Survey of Polysail Customers - 2004

by Dave Gray

What We Did

In February 2004 PolySail International conducted a third customer survey, this time of 50 randomly selected customers from our 2002-2003 database of about 160 customers. For comparison purposes, we used the same survey form that we used in our last survey of approximately the same number of customers in 2001. As in past years, the response rate was excellent. Of the 50 surveys mailed, 26 were returned by customers and 1 envelope was returned as undeliverable for a response rate of 53% as compared to our 2001 response rate of 35%.

What We Learned

Stewart Elkin’s Sprit PolySail

The information from this year’s survey was probably more useful than that received in previous years when the responses were almost universally short, positive responses to all questions. Many of this year’s respondents took the time to add notes, make recommendations, or submit pictures with their surveys. These more complete responses helped us gain more depth of understanding about why some people responded as they did to certain questions.

The number and types of sails made from white polytarp continues to expand by about 20% each year. Customers are generally very positive about all aspects of PolySails ranging from ordering, to ease of sail construction, to appearance and performance, to their own price/value estimations. We continue to be encouraged by the successful use of PolySails on high performance catamarans and larger sailing boats with no reports of material failure.

Among the more interesting notes, we found:

  • One lateen PolySail had survived a tornado on the spars. The customer reported some fraying on one side, but he had patched it with tape and expected the sail to last another season.
  • All kinds of sails were constructed for a variety of boats, including a “maxed-out marconi” for an unspecified 22’ boat, a high-aspect battened marconi for a 14’ catamaran, gaffs and jibs for Weekenders, a sleeved sail for a Zuma, a number of 59 sq. ft. leg o’ mutton sprits for Bolger dinghies, lugs for Michalak designs, a hand-held ice-skate sail, as well as lateens and loose-footed sprits for assorted skiffs and prams. One older gentleman even rigged up a sail for his jonboat.
  • Completed sails that had been stitched around the edges outnumbered sails that had been finished with tape alone by a ratio of over 2-1.
  • About 15% of the customers used the kits or components for other applications, including boat covers, a tent floor, a kayak spray skirt (not recommended, according to the spray skirt customer), and tape for a hospital case. Three customers said that they hadn’t finished their sails yet.
  • After helping his grandfather construct a PolySail, one customer’s grandson subsequently found employment with Halsey Lidgard Sailmakers in Mystic, CT. (Halsel Lidgard furnished the sails for Cheyenne which recently set a new around the world sailing record of 58 days, 9 hours, 32 minutes and 45 seconds.)
  • We found that we had mistakenly recommended the wrong sized kit for one customer’s Piccup Pram, thinking he was using the 55 sq. ft. sail from Michalak’s original plan instead of the 70 sq. ft. version. We sent the customer a new, larger kit as a free replacement.
Survey Details

From a business perspective, we were pleased to find that our customers were still nearly 100% satisfied with our ordering process, shipping times, and the condition of the materials upon arrival. Except for one person who did not enter a response to the first question under the ORDERING/SHIPPING/ HANDLING/PACKAGING section, everyone responded positively to all three questions in this section.

We were also pleased to note that nearly all customers responded positively to the first two questions under the PRICE/VALUE section indicating that our kits are fairly priced and accurately advertised. (There were no negative responses to these first two questions in this section, but two customers failed to enter a response.) All but two customers would also recommend us to others; and one of those two nays had more to do with the customer’s application—attempting to make a kayak spray skirt from the kit—rather than being disappointed with the kit’s intended use. (Three customers volunteered that they had already recommended us to others.)

In response to the fourth question in this section, most customers (17) said they would consider purchasing another kit if the need arose. Another would buy the polytarp only, and two others would use the kit materials and what they had learned to purchase materials locally for another polytarp sail. One person decided that he preferred Dacron for his next sail, and four more were in the “maybe” category.

