The Who's Who in Building & Construction

Sailing Ahead for 135 Years: Family-Owned Hudson Awning Continues to Thrive

Sailing Ahead for 135 Years: Family-Owned Hudson Awning Continues to Thrive

The following content is featured in the Northern New Jersey Spring 2016 edition of The Who’s Who in Building & Construction.

Sailing Ahead for 135 Years

Family-Owned Hudson Awning Continues to Thrive

One of New Jersey’s oldest businesses just celebrated its 135th year of operation. Hudson Awning & Sign Company Inc., based in Bayonne, N.J., is one of the industry’s oldest and largest designers and fabricators of awnings, canopies and shading systems. What began in 1881 as a small sail-making establishment catering to Hudson River ships grew into a thriving company specializing in the commercial, retail, entertainment and residential markets. A spirit of determination and perseverance fuels the longevity of this family-run enterprise.

A JOURNEY WELL WORTH THE EFFORT

Today, Hudson Awning is owned and operated by the Burak family. The company is managed by the husband-and-wife team of Ed and Lynda Burak, President and Vice President, respectively. Ed and Lynda reside in Monroe Township, a New Jersey community named in honor of U.S. President James Monroe. Outside of work, the couple enjoys golfing together, retreats to their summer home in Cape May, N.J., traveling, and spending time with their nine grandchildren. The journey leading the Buraks to where they are now was hard-earned and fraught with steep learning curves and uncertainty.

New Jersey North Hudson Awning Owner And Coordinator

Owner and President of Hudson Awning Ed Burak (left) and Business Development Coordinator Diana Isabella-Wetchkus discuss an architect’s design change.

Ed’s father acquired Hudson Awning in the 1940s, but he passed away in 1979, leaving the company practically defunct. As a kid, Ed often worked alongside his father and couldn’t bear the thought of closing down the shop that meant so much to his dad. In addition to working a full-time job managing a construction company, the father of five decided to also take over Hudson Awning. Lynda, supportive of her husband’s determination to keep the business going, provided clerical support by answering the telephone and organizing the office and staff, which at first consisted of only three employees.

Ed, who has an accounting degree from Farleigh Dickinson University, didn’t know the first thing about selling awnings. He and his wife already had their hands full with other responsibilities and raising a large family. These obstacles didn’t stop them from bringing the company back from the brink of near extinction. Their hard work and dedication catapulted Hudson Awning to become a leader in cutting-edge shade management systems on the east coast.

“When you have a small business, you’re the mother, you’re the father, you’re the priest, you’re the rabbi, you’re the bank.”- Lynda Burak, Vice President, Hudson Awning & Sign Company Inc.

BUILDING THE BUSINESS

After Ed took over Hudson Awning, he began to structure the business after a construction company model. Eventually, he hired additional sales staff, designers, welders, engineers and installers to boost the firm’s capabilities. The Buraks started marketing their products to large construction companies, and the effort paid off. “We approached architects and property managers and construction managers. We slowly evolved out of residential, which used to be 100 percent of the business, and now it is not even 10 percent of the business,” says Ed.

Ed ultimately left his construction management job to fully commit to the Hudson Awning business. He took continuing education courses and obtained professional certifications to help him better understand the awnings and signage trade—and to set his company apart from the competition. He is a certified Industrial Fabric Manager and a member of multiple professional organizations, including Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI), the Professional Awnings Manufacturers Association (PAMA), Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC), and the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI).

Hudson Awning welderCertain individuals at Hudson Awning are qualified to conduct continuing education programs for architects and other licensed industry professions. “We go into architectural firms and do lunch-and-learn sessions, where we talk about awnings and how these products can work for their clients,” says Lynda. Ed adds, “The Blue Book Network has been instrumental in scheduling some of these seminars for us, which is really great.”

In addition to Ed and Lynda, a third generation of the family now supports Hudson Awning’s success. Two of the couple’s five children are members of the business’ design and sales group. Son Ken Krantz has worked with the company for six years and daughter Stefanie Vanderbeck, for 25 years; the latter is an Awning and Canopy Certified Project Planner.

