Because Amy Clinton and Brent Songer appreciated what they had when they bought Tennessee Awning Co., they knew how to make it better.
"Great tradition, great customer base, lot of repeat business," says Songer, a Chattanooga native. "The business had been run old-school, so we felt like we had a lot to bring to the table."
Songer's use of the term "old-school" is apt, given that Tennessee Awning was 112 years old when he and Clinton bought it in 2016. Even so, Clinton says she and Songer realized they didn't need to reinvent the wheel.
"But we sure tweaked it," she says, adding that the company's sales jumped 58 percent in 2017, the first full year she and Songer had charge.
Clinton, a Chattanooga resident since 2007, says she started out in home design and wound up building houses.
Tennessee Awning Co.
* Address: 1601 McCallie Ave.
* Website: tnawn.com
* Owners: Amy Clinton, Brent Songer
"When I started, I had three friends – all girls – building, as well," she says. "Girls can build. When you're a mom of three, you're not going to build in wasted space."
Songer says he spent about 20 years in Atlanta-area construction, followed by several years in North Carolina. He came home to Chattanooga about a decade ago, he says, and started flipping houses.
He and Clinton wound up working together, mixing commercial jobs in with house flips. One such commercial job, she says, was for a member of Songer's family.
"She had a business and needed an awning," Clinton says. "The owners [of Tennessee Awning] needed someone to take the measurements, so I did that."
That turned into a part-time sales job at Tennessee Awning, where Songer signed on as an installer a short time later. When the owners, Link Christensen and Tom Husband, let it be known that they were ready to sell the business, Clinton and Songer made their move.
"It took a year to get everything together, to make sure we were on the right path," Clinton says. "[Christensen and Husband] were amazing at what they did, but they just didn't want to change anything."
Tennessee Awning's potential was not lost on Songer.
"I'm a tool guy," he says. "I could see that with new tools and new technology, we could really expand."
Clinton says the sales process now includes a software program that allows her to show a potential client what an awning, or similar covering, would look like once it's in place. In its factory, Tennessee Awning's staff is getting the hang of its new digital plotter, which draws designs on fabric with greater precision and efficiency and then stores those patterns for repeat business.
"When we bought the business, if you wanted an address sign, it was literally painting on fabric with a stencil," Songer says. "Now we have a welder who welds fabric panels together. That means no needle holes, no leakage problems, no weak spots."
Among other product offerings, Songer says, Tennessee Awning does curtain enclosures and shade sails, the vast majority of which are custom. Clinton adds that the company also does parking-meter covers for the City of Chattanooga, conveyor belts for the Bluff View Art District bakery and dividers for restaurants trying to stay open through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clinton says the pandemic turned Tennessee Awning's residential-to-commercial sales ratio, once about 50-50, into about 80-20 last year.
"It wasn't because construction wasn't busy," she says, "but so many people stayed home and did so many things there – sitting out on decks when they work at home, putting in pools. We were definitely heavy on residential business [in 2020]."