Specialty Fabrics Review May 2021 - 23

has grown physically, adding a second
warehouse two years after the first and
a third more recently.

From sea to space
Deardorff credits a summer employee
for SLO'S entry into the aerospace
market. " One of the guys who worked
here in college became a fueling engineer at nearby Vandenberg Air Force
Base and thought of us when they had
draping projects, " he recalls. " And now
we also do work for other aerospace
companies who find us online. "
Early frustration translating designs
from engineers accustomed to working
with metal turned into an opportunity
for SLO to educate those engineers on
the different properties and applications
of textiles. The partnership has resulted
in better designs and more efficient
and profitable projects for SLO, with
aerospace now accounting for about 30
percent of the company's business.
Over the years, SLO has hit a few
bumps in the road, including a brief
foray into shade sails. " That didn't go
well for us. My hat is off to those who
have figured it out, " says Deardorff.
" There were too many options and
decisions to make, which wasn't a good
fit for our operation. "
Another challenge has been
maintaining and updating the shopping
cart software on the company's website.
SLO has been through three so far, and
it's an ongoing challenge to find the
right solution. " I don't know how to
internet well, " Deardorff jokes. " I know
how to sew. "

Controlling the process
" I was an IFAI [Industrial Fabrics Association International] freeloader for
the first 10 years, " Deardorff confesses.
He decided to officially join five years
ago and said it was a smart move, giving him access to peers and vendors

in addition to a sense of belonging.
Deardorff also notes that going to
IFAI Expos and connecting with
other members has paid tremendous
financial dividends. " Tens of thousands
of dollars, " he says, citing one example-an automated webbing cutter
the company wouldn't have purchased
without seeing it at an Expo and having the opportunity to talk to people
who use it. " That saves us hundreds of
hours. Cutting is so easy now we don't
even think about it. "
Like most small business owners,
Deardorff spends his days talking
to customers, fixing problems and
managing his 12-person staff. During
COVID-19, he also found himself
doing more hands-on sailmaking,
which he enjoys, and he thinks doing
the work makes him a better manager.
" The way to get control of the outcome
is to get control of the process, " he says,
" and the way to do that is to become
an expert in that process, which in our
business is sewing. "

Q

A

What is an interesting trend
in the sailing market?
COVID-19 has gotten a lot more
people into sailing. We saw a
significant uptick in business
in 2020. It's cool seeing sailing
become more popular. When
soccer and other youth sports
were put on hold, people spent
that money on a sailboat-a
hobby the whole family can
enjoy. I think that's pretty great.

Laurie F. Junker is a freelance writer based
in Minneapolis, Minn.

www.SpecialtyFabricsReview.com

23


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Specialty Fabrics Review May 2021

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