When looking at a new (and let’s be honest, pretty big) project like this, the price is generally at the top of the list. Nine times out of ten, cost of business is the very first question we’re asked. We get it, because as a consumer, how much something is going to run you is a big deal. For some people, price is going to stay the most important thing all the way through, but buyer be warned: if you race to the bottom, you just might win. At the same time, the most expensive option may not be the best option for what you need.

Once you get a price range in mind, you’ll want to start to narrow your focus and ask more pointed questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them, because this is their livelihood and they’re in the business of helping you. The more you explain what you’re looking for, the more the fabricators will be able to help you. If you feel like they don’t understand what you need, or they’re not treating you like you’d expect from a group of professionals, maybe they’re not the company you want to be working with. The fabricator should be able to give you all the information you need, all the options that they offer, and give you as much time as you need to decide. After all, it’s your money that’s being spent.

A good fabricator with a wealth of knowledge should be able to take what you’re asking for, take your needs into consideration, and offer the best fit for you. For example, you may call in looking for a basic snap cover to protect your boat as it sits on the side of your house while not in use. In this case, a storage cover would be a much better fit for this situation, and a good fabricator will be able to tell you, in detail, exactly why that is. This business is built around making sure that we, as fabricators, have as much information as needed.

Of course it’s always best to be able to stop by a shop in person, but that may not always be geographically possible. If it is, do it. Getting to know the people that are making your product on a personal level will always put you a little more at ease—especially when dealing with expensive, custom designs. Seeing a shop in person will also tell you a lot about the quality of work they do, the care they put into their craft, and the service they provide. A disorganized shop may still deliver a great product, but it may take them a little longer to deliver. A face-to-face visit will give you one more opportunity to lay out what you’re looking for, what you expect, and, in turn, they’ll be able to explain to you how they plan to deliver on those requests.

After your visit, you’ll be able to tell a lot more about a company and what type of service they provide. Good, quality service does tend to cost a bit more, but it’s always worth it in the end. Taking the time to understand the needs of every customer and following up with each one can be a very time-consuming process, but that’s another thing that contributes to a quality finish.

Checking out online reviews is a fast and easy way to see what kind of work shops offer and most shops are available via Google, Facebook or a multitude of other online homes. People tend to give more weight to bad reviews and ignore the positives, but if a site is heavily tilted towards negative reviews, it’s probably a bad sign. Most shops are happy to provide customer references, but if they’re hesitant, that may be another red flag.

The Marine Fabricator Association is a division of the IFAI (Industrial Fabrics Association International) and together they do offer Master Fabric Craftsman certification. This is a good thing because it means there is an organization that holds shops to a certain level of accountability. These certificates aren’t just handed out, either. If your fabricator has one of these certificates, it’s safe to say they know what they’re doing, and your boat is in good hands.

Your boat is a big investment, and it’s important you take the time to do a little bit of research. Protecting your boat from the elements when it’s not in use, and protecting your friends and family while it’s in use is a big part of boat ownership. A quality shop will provide you with the products that will stand the test of time and look good while doing it. Make it easier on yourself by asking lots of questions and take the proper time to get things done right!