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Shade manufacturers step up dealer programs

Lift designs from commodity to accessory

Customers walking into Greenhouse Mall’s San Antonio showroom can’t help but stop, stare and smile at the 7 x 7-ft. TUUCI Crescent Lounge displayed front and center in bright salsa colors. That reaction is just what Karen Galindo intended.

Kettal Sunscapes in Pistachio
Kettal Sunscapes in Pistachio

“It’s fabulous. There is nothing like it,” said Galindo, who is vice president and secretary of Greenhouse Mall. Galindo sees the lounge as one of those “build it and they will come” products.

The excitement a wow product like the lounge can generate can be just as important as the occasional sale, especially these days when cautious consumers need more than the usual nudge to make up their minds.

As in other categories, many shade manufacturers saw dealers hesitate over placing early orders. The pace picked up in March but retailers continue to shy away from investing in a large inventory. As a result, manufacturers have added quick ship programs to ensure that their dealers have product when they need it.

“We have three quick-ship programs and have doubled our inventory, so we are prepared for what we think the dealers will need,” said Jeff Dorough, Treasure Garden’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Treasure Garden’s showroom
Treasure Garden’s showroom displays the vast range of colors and options it offers, including customizable stripes, vented canopies and a huge cantilever umbrella.

New this year is a cantilever quick ship program featuring two models and 10 fabric choices. Rather than a typical four-week turn-around for a cantilever, Treasure Garden will get it out the door in 10 working days.

Majestic Umbrella also added a quick ship program, planning it early last year long before the bottom fell out of the economy. The program offers umbrellas in solid Sunbrella fabric shipped within five working days.

“We are actually shipping in three days as we have the inventory,” said Frank Carrasquilla, Majestic Umbrellas’ vice president of sales and marketing.

10x13-ft. Milano cantilever umbrella
Shade Depot’s 10x13-ft. Milano cantilever umbrella, complete with lights and sound.

Shade Depot, formerly known by its parent company’s name WandaTech, is offering promotional incentives to help its dealers.

“We’ve looked at some things to open the market up, such as two-for-one promotions, which people seem to like,” said Michael Contreras, Shade Depot account manager.

Many dealers are focusing on what they know to be safe buys in shade products in terms of colors and finishes as well as styles, Contreras said. “They might try one or two new things of the 10 new things offered,” he said.

Bungalow by E-Z Up’s
Bungalow by E-Z Up’s premium cabana, left, acts as a perfect complement to a pool or spa while the larger luxury pavilion easily transitions from day to night as the walls can be opened for an airy spa experience or closed for more intimate settings.

For Bungalow by E-Z Up, retailer interest in putting the wow factor on their floors has increased the company’s dealer base. Retailers like the ability to literally purchase just one pavilion and then sell special orders. They also like the fact that it helps them showcase their outdoor furniture.

“We’re seeing a really nice increase in the number of stores that are putting our product on the floor,” said Audrey Martinez, specialty leisure sales manager, Bungalow by E-Z Up.

Despite the uncertainly of this season, specialty retailers will have plenty of new options for 2010. Manufacturers are working on numerous new fabrics and products.

TUUCI, for example, will have at least one prototype of its 15-ft. square parasol Ocean Master Max at the Hospitality Design Expo in Las Vegas this month.

“Ocean Master is TUUCI’s flagship line, and with its popularity, we were getting requests for larger and larger parasols,” said Dougan Clarke, TUUCI president.

The company’s elite R&D team, Shadow Works, is working on other large shade sculptures as well, including a fully fixed cantilever shade piece that stays open at all times called M1. Like other TUUCI products, the M1 is inspired by nature.

“One application will resemble the gentle flight of a manta ray,” Clarke said, “In another iteration it will look very much like a whale tail.”

Shadescapes USA is another company adding larger options for dealers. For example, a new large side-post umbrella from the German manufacturer Ulhmann will be available in June. Another model is planned for introduction this fall. Both complement the line’s 2009 center post introductions.

“These are very, very large umbrellas for people who are looking for the complete shade solution, with sizes ranging from six to 33 feet,” said Jo Edmondson, co-owner and vice president of sales and marketing, Shadescapes.

While many of the shade products that take the category beyond the market umbrella are intended for commercial use, they translate well into residential. More and more consumers are returning home from vacation having experienced pavilions, daybeds and cabanas at resorts.

FiberBuilt Umbrella’s Patio Umbrella
Fiberglass ribs in FiberBuilt Umbrella’s Patio Umbrella bend with the wind.

“The hospitality market understands that people want their own oasis and that those additional amenities like pavilions and the big outdoor beds can create additional revenue,” Clarke said. “People want that experience in their backyards as well. Who wouldn’t want to go home to a resort every day?”

As far as the traditional market umbrella goes, consumers still tend to buy it as an add-on.

“I wish that weren’t the case, but I think it is,” Galindo said. “And really, the umbrella can be the cutest thing on the patio.”

She would like to see manufacturers offer more trim and other enhancements to fill the gap between the market umbrella as a shade commodity and the shade architecture or sculpture.

“I think the romancing of the umbrella is what’s missing,” she said. “We’ve gone too bland.”

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