By Mark Brock
It’s the great irony of the outdoor lifestyle. Everyone wants to be outdoors, but nobody wants to be in the sun.
Well, that’s not exactly true. On a cool fall or winter’s day, we crave the sun. Even on a summer’s day, there are still those who think a bit of bronzing can add a look of vitality and sex appeal. But no one wants to look like a boiled lobster and no one wants to face the perils of skin cancer. Within the quest to control the environment around us and within the desire for the most basic of human needs – cool shade – an industry is booming.
The options in shade products have never been greater in numbers or stronger in innovation. The classics of shading – umbrellas, awnings and pergolas – have been transformed through the use of new fabrication materials, and through creative designs that are as functional as they are aesthetically pleasing. Shading and furniture have even formed symbiotic relationships through cabanas, pavilions, pergolas, and exotically-styled daybeds.
For the specialty retailer, shade products have become an essential element in product portfolios, requiring new approaches to marketing, merchandising and customer service. In a world awash in too much sun, shade is an opportunity for merchants to become even more vital resources for their customers who are enchanted with creating memories outdoors with their families and friends, but doing so in comfort and safety.
|Levante 10-ft. square bamboo side wind umbrella by Bambrella.|
Here Comes the Sun, and More Sun
The growth in shade products is based not only on consumer lifestyles, but also on science. Average temperatures on planet Earth are increasing because of the growing concentration of heat-trapping greenhouse gases high above the Earth’s surface. The average temperature in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency, has increased by 1.3 degrees F to 1.9 degrees F since record keeping began in 1895, with most of this increase occurring since about 1970.
The most recent decade was the nation’s warmest on record, and 2016 is now officially the second hottest year since record keeping began. These heat gains, which vary by regions around the country, are anticipated to continue into the foreseeable future.
|Conceived as an iconic shade structure for the popular Miami Design District, Quasicrystals was awarded the grand prize in the Building Shade category of the 2016 Future of Shade competition from Sunbrella.|
Not only is the sun making the outdoors noticeably hotter, it’s also increasing the risks of skin cancer, including the deadliest form, melanoma. The American Academy of Dermatology reports that melanoma rates in the U.S. doubled from 1982 to 2011. More than 8,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, and it’s estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetimes. The Academy reports that the annual cost of treating non-melanoma skin cancer in the U.S. is estimated at $4.8 billion, while the average annual cost of treating melanoma is estimated at $3.3 billion.
The good news is that skin cancer is not inevitable for any of us. Because exposure to UV light is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, the American Academy of Dermatology encourages everyone to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing and using a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of 30 or higher.
Effectively addressing the growing concerns over sun exposure will require the best efforts of scientists, physicians, shade product manufacturers, specialty retailers and architects. Architectural and design communities, in particular, are coming to grips with the need to incorporate concerns for sun exposure into building designs, inside and out.
|Lotus by Treasure Garden.|
“Every architect is grappling with these issues today,” said Marc Kushner, CEO of Architizer, an information and services resource for architects. “There is a huge awareness of the effects of heat gain on homes and buildings by solar exposure, while at the same time people want more natural light coming into their homes and offices. Everyone also wants to spend more time outdoors, and architects are being called upon to create designs that address all of these needs.”
To help encourage out-of-the-box thinking concerning shading, Architizer has partnered with Glen Raven Custom Fabrics to sponsor “The Future of Shade,” an annual competition open to architects and designers who submit innovative shading solutions using fabrics (see “The Future of Shade,” Hearth & Home, April 2016).
“Architects are good at looking at a problem and considering multiple solutions to that problem,” Kushner said. “To enjoy the outdoors, our challenge is to create environments that strike just the right balance between the feeling of being outside yet with the comfort and sun protection everyone needs.”
Not Your Grandmother’s Umbrella
The staple of sun protection for specialty retailers has long been the shade umbrella. But as the saying goes, today’s umbrella is not your grandmother’s umbrella. Innovative designs have made umbrellas easier to use and larger, often incorporating cantilevered designs that increase usable shaded areas. The application of new materials has made umbrellas stronger and longer lasting, and creative designers have transformed them from a utility of sun protection to works of art.
