Specialty Fabrics Review May 2021 - 20

[ PERSPECTIVE ]

Smart moves

Karl Deardorff has combined a love of sailing with strategic
decision-making to build SLO Sail and Canvas.

A
Karl Deardorff
OWNER

SLO Sail and Canvas

San Luis Obispo, Calif.
www.slosailandcanvas.com

IFAI member since 2016
Most valued benefit
Networking with vendors
and members at IFAI Expo
Written by

Laurie F. Junker
Photography by

Tom Meinhold Photography

20 SPECIALTY FABRICS REVIEW / May 2021

t age 19, Karl Deardorff bought a sewing machine from Leo Robbins,
his first sailing instructor. " I wanted to be able to fix and alter my
own sails, " he says. The machine went with Deardorff to California
Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, where he was also on
the sailing team. Soon he was doing small piecework jobs for people in the sailing
community and had landed a summer job with a sailmaker.
After graduating with a degree in industrial technology, Deardorff worked for a
few years at a sail and boat cover manufacturer in Austin, Texas, before returning
to San Luis Obispo in 2005 to reconnect with his former college roommates and
start a business-SLO Sail and Canvas.
" We were all spread out across the country and said, 'Let's move back to SLO
[San Luis Obispo] and keep having fun there,' and within a few months, one of
the guys had rented a house, and we all moved in, " Deardorff says. " SLO Sail and
Canvas started in the garage of that house. "

Taking notes
Deardorff had always paid attention to the marketing and operations side at shops
where he worked, knowing that he might want to go into business for himself
someday. One valuable observation was the importance of offering different product lines to balance fluctuating demand.
" The first shop I worked for did sailmaking and repairs, " he says. " The second
did boat covers, bimini tops and shade products in addition to making sails, so
when I started SLO, right from the get-go, we were focused on those four areas. "
Early success came from targeting a handful of boat dealerships in San Luis
Obispo. SLO was the only local custom cover manufacturer, and latent demand
kept SLO busy for a few months. When those orders tapered off, Deardorff
decided to try selling Laser sailboat covers for $99 on eBay-controlling postage
costs by using USPS flat rate shipping boxes. Sales were healthy. Realizing the
potential of online sales, Deardorff reached out to a programmer friend and
expanded SLO's website to include e-commerce.
" Within just a few months of doing that, things changed really fast, and that's
when the business started growing very quickly, " Deardorff says. Selling marine
covers online was still a relatively new idea at the time, and it took a few years for
SLO to work out the kinks-for example, transitioning from tightly fitted custom
parts to those that were more fit tolerant.


http://www.slosailandcanvas.com

Specialty Fabrics Review May 2021

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