Innovators in Shade
Combining utility with fashion
Cinde W Ingram -- Casual Living, 5/1/2013 2:00:00 AM
Innovative shade manufacturers see the sky as no limit. Customers are seeking the shade, as much because of lifestyle changes as global warming, and leading shade innovators are keeping them undercover by combining function with fashion.
Architects and design professionals also are eager for shade solutions for a growing number of reasons.
"The shade category is growing and is more important than ever, because it has been warmer over the past decade and we all need shade when enjoying the outdoors," said Treasure Garden Vice President of Sales and Marketing Jeff B. Dorough. "It is the perfect outdoor accessory to enhance any outdoor space. Plus, like I keep saying, it is ‘like a woman's shoes or handbag - women do not just own one.' Utilitarian plus fashion is a winner."
Umbrellas once were viewed as an add-on to a furniture purchase, but that perspective is changing, said Ward Usmar, TUUCI's VP of sales and marketing. "With the larger scale dining and deep seat groups rising in popularity, more attention is being focused on having a well-designed and functional shade platform," Usmar said. "The primary reason that the shade category is growing rapidly is because people love being outside more than ever before, but they also want protection from the elements."
Lifestyle choices leaning toward casual comfort and vacations at home rather than abroad also are boosting growth in the shade category.
"I think the reason it's gaining in importance is because people are staying at home," said Rett Haigler, business manager, Solair Shade Solutions, a part of TriVantage. "Obviously, they're not looking to buy new homes. They're improving their own outdoor spaces. As they stay at home more and spend time in the backyard, they find out it's unbearable at times because of how hot it is or the glare or whatever keeps them from enjoying that outdoor space related to the sun. So shades - like sails, retractable awnings, large umbrellas and unique pergola shading systems - are really starting to gain traction in the consumer's mind."
Drawing on Treasure Garden's global perspective, Dorough described the European influenced cantilever design style as the key innovation made over the past few years. "Consumers love the large sizes, tilting features and how this style ties the whole outdoor space together," Dorough said. "Add our Serenata and you have Party Central."
TUUCI's design team has been pushing the limits of the shade category since its inception. "One of our earliest more unique shade platforms, the Manta, won the Lillian B. Winchester Best of Show Award at the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market in Chicago in 1999," Usmar said. "We were entered under the accessories category, but since then a separate shade category has been created. This speaks volumes as the decision as to which shade product to purchase is clearly a separate one rather than getting it ‘thrown in' with your furniture purchase."
Since that time, TUUCI has introduced several new products including pavilions, lounges, large center-post products and its Max collection of cantilevers. "We won the shade category several times as well as our second Best of Show award," Usmar said. "Our innovations for the residential market encompass design, materials and functionality. In terms of design, TUUCI parasols are as much art as they are utility, inspired by the beauty of the marine environment and creating an entirely new aesthetic for parasols.
"One of TUUCI's goals has been to create parasols and pavilions that extend the enjoyment of a day, an evening and an entire outdoor living season whether in a consumer's backyard or a hospitality environment," Usmar said.
While consumers are relatively new to experiencing the need for shade systems, those working in the contract and hospitality sector have "been forced to look into these options for a while now," Haigler said. "Hotels, restaurants and even institutions like elementary schools are looking for shade solutions. Schools are protecting kids on the playground. Restaurants are increasing their useful area so if they have an outdoor space and want to enclose it with fabric-based shade solutions, that's helping them increase their business during the cooler months. At the senior living centers and nursing homes, it's important to keep those folks safe from UV rays and in a comfortable outdoor environment. So a lot of those types of institutions are looking our direction for shade as well."
SHADE FOR ALL SIZES
At upcoming trade shows, dealers and designers can expect to see additional shade options revealed.
"We will be introducing more Treasure Garden cantilever styles and Shademaker side-post styles to keep up with the demand for large shade for the 2014 season," Dorough said.
TUUCI's most recent shade innovations, the Plantation Max Dual Cantilever and the F1, are designed to cover large spaces. The F1, its largest center-post shade offering to date with an 18-ft . diameter, has the ability to withstand wind speeds in excess of 60 mph, Usmar said.
"The Plantation Max Dual Cantilever can cover an area as large as 280 square feet, making it ideal for a deep seating area at a home or in a commercial setting such as a restaurant or resort," he said. "We introduced both these items at the HD Expo in Vegas in 2012 and the response was fantastic. Our clients immediately understood the functionality and design differences of these unique shade pieces."