One of the many umbrella companies leading the charge into the use of innovative materials is BambrellaUSA. Based in Deerfield Beach, Florida, BambrellaUSA has based its designs and manufacturing approach on the use of bamboo, but not just any variety of bamboo.
“There are actually thousands of different varieties of bamboo, all of which are sustainable and fast growing,” said Gary Ecoff, president of BambrellaUSA. “We conducted years of research and rigorous testing before we selected the Moso species as best suited for outdoor use. Moso has the tensile strength of steel in its natural fiber form.”
The process for fabricating Bambrella umbrellas begins with forming bamboo lumber by laminating hundreds of long strips of Moso bamboo fiber. The bamboo lumber is then turned or planed to form poles, hubs and ribs in relevant sizes and shapes for the various Bambrella offerings. Bambrella has tested its umbrellas at wind tunnel speeds of between 58 and 73 miles per hour.
While sustainability and strength were core considerations for Bambrella, the company also considered aesthetics. The variegation and grain patterns in Bambrella products, along with a silky smooth finish, emphasize a focus on luxury, sustainability and comfort.
“The bamboo sustainability story is a factor that strongly resonates with a certain segment of customers,” Ecoff said. “The contract market also assigns extra value to natural and sustainable products as part of a shift within hospitality to environmentally friendly products and practices.”
|Lotus by Treasure Garden.|
Also leading the umbrella industry in the application of innovative fabrication materials is FiberBuilt Umbrellas & Cushions of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Inspired by the flexibility and strength of equipment used for sport fishing, FiberBuilt took on the challenge of creating shade products using fiberglass as a core component. By applying the company’s engineering and design expertise, FiberBuilt has brought the inherent strength and durability of fiberglass into a line of umbrellas that also features beautiful design aesthetics.
“Many retail dealers have begun increasing their customer base by attracting hospitality customers (hotels, resorts and restaurants), and these types of locations require innovative and durable contract-grade shade products, not lightweight, inexpensive umbrellas that have to be replaced every season,” said FiberBuilt CEO Paul Knapp. “Coincidentally, residential customers also appreciate that kind of quality and don’t mind a slightly higher price point if it means that they’re getting a product of greater value.”
FiberBuilt is using its focus on increasing the strength of umbrellas to support the growing trend of increased size. Because of the inherent strength of fiberglass engineering, and through the use of cantilevered designs and rotational elements, FiberBuilt customers can maximize the size of shaded areas throughout the day and throughout the changing seasons.
“For the past few years we have seen the growing need for larger scale shade products, so we’ve been adding new models with larger canopies and accompanying robust components including heavy duty hubs, resilient ribs and stronger poles to our offerings,” Knapp said. “All of these new products are designed to provide an unlimited amount of flexibility and functionality without the need to relocate the umbrella throughout the day.”
While strength, size and durability are dominant trends in umbrella design, there is also a movement to transform umbrellas into works of art. This trend is clearly illustrated by offerings from a number of leading companies, including Treasure Garden of Baldwin Park, California. As a global resource to the umbrella industry, Treasure Garden features more than 25,000 choices in umbrellas and accessories. The diversity of its offerings, including cantilevered designs and expansive shaded areas, are hallmarks of its products, as well as its focus on aesthetics.
“Umbrellas provide much-needed visual appeal to retail showrooms,” said Candy Chase, National Sales manager for Treasure Garden. “Oftentimes outdoor furniture is purchased with neutral fabrications, and what better way to dress up the retail floor than with colorful umbrellas? Whether in a patio dining set or shading an entire outdoor living room, an umbrella can add fun and whimsy to any outdoor environment.”
|Sail butterfly canopy by Barlow Tyrie.|
Sure to dress up retailer showrooms is one of the latest offerings from Treasure Garden, its new Lotus umbrella. When opened, the Lotus umbrella has an eye-catching canopy design, likened to a work of art. The easy-to-use new modern collar tilt mechanism highlights this unique look. Through the application of advanced engineering, the closed Lotus umbrella canopy retracts upward, allowing greater clearance and ease of use.