BUILDING BONDS THROUGH RELATIONSHIPS

When asked what he enjoys most about his role in the company, Ed’s response reveals that he takes pleasure in both the design process and in developing personal relationships with people he works with. “I get major enjoyment out of working with architects, going through recommendations, helping them envision building facades and meeting with retail customers to make recommendations for their programs.”

Hudson Awning welder Will

Will, a certified welder, is one of Hudson Awning’s 25 in-house team members.

The Buraks view their employees as family. Over the years, Lynda’s maternal instincts and compassion have helped her grow closer to the Hudson Awning team, which now includes 25 members. “I’ve always said, ‘If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your business.’ When you have a small business, you’re the mother, you’re the father, you’re the priest, you’re the rabbi, you’re the bank. We are here to support them and financially help them as they need.” Examples of the Buraks’ generosity include paying for English classes and gym memberships.

Today’s modern awnings and canopies are starting to shift away from traditional fabric compositions and are instead incorporating more metal materials.

Aside from maintaining high-quality relationships with its employees, Hudson Awning also strives to keep an open line of communication going with owners, contractors and subcontractors throughout each project. The company works with between 90 and 110 contractors and subcontractors each year.

MORE THAN JUST AWNINGS

North Hudson Awning welding canopy frame

A Hudson Awning employee welds a canopy frame being designed for use at a hospital.

The needs of consumers often vary, and the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry is constantly evolving. Hudson Awning adapts to these changes quickly, working with different technologies to provide consumers with smartly designed products that are highly functional and aesthetically pleasing.

“We don’t want to be known as strictly ‘awning people.’ Even though the name is Hudson Awning, we really do more,” explains Ed. “We’re moving to more shading management. That’s what people really want now. They want shading and they want protection.”

In the AEC realm, metal is becoming one of the most preferred construction solution tools. This durable and resilient product can be fabricated in a variety of colors and textures. To keep up with industry advancements, custom-designed awnings and canopies are starting to shift away from traditional fabric compositions and are instead incorporating more metal materials. “We use a lot of metal and stainless steel. We can actually do a project that has no fabric at all on it and is instead all heavy-duty membranes,” says Ed.

Hudson Awning sewing canopy for movie

Hudson Awning often designs special items for use in the film and theater industries. This team member is sewing a canopy cover that will be used in a movie staged in the 1920s era.

Hudson Awning also specializes in creating anchoring systems used to mount structures. “Building surfaces have changed tremendously. The composition of today’s building facade can have issues with keeping that anchorage,” says Ed. “We’re very cognizant of what relationship there is between the building and the anchor system, and we’ve come up with some unique anchoring solutions that we specify.”

Hudson Awning & Sign Company, in operation for the last 135 years, is one of the industry’s oldest and largest designers and fabricators of awnings, canopies and shading systems.

For example, a few years ago, Macy’s contracted the Buraks’ company to design an anchoring system to tether the large balloons used in its annual Thanksgiving Day parade. On several past occasions, the balloons had broken loose and injured people or damaged property. Ed and his team designed and installed special titanium anchors along Central Park West and Columbus Avenue to secure the balloons during inclement weather. “We had to come up with an anchor system to tether these huge, huge balloons. We brought in engineers and we used different solutions to find a system that would take an extremely large load. We’ve adapted that system for a lot of other installations.”

Hudson Awning family

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Work done by Hudson Awning can be seen all across the U.S., and the company ships products internationally as well. It has designed commercial awnings and canopies for many high-profile clients, including Tiffany & Co., Macy’s and Barnes & Noble. Additional undertakings involve special projects for the film and theater industries, including productions made by Disney, Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures, HBO Productions, Paramount Pictures, Universal City Studios, Warner Brothers Studios and others.

Hudson Awning remains dedicated to staying connected with forward-thinking trends and tools. It has received awards from IFAI, Forbes, the New Jersey Society of Architects and the New Jersey Restaurant Association. With a reputation this impressive, the stand-out firm can anticipate a great future for the next generation.

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