Under the section on INSTRUCTIONS/CONSTRUCTION, we asked customers six different questions related to the quality of the instructions and ease and method of construction (see attached survey). Only 19 customers had both used the kits for sails and actually finished construction. In addition, customers were not asked to respond to all questions, so not all customers responded to all questions in this section.

Asked if they had encountered any major problems in following the step-by-step instructions, 18 respondents replied “no” and 1 person said “yes. In terms of time for construction, only 4 customers of the 13 who responded to this question said they were able to finish their sails in 4 hours or less. Six indicated that their sails were finished in 5-7 hours, and 3 required 8 hours or more. However, when asked if the time for construction was about what our ads had led them to expect, 9 customers said “yes” and only 4 said “no” with two persons adding that they had constructed two sails, instead of just one. (One customer, though, complained that it took two people an afternoon to make a sail when he expected that it would only take one person that long to complete the task.) Stitched construction might also have added to expected construction time for 13 of the customers who used this method of construction vs. the 6 who reported using tape only.

In response to two specific questions about the uses of kit components, over 15 customers reported using both the vinyl tape and the rope reinforcement for all edges and corners.

Finally, we received a few suggestions for improving the instructions, including two requests for more photos and illustrations. One person suggested that our instructions were too simple and recommended that we add details on types of sails, cuts, and optional technical instructions. Seven others indicated that the instructions were okay as written.

We paid particular attention to the responses to the eight questions on the section on PERFORMANCE/APPEARANCE to judge how customers see our product in relation to “real” sails. Again, the customer answers on this section were dependent upon whether they had completed sail construction. The first two questions in this section asked about the kind and size of the sail constructed and the size and kind of boat powered. As mentioned earlier, all kinds of sails and boats were represented. In response to the question, “Did the sail perform as well as you expected?” 14 customers responded positively and none responded negatively. However, there were a couple of caveats. One cat sailor said that the main was excellent, but the jib must be sewn; and the “maxed-out Marconi” that powered the 22’ boat was described as “a little heavy.” On the other hand, one brave soul who sailed a CLC kayak with outrigger said, “The sails worked pretty well, I had one kayak out in 25 gusting to 30 knot winds, and the sail held up without damage.” Another customer simply said, “It performed as a sail should. It went.”

We received only four responses to the question about how well our sails compared to commercially made sails on the same boats. Two described the PolySails as comparable, and two customers did not think that they measured up. A fifth customer weighed in by saying that it was hard to compare his inexpensive PolySail to a $950 commercially made sail.

We also received few responses to the question about whether the tapes stayed in place about as well as expected when the sails were not stitched. Four customers reported that the tapes stayed in place with one person reporting, “All tape okay.” Another worried that the tape was not sticky enough, and one person said that the tape had not stayed in place “as long as hoped.” Three customers split on which tapes failed to adhere well. One placed the blame on the double-faced tape, while two blamed the vinyl. Another customer observed that “Not sewing [the sail is] okay if [the sail] is not in the sun very long.” Taking the recommendation in the instructions, most customers indicated that they had stitched their sails at the outset. The mixed responses on tapes might have been related to the lengths of time the sails had been in use since both 2002 and 2003 customers were included in the survey.

We asked if the sail was as durable and long lasting as expected and received 14 positive responses and no negative responses. However, it was apparent that several customers hadn’t tested their sails for any length of time yet with two customers saying, “so far” and another saying, “wait ‘til spring.”