“Our new Lotus umbrella is stunning because of its unique canopy design and because of the way it retracts upward similar to a Lotus flower,” Chase said. “Reaction at the 2016 Premarket was outstanding; the market is crying for something different, new and fashion forward, and the Lotus umbrella is part of our response.”
Awnings, Pergolas, Building Blocks for Outdoor Rooms
In addition to fabrication, design and aesthetic innovations for umbrellas, there is a growing trend toward even more expansive shade offerings in the form of retractable awnings and pergolas. Leading the drive on behalf of retractable awnings is Trivantage, a division of Glen Raven that features the Solair retractable awning brand.
“Our goal in marketing the Solair brand through patio retailers is to give them an additional option in shading,” said Jon Scuncio, Territory Sales manager for Solair in southern California. “We are also seeing growth in the hearth retailer segment; retractable awnings offer an ideal counter-seasonal balance to custom fireplaces.”
The primary advantages of retractable awnings are the option of sun or shade at the push of a button, along with the opportunity to not only shade a deck or patio, but also to reduce heat gain inside a home. According to Scuncio, Solair retractable awnings have required a shift in perspective for patio retailers, but the program is progressing as retailers become increasingly comfortable with installation.
“Adding a retractable awning is one of the least expensive ways for a consumer to begin transforming a deck or patio into an Outdoor Room,” Scuncio said. “For a retailer, it can be the perfect way to round out the sale of casual furniture and accessories.”
While retractable awnings are ideal for many applications, pergolas are gaining traction with specialty retailers who want to offer an even more expansive shade option. The latest iterations of pergolas, a classic element in garden design for centuries, are being factory fabricated using the latest in materials and technology. These new elements of structural shade not only provide protection from the elements, but also serve as building blocks for the creation of multi-faceted Outdoor Rooms.
|Solair retractable awning from Tri-Vantage.|
“When we started our pergola program 12 years ago, homeowners would come into our retail store, see a pergola and be in complete awe,” said Bud Renfroe, vice president of Housewarmings Outdoor, a pergola specialist in Lexington, Kentucky. “Today, customers come into the store with their own drawings and designs for an Outdoor Room that’s based on a pergola. We are seeing tremendous growth in pergolas consistently year after year. Homeowners see pergolas as not only creating shade, but as adding an architectural element that will become their Outdoor Room.”
Pergolas featured by Housewarmings are factory fabricated, which means installation can be completed at a customer’s home within two to three hours without the disruptive noise of power saws or the smell of paint and varnish. The variety of styles and options are extensive, allowing homeowners to add features each year based on their budgets and changing lifestyles.
“We tell retailers that they can merchandize and sell pergolas within about four sq. ft. of their showrooms,” Renfroe said. “The only space required for pergolas is the columns themselves, leaving open areas underneath for other display items. By adding furniture and accessories within the pergola, you can create an Outdoor Room at retail. Because it’s a manufactured product, a patio store’s existing delivery and installation team can learn how to install them.”
|Solisysteme pergola by BioClimatic Structures.|
The growing popularity of pergolas is reflected in an increasing number of manufacturers that are offering a continual flow of innovations in design aesthetics and functionality. One of these companies, Infinity Canopy of Los Angeles, California, has created a modular system of shade panels that can be installed within a pergola or between two walls. The panels are easily changeable and offer a high degree of flexibility in the amount of space covered, degree of sunlight allowed to pass through and the desired aesthetic effect in colors and in flat or billowing panels.
“The continued growth in the Outdoor Room lifestyle and global warming are changing the customer’s needs from smaller temporary shades to larger retractable shades,” said Dr. Alan Shargani, inventor and CEO of Infinity Canopy. “We fit perfectly in this trend by offering an adaptable shade system that can cover small to very large spaces and can be retracted easily. Infinity Canopy is available in sections up to 10 ft. wide that can be placed side by side to cover any space, and each section can be 50 ft. long without any support in between.”
One of the major advantages of the Infinity Canopy offering is its ability to adjust sun exposure easily. Canopies can be extended to enjoy the outdoors in full shade or retracted to enjoy the open air with a full view of the sky. The Infinity Canopy can be modified after installation to allow new designs to be created, including the installation of vertical panels for privacy.
