June 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

Family business sees spike in sales after 2-year-old granddaughter stars in commercial

It's all in the Falahee family at Marygrove Awning: son Jasen, left, and wife Lauren; parents Mike and Sue; granddaughter Ava, in the arms of mother Renee, husband/son Vince, holding granddaughter Isabella. (Marney Rich Keenan / The Detroit News)

It’s not uncommon for Renee Falahee to be out in public with her two young daughters and have strangers come up and ask: “Is that the girl from the awning commercial?”

“We get recognized everywhere we go: Coney Island, Macy’s, Costco,” Reneesays. “People look at her and say: ‘Ava, is that you?’ ”

Ever since February, when Mike Falahee, owner of Marygrove Awnings in Livonia, decided to target his ad campaign to grandparents by having his 2-½-year-old Shirley Temple-esque granddaughter join him on camera, Mike says retail sales have soared. “We track these things and it’s been phenomenal,” he says. “She’s a natural. She’s captured people’s hearts.”

Ava appears with her grandfather in a series of 30-second spots pitching the “Granddaughter Special” and offering $300 off a retractable awning with, as Ava says: “Fwee Wemote!” The choice in colors may not be as Ava listed them — lets just say she ad-libbed a tad — but when Ava parrots a well-rehearsed: “There’s nothing like a Mawygwove awning,” it’s clear a star has been born.

Ava has become such a personality for the company, the spots are a hit on YouTube and fans are writing emails. One widow wrote: “I can’t afford your awnings, but please keep Ava in your ads.”

Mike’s wife, Sue Falahee, says customers come in the door and ask: “Where’s Ava?”

As any small business owner knows, selling a relationship is almost as important as selling the product. With Mike, what you see is what you get. When he says in the ad: “There’s nothing like spending time with the family … I love being out on the patio with my grandchildren. Our awning protects us from the sun and keeps us dry in the rain. You don’t ever want to miss out on those precious moments.” He means it.

Mikeso closely merges family with business they are almost inseparable. Sue is a co-owner. Their two married sons, along with their two daughters in-law, all work for the company. (Then, of course, there’s Ava.) Vince Falahaee is manager of sales, and Jasen Falahee oversees manufacturing. Vince’s wife, Renee, mother of Ava and 9-month-old Isabella, works with Sue and Jasen’s wife, Rachel, runs production alongside him.

The boys grew up in the business. As little tykes they attended conventions with their folks. Later they worked summers. “It’s always been family atmosphere,” Vincesays. “It’s actually fun to come to work; it’s like we have two homes.”

Based in Livonia for more than 70 years, Mikebought the company in 1996 after owning a small shutter business. Marygrove is one of the largest companies of its kind in the country; their awnings provide cover for Comerica Park, Joe Louis Arena, The Palace of Auburn Hills and DTE Energy Music Theater.

The Falahees say they are able to avoid the conflicts inherent in mixing family and business by affirming each other’s distinct strengths. “We think a big key to our success, both as a family and a business, is that we all have our own important roles in the company,” Vince says. “My brother is on the manufacturing end; he can be around any building or structure and knows it top to bottom. And my strength is in sales.”

Mikeis quick to add: “It’s so fortunate as a parent to know that either son would not feel comfortable in the other’s position. There’s real respect for each other.“

As a result, Mike says instead of working: “I feel like I’ve been on vacation for the last 15 years. I get to see my boys every day and my daughters-in-law. And they’re actually running the business, so it gives me the opportunity to do fun things like the TV commercials.”

Ava’s mom, Renee, says she’s taking the fame in stride. “When she sees her commercial on TV, she gets very excited. But mostly she just thinks she’s having a good time with her Grandpa.”

Mike reaches for his equally endearing second granddaughter Isabella and cradles her in his arms. “So here’s the beauty of it,” he says, smiling broadly. “As Ava gets a little older and steps out of the picture, lookie here! It’ll be your turn, Isabella! I mean how lucky can one man be, right?”

mkeenan@detroitnews.com

Ava Falahee, who pitches awnings in T.V. commercials for her grandfather, ... (Katey Elkins.)