A final question in this section asked if the sail appearance met customer expectations and whether customers had received comments from others. Again, nearly all responses were generally positive except for the customer who constructed the kayak spray skirt and reported, “Not recommended for spray skirts–looked bad, performed worse.” Other customers were more enthusiastic. Following are some of the comments received:

  • · “Great product–great service, thanks.” Tom Traband
  • · “Very nice appearance–good comments.” Jim Isleib
  • · “Yes. They’re impressed.” Bill Chaney
  • · “Looks nice.” George Daleiden
  • · “Good enough. I would do this again for inexpensive sails.” Craig Bursell
  • · “The material looks very attractive–I will never hesitate to use PolySail again or recommend your product to others. You guys are doing a great job making sails affordable to the average person.” Zach Garrett
  • · “Looks good, I think. Great product, a real service to small-boat building.” Gene Sampson

We also asked for customer’s ADDITIONAL COMMENTS. Here are the responses we received:

  • “I’d encourage buyers to try sewing the taped edges–it’s not that hard, even for a total amateur “tailor” like me. I had excellent (& strong) results with a 30-year-old Singer machine, & some thread & needle recommended by the local fabric store. Sewing with the proper needle & thread does not tax the machine at all–it zips right along. PS. My main is a hi-aspect catamaran sail, approx. 14’ x 6’–requires battens & pockets.” George Daleiden
  • “I was very happy with the tarp. I covered a 17’ day sailer with it. I no longer have the boat, but the tarp was still like new after sitting outside in the Florida sun for a year. And I have recommended your company to others. Thanks–the country is running out of honest guys like you.” George Jacobs
  • “Why not use 3M Mylar tape? I know it is $$, but it’s a superior product & lighter than the duct tape in the kit.” Tom Dooley
  • “My grandson who helped me with my sail has been hired since by Halsey Lidgard in Mystic, CT” Melvin Wolpert
  • “Please see enclosed picture. I made the boat for my grandson and sail it on a local lake. You have permission to reprint the picture if you want.” Stewart Elkin

The hints of pride in these last two comments point to a phenomenon that has become increasingly clear to us over the past seven years of talking with customers–people who have undertaken the challenge of building their own boats often want to build the sails too as an integral part of finishing their unique creations. While cost might be a consideration for many builders, it’s not always the primary reason for choosing our product. Perhaps this explains why so many professionals who could easily afford commercially made sails also order our inexpensive sail-making kits. In any event, we’re pledged to keep improving our product and happy to be partners in the creative process with so many boatbuilders and sailors.

Dear Customer:

We are conducting a random survey of 50 customers who ordered PolySail Kits in the year 2002 and 2003. Completion of this survey helps us improve our product for other boat builders and sailors and also lets us know how we can improve the quality of our customer service. Please use the following questions to guide your responses in any of the following areas where you think they would be helpful. You don't need to answer all of the questions, but we greatly appreciate any answers. A postage paid envelope is provided for your responses.


Did we handle your questions and order courteously and in a businesslike fashion?

Was the product shipped promptly after your order was placed?

Did you receive the order within the expected time frame and in good condition?


Did you encounter any major problems following the generic step-by-step instructions or using the kit materials?

How long did it take you to construct a sail that met your expectations on your first effort with this kit? Was this construction time about what our ads led you to expect?

Did you apply the vinyl tape to all edges and corners?

Did you use the rope to reinforce all edges and corners?

Did you reinforce all edges and corners with stitching?

How could the instructions be improved?


What kind and size of sail(s) did you make? What kind and size of boat does/do the sail(s) power?

Did the sail perform as well as you expected?

If you have previously used other commercially made sails on your boat, was the performance comparable to the commercially made sails?

If you did not stitch the sail, has the tape stayed in place about as well as you expected? (If there were problems with tapes, please let us know the nature of the problems and whether the problems affected the double-faced tape, the vinyl tape, or both.)

Is the sail as durable and long lasting as you expected?

Did the sail appearance meet your expectations? Any comments from others?


Did you feel the kit was fairly priced?

Do you feel the kit was advertised accurately and fairly?

Would you recommend our products to others?

Would you consider purchasing another of our kits if the need arose for a new sail?

Were there other sail related products we could offer that you found you needed to fully rig your sail once it was completed?

May we have permission to use your responses on our website or in ads? Yes No

If you do grant us permission to use your responses, please print and sign your name below (or we won’t know who you are.)

Name (printed)           Name (signature)



Dave Gray