“Infinity Canopy is modular, which means it is made of individual shade panels that connect together to form a canopy,” Shargani said. “The panels can be in one or different colors, allowing users to create patterns and change them at will. Our customers are creating designs that reflect their tastes, styles and needs; some customers have even combined fabrics with different openness factors to create areas with varying amounts of shade.”
|Havana fiberglass retractable pergola by Brown Jordan Structures.|
One of the best-known names in the casual furniture industry, Brown Jordan also has joined in the growing pergola trend. Through a partnership with Structureworks Fabrication of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Brown Jordan Structures was launched in November 2013. Brown Jordan Structures includes a number of models in both premium quality fiberglass and extruded aluminum, and each pergola incorporates stainless-steel hardware. Numerous design options are offered, including retractable canopies.
“Structural shade is definitely a growing trend,” said Greg Smith, Marketing manager for Structureworks. “In the last few years consumers have shown that they not only want a shade structure, but they want to use that structure as the basis for an Outdoor Room. Many outdoor kitchens and entertainment areas are covered by shade structures, increasing the usability of that space. Customers are adding ceiling fans, speakers, televisions, Wi-Fi and heaters, extending seasonal use by many months.”
In creating the new product offering for Brown Jordan, Structureworks focused on remaining true to the brand’s leading edge designs.
“When you look at Brown Jordan Structures, it’s easy to see how we have upheld the Brown Jordan design promise,” Smith said. “The finest in fabrication materials and technology, clean lines, unique profiles and realistic wood grain finishes are many of the ways in which we assured we would remain true to the Brown Jordan brand.”
Another option in pergolas, that originated in France more than 15 years ago, was introduced to the U.S. market in the summer of 2015. BioClimatic Structures is the exclusive distributor of Solisysteme pergolas in the U.S. This line of pergolas features adjustable aluminum louvers that rotate through 160 degrees to regulate sunlight, ventilation, temperature and brightness, while also offering protection in case of rain. Dedicated gutter systems run through support posts, and sensors can be added to detect for rain, wind and frost, adjusting louver positions automatically based on weather conditions.
“Our pergolas are used in many applications – homeowners’ backyards, pool areas, restaurants, cafes, hotels, resorts, weddingvenues, country clubs, communities and corporate business buildings,” said Nicole Wehmeyer, co-owner of BioClimatic Structures. “We find applications in virtually any outdoor living space where there is a need to protect people and furnishings from the elements.”
|Vondom ULM Daybed.|
BioClimatic pergolas are custom built to each customer’s specifications in Pompton Plains, New Jersey, using aluminum and stainless-steel components for durability and low maintenance; a national dealer network is being formed for marketing and technical support.
“Aesthetically, our pergolas are modern yet classic, with clean lines and a timeless look,” Wehmeyer said.“You can dress them up with lights, curtains and color.Our goal is to combine form and function to transform and expand outdoor living spaces to be enjoyed during all seasons.”
Furniture and Shade Colliding
While most shading options work in conjunction with casual furnishings, there is also a trend toward a collision of shade and furniture into single pieces. The results include pavilions and cabanas, such as those pioneered by TUUCI of Miami, along with innovative offerings from Vondom and Skyline Design. These unique creations provide intimate settings for one, two or a group, all within a cozy atmosphere where shade and comfort co-exist seamlessly as one.
Vondom is also headquartered in Miami, which is the location of its largest U.S. warehouse. With showrooms in New York, Miami and Los Angeles, the company offers an extensive line of high-end outdoor furnishings and accessories, including daybeds in its FAZ, ULM and VELA collections. The FAZ daybed was created for relaxing, sunbathing and enjoying the open air under a sunshade that protects from harmful UV rays. As with the other models of the FAZ Collection, the daybed was inspired by mineral forms found in nature, in this case crystallized quartz. It incorporates a sound system compatible with smartphones and Bluetooth technology.
