Local company survives 1913 flood, Great Depression and now pandemic

Shaun Fridley, grandson of Glawe’s CEO Vernon Schaefer, operates a digital fabric cutter that saves hours of manual cutting time for custom awnings and tents. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

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Shaun Fridley, grandson of Glawe’s CEO Vernon Schaefer, operates a digital fabric cutter that saves hours of manual cutting time for custom awnings and tents. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Business in Fairborn has seen a year-over-year boost, despite two-month hiatus due to crisis.

Glawe, an awning and tent company in Fairborn, survived the 1913 flood and the Great Depression and had never shut down in its 144 years of existence.

That was until March 2020.

Ohio reported its first lab confirmed coronavirus case on March 9, and shortly after, on March 26, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a stay at home order and the closure of all non-essential businesses.

Nearly 163,700 business owners closed their doors since last March, according to CNN.

Sixty percent of them will never reopen. Glawe was fortunate, reopening on May 11, 2020.

April is the single busiest month for the company, according to Glawe’s chief operating officer and owner Kathy Schaefer.

“During the month of April, we probably [install] 500-600 residential awnings,” Schaefer said.

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Glawe Awnings and Tents owner Katharine Schaefer inspects recovered awnings that will be reinstalled at the Dayton VA. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Glawe Awnings and Tents owner Katharine Schaefer inspects recovered awnings that will be reinstalled at the Dayton VA. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

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Glawe Awnings and Tents owner Katharine Schaefer inspects recovered awnings that will be reinstalled at the Dayton VA. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Despite the pandemic shutting down operations for almost two months, Glawe received a sharp influx in sales upon its return. Schaefer believes the stay-at-home order caused a higher demand for home renovation and residential awnings.

Overall business increased by about 10% year over year, according to Schaefer.

“We had to do all of April, half of May, and part of March. Everyone wanted [their awnings installed] right away,” Schaefer said. “I think people evaluated their backyard, or wherever they sat, and thought, ‘Well if I am going to sit here, it should be nice.’ "

The business, labeled non-essential, was unable to convert operations to a remote setting because of the need to physically install tents and awnings; they adjusted to the pandemic by wearing masks and keeping distance from customers.

Deliveries and installations usually characterized by close interactions with customers turned into socially distant operations.

“I told my crew, ‘if people start to come outside, you tell them they need to stay in their house,’ ” Schaefer said.

Customers responded positively to the changes. Schaefer says the company received more positive feedback than ever before.

“They were very thankful that we were still doing it and that we did the best we could,” Schaefer said. “I think a lot of them thought we wouldn’t put them [tents and awnings] up this year.”

Dr. Wayarne Harlan, a customer who has worked with Glawe Awnings since 1995, said, “They have been courteous, straightforward, just a great company to work with. When you find a good, strong company, you stick with them. They’re just good people all the way around.”

Schaefer credits the success of the business to her 25 employees and their willingness to continue working and adaptability made it possible.

“I just learned to appreciate what we have, especially employees, and be ready to go with the flow,” Schaefer said. “Because who knows what will happen now. I try to be very efficient and do as much as we can, knowing we aren’t promised anything.”

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