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Hearth & Home March 2019

Greenwich aluminum market umbrella from Frankford.

Shade and Need

By Tom Lassiter

As the climate warms, the need for shade products has increased – for both comfort and protection.

The universe is full of complementary opposites, and thank goodness for that. Balance is what it’s all about, right? As one element evolves, the symbiotic components that contribute to that element’s viability also must evolve or, as Darwin postulated, they surely will diminish and perhaps go away.

Stay with me! There’s a point to be made, and here it is: What’s true in the animal and plant kingdoms also applies to the continuing evolution of the Outdoor Room. Today’s example: Big shade.

Big shade – in the form of umbrellas with extra-large canopies, awnings, sun sails, and other shade structures – has evolved because the lifestyle furniture footprint has expanded in the Outdoor Room and in outdoor kitchens.

A market umbrella is perfect for a five-piece set, but not so useful for a 108-inch dining table, or a deep-seating group with room for six or more.

Shade products simply had to evolve and innovate to remain relevant for today’s Outdoor Room.

Manufacturers say sales of umbrellas with large canopies have been trending upwards, especially in the last couple of seasons. Most models of these huge umbrellas have the canopy affixed to a vertical post that sits outside the canopy’s perimeter. This style of umbrella is called cantilever, offset, or side post.

This configuration allows for canopies large enough to shade a small car. Some canopies are larger than the bedroom of a 20th century tract house. Top-of-the-line models allow the canopy to swivel and tilt, enabling the humans underneath to keep UV-blocking fabric between them and the direct rays of the sun without moving the furniture.

Cantilever umbrellas may be permanently mounted or attached to a weighted base. But unless that base is designed with wheels, moving such an umbrella can be a challenge. A cantilever umbrella with a wheeled base becomes a near perfect defender against Old Sol’s rays.

Some manufacturers also make extra-large umbrellas in the center-post style.

Cantilever umbrellas have been part of the landscape for a decade or so. An early innovator was TUUCI, whose artfully engineered, massive umbrellas pioneered a niche category in the shade industry. That niche became more expansive (and affordable) as other manufacturers developed their own side-post models.

Terra Outdoor, an eight-store group (and soon to be nine) in California, carries umbrellas by Treasure Garden and TUUCI. Both lines sell well, said Jim Singer, a purchasing manager.

“We’re just seeing a huge increase” in sales, he said. Umbrellas “are like gold to us. The more I stock, the more I seem to sell. We sold a ton of TUUCI last season.”

Resorts and the upscale hospitality industry were early adopters of big umbrellas at poolside, and to provide shade for guests lounging with beverages. As those consumers sought to recreate that vacation experience in their own backyards, big umbrellas began to become more commonplace in home settings.

Tilt cantilever umbrella from TUUCI.

13-ft. Starlux AKZ Plus cantilever umbrella from Treasure Garden.

That isn’t surprising. Resort furnishings also are credited with helping Americans become acclimated to furnishings with contemporary flair.

But what, exactly, has led to the recent bump in popularity of big umbrellas?

Just look at the size of the furniture they shade, said Candy Chase, National Sales manager for Treasure Garden.

Market umbrellas are not up to the task of shading sprawling deep-seating groups and sectionals long enough to land small aircraft. That’s a job for a cantilever umbrella or a dual-post shade structure.

“People want to sit outside and relax, and they want to have shade,” she says. “But they want an unobstructed view. They don’t want a big pole in front of them.”

Treasure Garden’s AKZ line is being supplanted by AKZ PLUS, she said, which offers additional tilting features. An AKZ PLUS model with a 13-ft. circular canopy provides 129 sq. ft. of shade.

Frankford Umbrellas, a longtime supplier to the contract market, entered the specialty retailer channel in 2016. Sales through all channels in 2018 were up over the previous year, said Laura Dudley, National Sales manager.

“Large umbrella sales are certainly up,” she said.

Frankford now makes large, center-post umbrellas as well as side-post umbrellas. The center-post line – called G-Series, for giant – is new for 2019. Customers may choose a round, square, or rectangular canopy. Side-post models may have a square, round, or octagonal canopy.

Woodline, a well-established South African firm that has manufactured umbrellas for many well-known brands, entered the U.S. market under its own name two years ago. The company produces wooden as well as metal-post umbrellas, including cantilever models.

SkY from Woodline.

Woodline also makes two models of dual-post shade structures, says Kathleen Ferry, National Sales manager. The designs are well suited to shading a long dining table or linear seating. The large umbrellas and shade structures give Woodline competitive products across the board, she says, though its most popular items are wooden market umbrellas that have been in production for nearly 30 years.

Barlow Tyrie, being true to its British roots, prefers to refer to its shade products as parasols.

“Umbrellas protect you from the rain,” said Charles Hessler, executive vice president. “Parasols protect you from the sun.”

Barlow Tyrie makes parasols with poles of eucalyptus (the Napoli range) or anodized aluminum (the Sail range). The Napoli range claims the majority of sales, Hessler said.