The ULM daybed from Vondom features a shell-like shape with clean spherical geometry. Its circular form and grand scale adapt to each setting while its swivel feature permits it to rotate on its axis. As with the rest of the ULM collection, the daybed features a minimalist vibe. A pergola protects its interior when not in use, while providing a soothing shade with a sheer fabric cover.
The VELA Daybed completes the VELA collection of outdoor furniture and accessories, following the aesthetic criteria of the other components. The purity of its geometry grants it stability and strength while its chamfered base brings lightness, separating it from the ground and offering an image of harmony and elegance.
In addition to its design-leading daybeds, Vondom also has created the distinctive VELA Pavilion, a modular structure available in a range of sizes and based on the same aesthetic criteria as the other products of the series, all designed by Ramón Esteve, Vondom’s chief designer. The VELA pavilion is designed for enjoyment of the natural surroundings while maximizing comfort and versatility. It incorporates textiles that allow control of shade and privacy.
“The current trends in contemporary parasols and canopies for outdoor furniture are set by the concern for versatility and comfort,” Esteve said. “A continuous search for innovation and the use of new technologies allow for the introduction of the latest advances in material and mechanical devices, which in turn allow us to control the sunshade and the privacy according to the actual needs and conditions of the environment.”
|Shade Daybed in black mushroom from Skyline Design.|
Another design-driven company focusing on the daybed category is Skyline Design of Miami, Florida. Its distinctive creations have attracted fans from hospitality and the upscale consumer market segments.
“With inspiration from our Spanish partners, we began introducing large-scale daybeds and unique pieces to themainstream U.S. market in 2007,” said Marie Ferreira, vice president of Skyline Design.“Designers, architectural firms and hospitality establishments were drawn to our products for wealthy clients, restaurants and hotels around the U.S. and Canada. Our success in these categories meant that we made it to the radars of traditional specialty retailers. Consumer interest has grown from an occasional demand to actively seeking Skyline Design-branded outdoor products near them.”
Skyline has based its success on offering products that are well outside the realm of traditional tables and chairs.
“Skyline Design is not your traditional outdoor furniture brand that introduces new collections each year,” Ferreira said. “We introduce a variety of new collections and unique ‘WOW’ products every two to three years; we’ve capitalized on the uniqueness and grandiose scale of our shaded daybeds.If a customer wants something different than their neighbor has, then a specialty retailer should show them the Skyline Design catalog.”
Skyline is making major new product introductions this year with the launch of its V4 offerings. Included among the new offerings is a large, rectangular dining table that can be used by eight to 10 people within a large shaded daybed.
“We are proud to be known as the ‘WOW’ company when it comes to outdoor furniture,” she said. “We are confident that when specialty retailers see our latest product lineups and introductions they will understand that Skyline Design is a complete source for outdoor furniture.”
Centers of Shade Excellence Offer Shade Continuum
Increasing demand for shade products and the proliferation of options is both an opportunity and a challenge for specialty retailers. Consumers have certainly received the message that shade matters. All it takes is one afternoon in 90- to 100-degree heat to realize that you cannot enjoy your new patio set without shade, and perhaps a fan to go with it.
At the same time, product manufacturers not only tout the features and benefits of their products, but are also quick to note that shade products carry handsome profit margins. New products are supported by in-store marketing and merchandising materials and training, and dealer networks continue to grow. Many of the new products are designed for easy installation, if not by DIYers, certainly by experienced delivery and installation staffs.
The primary challenge for retailers is how to embrace the full continuum of shade products, from market umbrellas and awnings to pergolas, pavilions and daybeds. The passion for outdoor lifestyles shows no signs of diminishing, which means that the demand for shade will become even more intense as the atmosphere continues to warm each year.
Not only is there money to be made in shade products, but increased market share in the patio and hearth segments will likely go to those who can provide total solutions as centers of shade excellence.
|Soltis from Serge Ferrari.|
Make the commitment to be a shade retail leader, select your partners carefully, merchandise smartly and further secure your place in the future of outdoor lifestyles. Shading is indeed everywhere, and we should all think in terms of opportunities for growth and service.
Mark Brock is a writer and communications consultant in Charlotte, North Carolina.