Hauenstein's purchase on a whim turns out to be a good decision

Owner Mike Hauenstein (left), and daughter and manager Jen Bailey (right), stand in front of the Hare Canvas Products sign along U.S. 224 in Markle on Friday, Nov. 13. Hauenstein purchased the company in 1994, and has since seen extensive growth.
Owner Mike Hauenstein (left), and daughter and manager Jen Bailey (right), stand in front of the Hare Canvas Products sign along U.S. 224 in Markle on Friday, Nov. 13. Hauenstein purchased the company in 1994, and has since seen extensive growth. Photo by Matt Murphy.

Few people are willing to take huge risks.

But in Markle, Mark Hauenstein has proved that venturing into the unknown can be one of the best decisions someone can make.

Hauenstein is the owner of Hare Canvas Products, which he bought on a whim in 1994 from Chuck Hare, the company's original owner.

"My son bought a boat, so we went to Hare Canvas to have a cover made," Hauenstein says. "Chuck had a ‘for sale' sign up, I talked to my wife and thought about it for six months, and I bought the company in March 1994."

Hauenstein, a bricklayer for 23 years prior to the purchase, had no experience in making canvases, and so part of the agreement was that Hare would stay for two years to train Hauenstein.

"It was a big step, and a big challenge," he says.
At the time, the business was located at 1755 S. Jefferson St. in Huntington, a lengthy distance from Hauenstein's home in Uniondale. And as the company grew, Hauenstein needed more space. In addition, Hauenstein didn't own the original Hare Canvas building, as it was rented from Hare, who lived next door.

"If I bought the building, I'd have to buy the house too," Hauenstein says.

So in December 2004, Hare Canvas moved to Markle in a brand-new building on a lot sandwiched between U.S.-224 and Windridge Drive. The new facility boasted 6,000 square feet of space - twice that of the Huntington location.

"Air conditioning was a plus," says Hauenstein, jokingly of the move. "They weren't lying when they called those older buildings sweatshops."

Hauenstein says that it was tough to find a good location on affordable land, but the Markle location was a perfect fit.

Hauenstein says his wife, Becky, wanted the new building to be along Hauenstein Road in Huntington, since that road cuts through the former Hauenstein family farm. But in addition to the better price of the land in Markle, that site much closer to the couple's home in Wells County.

Hare Canvas produces canvas for just about anything - pickup trucks, tractor-trailers, boats and the list goes on. Everything is custom-made; Hare Canvas doesn't use pre-made patterns.

The company is growing, too. Hauenstein says that Hare Canvas has increased sales every year except for 2009, most likely as a result of the recession. Still, the company is doing well.

"In tough times, we see more repairs, and in good times, we make more new items," he says.

The company has expanded its customer base to include several accounts in Michigan and Ohio, and has shipped items as far as Arizona, Florida and New Mexico. Laws requiring trucks to have loads covered also helped business.

Hare Canvas has four full-time employees, and has up to seven in the summer, mostly students.

"We give a lot of school kids summer jobs," Hauenstein says. "We try to steer them in the right direction. Sometimes, they won't listen to their parents, but they'll listen to me."

Hare Canvas has not isolated itself from the community, either. The company has donated and provided products for 4-H fairs, Norwell and Huntington North high schools and the Markle Wildcat Festival. In addition, if an employee of Hare Canvas is a senior in high school, the company supports and/or provides products for the prom at the student's school.

Hauenstein says that Hare Canvas is still a family-owned and operated business. He says his daughters have worked for him almost the entire time he has owned the business. One daughter, Jen Bailey of Kokomo, commutes more than an hour to Markle each day, and functions as the manager of the company. Becky Hauenstein does much of the bookkeeping.

Even Hauenstein's granddaughters work after school, helping with chores around the building to earn some extra cash.

Hauenstein's quest for new challenges didn't stop with the purchase of Hare Canvas, though. In July and August 2008, he rode his Harley-Davidson over 9,600 miles in a round-trip journey to Alaska with a friend.

"It's just like they say - ‘The Last Frontier," he says.
Looking back, Hauenstein has no regrets for his decision to buy the company.

"I like everything about it - from design, to building the product to selling the product," he says. "It's unique."

Hare Canvas is located at 300 N. Tracy St. in Markle, and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The company can be reached at 758-8800.