Bigger dominates the shade trends
Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, May 1, 2010
While the bigger-is-better home trend has given way to smaller and "right-sized" indoor spaces, larger outdoor living areas are driving design trends for shade products in a big way.
Demand continues to grow for cantilevered, large-scale shade products and retractable functions, shade manufacturers say. Those who supply hotels, restaurants and other contract uses also are seeing renewed movement in projects that stalled during the prolonged recession. Many of those projects include updated shade products for poolside or outdoor dining areas.
"We have seen an increase in designers and architects working on more and more renovations versus new construction," said Marie Hoyle, sales and marketing director of Caravita, which expanded to the North American market last fall after more than two decades of providing dramatic shade designs for cafes, restaurants and elegant homes in Europe. "Hotels and restaurants have also been leaning toward renovations, as they are looking to bring some new life to their outdoor dining or pool areas."
"Outdoor amenities and dining areas are typically the first to get a facelift," Hoyle said. "Especially if budgets are limited, hotels and restaurants are looking to update their best asset. More and more we are seeing restaurants investing in outdoor dining, even if it is a small sidewalk space."
After supplying much of the world's residential shade market for more than 25 years, Treasure Garden expanded into the contract and hospitality side of the business by joining forces last year with New Zealand-based Shademaker.
"Many projects have been put on hold for the last 12–18 months. Investment spending is slowly coming back," said Jeff Dorough, vice president of sales and marketing for Treasure Garden and its Shademaker division. "In an economic downturn, guests have more choices than ever. If the outdoor environment of a property looks outdated, guests will notice. They will simply drive by. Owners of properties must ask themselves, can they afford not to renovate?"
"A simple plan, along with solid research, can locate local vendors and suppliers who are willing to make deals like never before," Dorough said. "Restaurants and property owners must attract the consumer."
Cantilevered umbrellas, pavilion styles and larger sizes are still strong shade trends within the contract market. "The bigger the better," Hoyle said. "Far gone are the days where we see an abundance of small 6' patio umbrellas gracing an outdoor terrace. As for residential clients, we were really surprised to see such huge response in the States with our sun sail collections. From small terraces to expansive pool and park areas, the sun sails offers a contemporary, sculptural shade solution."
Sculptural shade products continue to prove popular for TUUCI, another innovative shade designer and manufacturer that serves both the contract and retail markets.
Shade Pergolas, a new shade product resource, was formed through a partnership of ShadeFX Canopies, manufacturer of the monorail drive pergola canopy system, and Walpole Woodworkers, a home products company and leading fabricator of cellular vinyl.
"There is a marked trend to larger shade products," said Steve Ostrowski, co-founder of Shade Pergolas. "We see this in the larger umbrellas becoming available and in the retractable awning market that has been growing strongly for about 10 years. The biggest drawback of these shade products, regardless of how big they grow, is they are limited in their protection from rain and resistance to wind. This is why we developed shade pergolas, to address both these shortcomings for the first time in a large coverage shade product."
"Shade pergolas show the most promise for growing the retractable shade market," Ostrowski said. "They provide rain protection over large areas, the trend in outdoor living. Nobody wants to have the luxury of cushioned outdoor furniture ruined (or unusable) because of a rain shower."
Another big trend in the contract market, is to create an over-the-top environment/atmosphere similar to a resort, Dorough said. "A perfect example is the new City Center, Las Vegas — which includes the Aria, Mandarin Oriental, Vdara, Crystals and Veer Towers. Our Shademaker Sidepost styles — the Galaxy and Orion can turn any property into a resort look with elegant shade over chaise lounges and daybeds surrounding the pool areas. Our CenterPost styles — Astral and Corona are perfect for all food courts and other bar/lounge applications. Our architectural shade and timeless-designed umbrellas can be a simple solution to provide any property with a fresh new look. The new fabric colors from Sunbrella can instantly add the 'wow' factor."
Asked about retail sales trends, shade vendors offered a range of responses. Treasure Garden, which constantly its surveys dealers and reps, shared the most optimistic view.
"We are experiencing double-digit growth for 2010," Dorough said. "We are a high margin category and one of the most profitable vendors for our dealers. Dealers (like their customers) are still being cautious with their commitments, but we are seeing a definite swing into 'optimistically cautious' and in some cases, even better. Many dealers scaled back on their opening orders — a trend which we anticipated; which is why we've increased our domestic inventory to meet the in-season demands of the dealers."
"Judging by the volume of special orders coming in, we can confidently say that the consumers are out there — and they are buying," he added. "Our dealers continue to use our proven merchandising tools that we provide to merchandise and market accessories. Our mini-umbrella wall displays, umbrella display stands and protective furniture cover display stands provide a simple and effective means to help the dealer focus on accessories. It is much easier to sell a consumer a new umbrella, with coordinating cushions, placemats, an umbrella light, a fountain and protective furniture covers than a complete set of patio furniture. We anticipate strong growth for 2010 and even stronger for 2011."
Caravita's perspective was more cautious. "Retailers have been in survival mode with a huge drive to move as much inventory and back stock as possible," Hoyle said. "However, many of them are very eager to see some fresh ideas and designs. Boutique retailers are offering more personable service and educating customers about the true quality and features of our shade products. With our patio umbrellas it really is a lesson, because we offer such a variety of options in the customization."
