacturer, the Pullman Company, in Chicago when a business executive, who’d purchased his own railroad car asked him to customize it. So he opened a shop and initially specialized in the train industry, before branching out to include customizing cars manufactured a nearby Ford plant.

“If you had a quarter-buggy top, he would change it to a full-buggy top,” said Skrzynski. “The trunk, if you wanted it converted into a bench seat, he would turn that into a bench seat. That’s literally how the family got started with the auto-trimming business.”

His grandfather, the first Ed Skrzynski, began working there in the mid-1920s and took over the business in the late-20s or early 1930s. Under his leadership, more automotive services were added and the name changed to Skrzynski Auto Trim and Glass. Skrzynski’s father took over in the mid-1950s to early 1960s and broadened the company’s scope to include van and car interiors, new seats, rebuilding interiors after an accident, and installing T-tops.

He also expanded to include seven locations in the Chicago area, but sold the operation in the mid 1970s, a decision Skrzynski said was prompted by a disturbing circumstance.

“There’s an interesting story about how we ended up leaving Chicago,” he explained. “Certain people had wanted protection money to make sure our facilities didn’t burn down to the ground.”

With that, his father turned his attention to Florida, first checking out the East Coast as a potential landing site, before heading west and discovering Marco.

Products for the boating industry were Marco Canvas’ focus at the outset, as were automotive jobs, such as reupholstering seats and replacing convertible tops. The company eventually added the local schools districts and the hospitality industry to its customer list.

Skrzynski said his father kept the business relatively small and had begun looking, unsuccessfully, for a buyer three to four years before he assumed the helm.

By then, Skrzynski’s background included a youth spent working with his dad and with his mother’s family in the tool-and-die business, earning a bachelors’ degree in process engineering from Penn State, working in robotics programming and as an applications engineer.

It was Christmas time, 2007, when Skrzynski’s father approached him about taking over the business.

“He said with your business and manufacturing experience, and the time you worked with me, I don’t think I could pick anybody any better,” said Skrzynski.

So after discussing the idea with his wife Tammy, he decided to become the fourth generation of his family to enter the business.

“Of course 2008 was the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, so it was kind of crazy to get into a business that’s more luxury based,” Skrzynski added.

Adding automation, expanding the product line and the customer base were immediate goals.

“At that time, my motto was if somebody prematurely peels a banana and wants a cover for it, we’re going to make it,” he said. “We’re going to do whatever anybody wants.”

So he canvassed local marinas and boat dealers to drum up business, and sought out additional projects from area hotels and restaurants. Skrzynski also began looking at the company’s offerings, with an eye toward broadening them.

“As a boater myself, I could recognize that there were specific things that I knew I would like to have on my boat that no one had or had come out with,” he said. “That’s where the retractable boat cover came from.”

After taking over, Skrzynski quickly implemented organizational changes that helped the company go from monthly losses, to roughly $300,000 in annual sales that first year, with just a three-person staff and him.

“Today, we’re at 18 people and this year, if the trend continues we’ll do over $3 million,” he said.

Marco Island Canvas’s handiwork can be seen all over the island, be it the awning at the La Scarpa Boutique on N. Collier Boulevard and the automated inclement weather enclosures that can be raised and lowered found at The SpeakEasy, the Snook Inn, the JW Marriott and the Marriott Crystal Shores.

Skrzynski kicked off his digital push with the purchase of the business’ first robotic cutting machine in 2011. Since then, the company has begun employing photography, such scanning tools as point-to-point and laser measurement, 2-D and 3-D photogrammetry (uses photography to survey and map and measure distances between objects), hand-held scanners and Computer Aided Design (CAD) software in its work.

Marco Island Canvas still has a strong family influence, with two of Skrzynski’s sisters, an uncle and Skrzynski’s wife Tammy all working there. His brother was responsible for getting the computer automation system up and running.

The Skrzynskis consider the company’s employees to be more than just workers.

“My wife and I, we look at the people that work with us as an extension of our family,” he said. “I think that if you ask any one of them, they would definitely tell you that. They call my wife ‘Mama Bear,’ because she wants to make sure she takes care of everyone. It’s a really nice culture that we’ve built here and we enjoy what we do.”

The couple has two children: Madison, 12, and Jaelynn, 10.

Skrzynski said the girls will get their introduction to the business this summer.

“We’re going to start to take them through some of the products that we make, teach them a little bit of sewing, cleaning out the machines and setting them up,” said Skrzynski. “We want them to have that skill set to fall back on. I’m not putting more emphasis on education or more emphasis on skills. We basically want them to have skill sets in the trades, as well as skill sets with a higher level of education. If there’s to be a fifth generation, who knows? I guess that’s up to them.”

Marco Island Canvas and Upholstery is located at 991 Chalmer Drive, Suite 7. For more information, visit marcocanvas.com or call 239-394-1718.

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