Solair's retail customers also were quick to learn about its Power Screen 1000 when it debuted at the Casual Market in September. The PS1000 joins the PS2000 and PS5000 products, which have been available since Solair was launched three years ago. A retractable awning shade option for smaller outdoor spaces, the PS1000 is 8x10 feet, offered in one frame color and two fabric options, and comes motorized with a remote.
"We're offering a high-quality precisely engineered shading system that is pretty easy to sell and doesn't require any inventory," Haigler said, noting retractable awnings are a new category for outdoor furniture retailers. Solair also is helping retailers overcome hesitation at entering the category by offering white glove delivery and installation service.
ORIGINS OF INNOVATION
"The PS1000 was definitely something our dealers said they needed because that's how they were used to selling furniture sets and that's what their salespeople were comfortable with," Haigler said. The "good, better, best" metaphor does not apply, he added, because the PS1000 is of the same quality as the other two products but at a smaller size.
TUUCI's product development program is based on conversation and collaboration. "We are continually in conversation with our dealers, distributors, retail outlets and homeowners, learning more about the wants, needs and desires of the marketplace," Usmar said. "These conversations assure that we stay ahead of trends, such as the increasing opulence of outdoor rooms and the increasing importance of shaded outdoor areas for hotels, restaurants and sports venues.
New products usually generate from within Treasure Garden's organization, Dorough said. "Our sales reps and dealers are always sending in suggestions. Our challenge is to select the right one or two winners each year."
One of those new product suggestions resulted in the development of umbrella lights, which continue to grow in popularity from Treasure Garden's Vega L and Serenata styles.
"These make excellent gift s for Mother's Day or Father's Day," Dorough said. "The light and light/media center styles provide more reasons to enjoy the outdoors under your umbrella. They help create the mood for dining or fun party entertaining."
TUUCI also recognizes the need for additional functions beyond shade. "We have certainly seen a significant request for heating and lighting on some of our larger shade platforms," Usmar said. "Lighting obviously extends the evening and creates an enjoyable ambiance while heat will extend the entire summer season.
"The growing demand for extras of all types can add to the value to shade structures and the enjoyment of spending time outdoors," he said. "It's part of the evolution of the outdoor room concept, bringing some of the pleasures of indoor living to the outdoors."
Haigler sees a variety of shade products used commercially. "They're trying a lot of different things," he said. "Obviously, there are fixed frame awnings that are still extremely popular with outdoor areas for cafes and outside of hotels. Retractable awnings are used more in street side cafes but also in rooftop applications," where wind can damage permanent awnings. Vertical motorized screens, like the Solair Power Screen for commercial application, are sold and installed by Solair's traditional base of awning fabricators and enclosure fabricators.
"You also see innovations like shade sails really starting to take shape and have an impact, especially in bigger cities," Haigler said.
TUUCI has been a leader in the shade sails movement. "Architects and design professionals are hungry for new ideas in shade for many reasons," Usmar said. "While energy efficiency remains high on everyone's agenda, there are several other considerations that are driving the design profession to specify shade. Consumers are drawn to shaded areas where they stay longer and spend more time in an outdoor environment. Tastefully decorated shade structures build brand awareness and encourage repeat business."
What do these innovators see on the horizon for the shade marketplace?
"I really think it's going to expand," Haigler said. "Homeowners are looking for new ways to expand their outdoor spaces and to enjoy their own homes. The remodeling aspect is a huge growth part of the industry so I think unique ways of shading are really going to be increasing over the next few years."
In addition to retractable awnings, Haigler noted a range of dynamic shade products that incorporate movement. Homeowners are inspired by designs they see on television, online or experience at resorts, such as pergola covers with draping systems. "I think it's an obvious move toward people expanding on their own living spaces in the outdoors and their related shading needs fall from that," he said.
Dorough expects the overall shade category to keep growing. "Our challenge is to handle our growth properly," he said. "The shade business has lots of room for growth and prosperity for our dealers, whether it is the commercial styles, large cantilever styles or our designer styles."
Usmar was equally positive about TUUCI's outlook. "Given the tremendous strides we have made at TUUCI over the past 15 years, we are extremely optimistic about the future of the shade marketplace. We have taken a basic human need - shade - and elevated it to an entirely new level of beauty, function and enjoyment.
"And we're not about to stop now," Usmar said. "The TUUCI team is hard at work on the next generation of shade platforms for commercial and residential markets. We're excited about what lies ahead as we push ourselves to create products our clients can both enjoy and be proud to own."
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