Because it is such a new venture, the founders of Shade Pergolas also are still learning. "Large shade products are difficult to display and carry out of the usual retail environment," Ostrowski said. "Their points of sale are not expected to grow out of the specialized retail channels they now occupy like outdoor furniture stores, hot tub and spa showrooms, and seasonally in big box stores. However, the display of shade pergolas is growing into garden and other retail centers that are perfectly situated to display a large shade product to the market most likely to want one."
Ostrowski summed up the U.S. shade market dynamics, being demonstrated this month by two trade shows in Las Vegas — the National Hardware Show and HD Expo. "Materials required for long-term outdoor use are very expensive," he said. "Therein, there are two extremes of product: The inexpensive that lasts a season or two, and the expensive which can last as many as 12 to 15 years. It is up to the fabric and plastic suppliers to find a better value that is somewhere between if the outdoor living market is to grow to its full potential."
Hoyle also noted the category's dual nature. "Mass production of inexpensive patio umbrellas will always have a market for the cash and carry customer, but more emphasis is being focused on a custom-made product, spending time with customers and helping them create a beautifully design patio umbrella that makes a true statement in their outdoor area."
Although overall retail sales show some signs of recovery, Dorough tempered his comments to reflect the challenging retail environment for 2010/2011. "The country needs jobs, if we want to see sustained positive growth," he said. "We still see some specialty dealers closing their doors. The Southern California region has been severely impacted. Department stores and interior furniture stores are getting back into the category. Internet retailers and mass merchants will continue to be a presence — one that will not be going away anytime soon. But as the economy rebounds, we feel that people will start coming back into high-end specialty shops for that level of knowledge and service that cannot be achieved anywhere else. Those that survive (and thrive) will be those who are sharp, knowledgeable, passionate, and those who are willing to embrace the rapidly changing environment."
Ahead on the horizon
With expertise and innovation, shade vendors are ready to respond to big requests as the shade market reawakens.
"I think retailers are finally reducing their inventory to a point that is comfortable for them to start investing in new products," Hoyle said. "They aren't ready to dive into the investment of inventory like in past seasons, however they are excited to see what's new."
"I see product trends continuing to lean toward quality custom designs. Not just custom colors, more custom accessories that allow the customer to create a one-of-a-kind design just for them," she said. "Cantilevered shades are still very trendy as they offer maximum shade and an unobtrusive structure. The larger sizes are gracing the pool sides and terraces. As for innovations, we see a shift in shade products that are not only offering shade, but lighting, heating and music."
Ostrowski sees Shade Pergolas as a significant innovation just now coming into the market. "The product line was created to provide for the moderating comforts of sun and shade as well as protection from rain in outdoor rooms and seating areas. Shade pergolas combine high-quality, handcrafted pergola structures with exclusive retractable and integrated canopy systems that provide functional architectural style to outdoor living areas. They are designed for use at residential landscapes, decks and patios, commercial properties, assisted living facilities, outdoor cafes and restaurants, seating areas at marinas and golf courses, and most any outdoor space where the choice of sun or shade is desired. They were on the horizon just last year."
Dorough summarized Treasure Garden's best sellers and identified shade products showing promise.
"We continue to see exponential growth in our larger shade styles," Dorough said. "The ET2 — Easy Track Rectangle in the 10' × 13' size continues to dominate the entire collection, selling more than all the other sizes combined. Quite simply, it is the only shade product appropriately sized for the eight- and 10-seat tables that are now sweeping through retailers' floors."
"Our premier Cantilever styles — AKZ 11' and 13' sizes — provide huge shade coverage and lead the entire cantilever category in sales," he said. "Sales of 9' and smaller umbrellas is trending down, almost identically proportionate to the rise in 11' and larger sales. We are seeing this across the board. Our bronze finish is still No. 1, black is strong and our new Firenze finish shows promise."
"One of our most exciting introductions is our new TG Garden Pavilion," he said. "It is simple, elegant and loaded with many features and options. The key is that it is affordably priced. Its generous 12' × 12' size, constructed from sturdy extruded aluminum, is complemented by awning-grade fabric roof, decorative corner draperies with tie-backs, three choices of fabric wall sides — drapery, sheers or mosquito net — plus a side wall pocket for storage, an attachment for the Vega L Light and a place to hang your favorite plant or chandelier.
"Customers love the new Shademaker Sideposts styles — Orion and Sirius," Dorough added. "The popular Corona style and the unique ceiling mount Nova style. These styles are perfect for the specialty dealer who wants to upgrade his assortment or who is expanding into contract sales. These timeless designs are commercial grade, simple to operate, maintenance-free and are competitively priced for today's marketplace."
"We will continue to bring new innovative products to the marketplace," Dorough said. Our focus on strictly the shade category allows us to bring the most creative shade products and accessory solutions to our dealers. We constantly survey dealers and reps for feedback about what innovations and changes are necessary. Our totally vertical manufacturing facilities allow us the flexibility to react quickly to market changes. We are passionate about bringing our dealers exactly what their customers need, exactly when they need it."