The Sail range also includes a dual-post shade structure, called Sunshade. Side curtains are optional. Sunshade is available in 13- and 16-ft. lengths.

Sales of Barlow Tyrie’s cantilever parasols jumped in the past couple of seasons, Hessler said. It’s not uncommon to sell two cantilever parasols to a homeowner to complete an Outdoor Room, he said.

Big shade is simply “part of a growing, upscale trend,” he explained. “People with money are spending it on larger groups, larger tables, and entertaining more.

“If you’ve just spent $20,000 on a set of outdoor furniture,” Hessler said, “you don’t want a bunch of cheap shade products hanging around it.”

Protecting Your Health

Shade is good for your health.

Melanoma rates in the United States have been rising for the past 30 years, according to the American Cancer Society. More than 95,000 new melanomas will be diagnosed in 2019, according to Cancer Society estimates. More than 7,000 people are expected to die of melanoma this year.

Exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays is considered a major risk factor for melanoma. So the more one can stay out of direct sun, over time, the better.

Umbrellas allow people to enjoy being outdoors while protecting them from UV radiation.

“People are more conscious about sun damage than they were back in my generation,” said Dan Gould, owner of Outdoor Kitchen & Patio in Omaha, Nebraska.

He’s convinced that greater awareness about the danger of overexposure to UV rays is helping boost sales of large umbrellas.

“The umbrella business has always been good to us,” he said. “The last couple of years, it’s been even better. I’ve definitely seen an increase in the cantilever business in particular.”

Outdoor Kitchen & Patio annually has sold 20 to 30 13-ft. cantilever umbrellas in recent years. That changed in 2018, when Gould sold 60 cantilever umbrellas.

There are always six cantilever umbrellas displayed on the sales floor.

Leading makers of fabric for umbrella canopies for years have touted the ability of their products to block UV rays. Sunbrella-brand fabrics are recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation as an aid in preventing sun-induced damage to skin. Sunbrella products have been proven to block up to 98% of UV rays.

Similarly, the Outdura brand’s “Sun Protection Fabrics” have been tested to block upwards of 97.5% of UV radiation.

Greater awareness of the hazards of sun exposure on the part of the public has been good for his shade sales, Gould said.

“I think it’s helped (umbrella sales) quite a bit,” he said.

Solair Update

Powered retractable awnings seemed a natural fit for casual furniture retailers already selling umbrellas for the Outdoor Room. That was the strategy about seven years ago when Trivantage began marketing its Solair-brand awnings to the specialty retail channel.

But specialty furniture stores didn’t warm up to the idea of selling and installing retractable awnings as much as Trivantage hoped.

Going forward, Trivantage will not pursue the specialty furniture store channel “as aggressively as it has in the past,” said Steve Ellington, Trivantage president.

Trivantage, a subsidiary of Glen Raven, markets and distributes specialty fabric and hardware.

“We have had success with specialty retailers, and we will continue to support them,” Ellington said. Trivantage will welcome new specialty retailers who wish to offer Solair products, but the company will focus its marketing attention on awning fabricators.

Solair awnings have been sold through awning fabricators for nearly 40 years, he said.

Ellington said that installation of the motorized awnings proved to be an obstacle for some outdoor furniture dealers. Retailers who “embraced the install did well,” he said. For others, the sales and installation process, which typically includes at least two site visits and some electrical and mechanical skills, proved to be “more of a challenge.”

Retractable powered awnings are “a natural for the Outdoor Room,” Ellington said. “Our plan is to support the specialty retailers who liked and embraced the product.”

Retractable awning from Solair.

The customized 50 x 80-ft. Infinity Canopy in Costa Mesa, California.

Canopy Innovation

Infinity Canopy, a relative newcomer to the shade business, has quickly earned accolades from trade associations as well as design-conscious customers.

The patented modular shade system suspends fabric panels from overhead cables. The system can cover a space of any length or width that can be spanned with cables.

“Each piece of fabric is individual, but the system looks as if it’s one piece,” says Dr. Alan Shargani, Infinity Canopy’s founder and CEO. The California chiropractor developed Infinity Canopy after becoming dissatisfied with the commercial shade solutions available for his Outdoor Room.

“I basically was not happy with the price or the features,” he said. “When I came up with the idea of a modular system, I realized I had something I could sell to other people.”

Shargani brought his product to market four years ago. The product won the 2015 Attendees Choice Award for “Outdoor Living Product Marketability” at the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo. Infinity Canopy also won the ShowStoppers Award for best new product in the shade category at the 2015 IFAI EXPO, the awning industry’s main trade show.

Infinity Canopy is protected by nine U.S. patents. The modular design allows individual panels to be replaced. Should damage occur, or if a property owner wishes to change the canopy’s look at some point, the fabric panels may be replaced without the expense of replacing the cable system. “You can get a new canopy at half the price,” Shargani says.

A 10 x 10 canopy can be installed by two people in three to four hours, he said. The retail price would be between $1,000 and $1,500, depending on fabric.

Shargani says Infinity Canopy is the first major innovation in canopies since the time of ancient Rome. “This is a very untapped market,” he says.

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