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  • Writer's picturePaul Andrews

Crafting Quality Products From Canvas

In 1996 Chris Salisbury founded Canvasman in the tiny cellar of his Victorian terraced house in Leeds. From its humble beginnings as a one-man-band, the company has since grown to a dedicated team of expert designers, cutters, sewing machinists and fitters, now based in the charming Yorkshire town of Baildon.

As well as boat covers, they design and manufacture shade sails, shop canopies, vehicle covers and much more. In fact, this business is all about the canvas so if it can be made out of canvas, Canvasman is the place to go. Paul Andrews went to speak to Chris and his wife Fran and find out more.

The journey started before 1996 as Chris left school and was employed by a caravan awnings company where repairs needed to be made and he taught himself to sew before doing a deal to go it alone and the Canvasman was born. Chris loves the great outdoors, so the business was the perfect fit, allowing him to pursue his personal goals of traveling whilst repairing tents and awnings and earning a living. Jobs were completed and he was asked to do bespoke projects such as making custom sized boat covers. The business grew and eventually became too big to operate from home, so they leased a workshop before buying their first premises and as the business has grown further moved into their current home a few years ago.

As well as boat covers, awnings, and outdoor garden products the business has diversified with safety beds and Pop tops to name a few. The new factory has enabled them to develop new products and provide the space to automate where they can and develop their own bespoke software programme to help manage each and every job too.

Chris and his wife Fran now run the business together, with complimentary skills that enable roles and responsibilities to be shared which plays to both their strengths. Family values are firmly embedded in the culture of this Yorkshire family firm, as well as being proudly displayed on the walls for all to see, but as Chris explains, they come into play each and every day.

“We manage the business according to the values and it helps us all to be aligned with a shared purpose, underpinned by a consistent and values-based approach. The values were created by Fran from a team day where every member of the team had an input so they came from within the business, were shaped and agreed and are now the values we work to. It certainly helps when it comes to working in teams and making sure that we are all doing the right thing too,” he continues.

The core values that underpin this business:

  • We believe in fair and equal treatment of others.

  • We are conscious of our responsibility to produce products that add value through clever design and longevity and are considerate of the impact that our service and products have on others and our planet.

  • We are committed to creating an environment of inclusivity with shared knowledge, honest communication, and flexibility.

  • We are reliable and trustworthy, delivering products and service on time and fit for purpose.

  • We make good decisions and consider how they will affect others.

  • We set high standards for ourselves in order to achieve outstanding results.

  • We take pride in exceeding our customers’ expectations through the quality of our service, designs, and products.

  • We value efficiency and seek to focus on the best use of our time, energy, and resources

  • We act on feedback and criticism to improve ourselves, our service, and our products.

  • We are creative and innovative and willing to experiment, supporting adaptability and agility in the workplace.

  • We listen to our colleagues and clients to understand their needs so we can help them better.

  • We have a hunger for knowledge and to learn new things and understand that continuous learning is key to improve ourselves as well as the overall performance of our team and company.

  • We nurture camaraderie with each other and our customers by helping people, planet, and community when we can.

  • We value each other’s strengths and differences as key links in the chain, and we can rely on each other for support.

  • We provide open and honest communication with each other and will listen and respect the interaction from others so that we are all connected.

This is a family business that has thought through an approach that works for them with values at their heart. “We like to recruit people that fit our culture,” explains Fran, “as the culture is so important with a team our size. We like a ‘can do’ attitude and know that we can train anyone with the necessary technical skills to do their role.”

Canvasman is also keen to do business the right way and has a sustainable agenda at their core. “We try to do the right thing and act in a way that is as kind to the environment as it can be,” continues Chris. “We are much more aware of our energy use than we were a few years ago and are constantly looking at ways to reduce consumption. We are pushing suppliers to make sustainable fabrics, reducing wate, repairing products rather than replacing them and making sure we embrace as many opportunities as possible, such as a grant to help with the installation of solar panels on the roof which generates half of our required electricity annually.”

This is a family firm that wants to be seen as the best example of a manufacturing business that it can be and the drive is certainly coming from the top as both Chris and Fran believe that is the only way to succeed, to drive change and embrace opportunity but they are also empowering others to make their own impact and help on the journey. The embedded values and culture certainly help in this regard. As Fran continues:

“We are always looking to make things better and to improve what we do and how we do it. We might be a small business but want to be a shining beacon for the manufacturing sector and somewhere that people want to come to work and enjoy their time at work too.”

For Chris and Fran, knowing that their team are happy at work is important and part of their DNA. “We make great products that last and we are known for the quality and craftsmanship in what we do and having a happy team is not only good for morale and the culture of the business but helps with production and customer service too,” continues Chris, adding that:

“We want to be sustainable as a business in our own right and not add to some of the prevailing environmental challenges and if by doing so, creating a nice environment in which to work, happy teams and the right culture continuing to produce great outcomes for our clients then it is a win all round.”

Work-life balance is part of the culture and part of this business. There are ambitions to grow, to diversify into new products and to take Canvasman to the next level. The desire to grow responsibly is tangible and will undoubtedly happen and we look forward to seeing the continuing journey of this great family business.

Watch this space – Canvasman is on the rise – a proud family business who believe in creating great products for great people.

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