Sun protection, rain protection, health, comfort, energy savings, economy, flexibility and style: they’re all part of the package.
By William Atkinson
For many residential and commercial customers, awnings and shade products are still valued for their aesthetics as much as for their shade, with maybe some consideration of health, comfort, energy savings and weather protection advantages entering into the discussion. Savvy manufacturers, distributors and marketers have learned, however, that the best way to increase sales to both markets is to make sure that customers understand that they are gaining value far beyond just the aesthetics of the physical products that are installed.
Eide Industries Inc., Cerritos, Calif., offers shade-related products from sizes 16 square feet to approximately 10,000 square feet, as well as frames and frame finishes. The company sells to both residential and commercial customers, and serves local, regional, national and international markets. “We go to great lengths to discuss each project with each customer to insure that they have accurate information to make educated decisions throughout the process,” explains Joe Belli, vice president of marketing. Topics cover square footage and height of the shade product or canopy, fabric selection (eg: mesh, semi-translucent, opaque), retractable or stationary, rain run-off options, high wind requirements and local codes.
“We also discuss weather protection topics, including snow, rain and wind,” says Belli. “Do they require just shade, or all-weather protection? Are snow loads a factor?” To deal with energy efficiency issues, Eide Industries often refers to the energy studies available from the Professional Awning Manufacturers Association (PAMA), a division of IFAI.
“We also explain that the addition of a canopy or awning can add living or dining space outside a building,” says Belli. Awnings, canopies and shade structures can add greater value, or expand profits, to a home, restaurant or offic e space by creating usable outdoor space. Health concerns—and regulations—can also have a more direct impact, as the construction of smoking shelters can also be a money-saver for restaurants and lounges faced with stringent no-smoking laws.
Sunesta Products LLC, Jacksonville, Fla., also works hard to educate customers. The company sells custom retractable patio awnings (specializing in products that are of high quality, with better warranties and added features); custom retractable screens (for exterior applications to help enclose patios, windows and doors, some of which are designed for solar protection, and others designed to protect from rain, wind, cold air and bugs); and a new line of custom retractable shelters. Sunesta sells to the residential and commercial markets.
“Overall, we try to keep it simple,” says Jeff Bedard, national sales manager. “We focus on selling outdoor comfort and indoor climate control.” Outdoor comfort has expanded beyond just shade. Sunesta’s products can
provide shade, but they can also provide sun in cold weather when customers want the sun to heat their homes, and provide warmth by enclosing the patio with sidewalls.
“We take technical information and put it into layman’s terms in terms of fabric selection,” says Bedard. For example, in the exterior screen market, there are several different fabrics available, as well as varying openness factors (identifying how tight or open the weave is). “We try to simplify this information for customers,” he adds. With each combination of fabric and openness, Sunesta explains how much energy you will get through the fabric and how much light will be transmitted. The company has professional samples for dealers to show to customers.
Serving customers within roughly a 50-mile radius, Custom Awning Inc., Osceola, Ind., offers retractable and fixed-frame canvas and metal-covered awnings, canopies and roll-up curtains. It also offers retractable and fixed shade structure coverings and rolling shutters. The company began by focusing on the residential market, but customer demand in the commercial area has increased.
During initial meetings, customers may raise concerns relating to health issues associated with ultraviolet exposure, or safety issues resulting from weather exposure. “We will discuss how much shade they may gain by installing shade protection,” says Jackie Beals, president. “We also address shade co-efficients and reference the PAMA energy studies for Chicago and Indianapolis. We also discuss the UV protection ratings for various canvas products.”
Traverse Bay Canvas Inc., Harbor Springs, Mich., has a primary market of residential customers, but it also does some commercial applications. One product it specializes in is headhouse covers: large acrylic and vinyl tarps designed to cover multiple docks to provide shade for boats. The company also provides awnings, canopies, sun shades, clear vinyl roll curtains and gazebos. Awning sales are primarily local, but the company’s roll curtains have a national market.
“In order to educate customers, we ask them what their objectives are,” says Carol Kleinert, president. If the goal is to reduce sun in the home, then her company can provide qualified advice on how to achieve this goal, with what kinds of shade products. Some clients have different objectives. “If they add a product such as a retractable awning, I let them know that, if the sun can’t hit the side of the house, it will stay cooler,” she says.
In selling shade, it’s important to offer a variety of products, and know not only how they provide benefits to the customer, but how they can provide them in combination. Different homes, different grounds and different climates require a custom approach for maximum effectiveness.
Awnex Inc., Ball Ground, Ga., provides a number of shade products, many of which are metal, including metal canopies and sunscreens. “However, we also do some fabric products, such as fabric awnings,” says John Dicks, president. One hundred percent of its work is commercial, and it specializes in bolt-on architectural enhancements for the chain store market. “We have plans to expand nationally, and hope to be there in a couple of years,” he adds. The company’s primary competitive advantage is its turnkey approach to make product selection easy for customers. “However, we also focus on green topics, referring to the PAMA study showing that shading direct sunlight from buildings can reduce energy bills.”
At Queen City Awning, Cincinnati, Ohio, they take it personally. The company provides most types of exterior shade products, such as awnings, canopies and sunshades, to both the residential and commercial markets. “We rely on relationships with customers, get into personal discussions with them on projects, and let them know the benefits of our products,” says Pete Weingartner, CPP, president. “We also refer to a lot of industry data, including PAMA’s energy study.”
Overcoming price resistance
According to Weingartner, with today’s focus on electronic communication, it is more challenging to try to sell value, because people can access a lot of pricing data online. “One way we meet this challenge is to build and maintain personal relationships,” he says.
To emphasize value, Eide Industries’ sales personnel spend time with customers in an effort to fully understand their projects, needs and budgets. “We offer drawings, field measuring surveys, color renderings and engineering calculations as required to prove our understanding of customers’ requirements,” says Belli.
Carol Kleinert’s strategy includes durability and maintenance advantages. “I emphasize the value of fabric awnings to them, including the aesthetics, and that they can be replaced rather quickly, or taken down for repair and then replaced, which is something that can’t be done with some other products,” she says. Products that are manufactured with acrylics rarely fade. The company also does custom-welding of aluminum frames in-house, making it easier to customize products. Once the fabric cover lasts 10–12 years, it can easily be replaced over the frame, which should last forever.
Custom Awning offers a competitively-priced quality product, and sometimes suggests that some of its customers obtain other quotes. Products and markets change, and Jackie Beals also realizes that the process of education goes both ways. “We are always open to new educational opportunities, and membership in our trade organization helps to keep us abreast of industry progress,” she adds.
Selling to—and through—professionals
“We meet with professionals when possible,” says Joe Belli. “During these meetings, we review and discuss the client’s concepts and drawings, insure that we fully understand the client’s project criteria and budget, discuss every aspect of the project, and provide thorough written proposals for each project.” When the company can get in early enough with the architect, designer or contractor, it can recommend that they design in shading and weather solutions. “Working with professionals is not a ‘hard sell,’ but it often requires hard work by the salesperson,” he adds. The professionals are usually demanding, in terms of material samples, detail drawings, renderings, proof of competence and proof of insurance, among other concerns.
“All of our products are sold only through our professional dealer network,” says Jeff Bedard. “We do not sell direct to consumers. However, through our dealers, we are working with more architects, builders and other professionals, especially as we have expanded our product line.” Awnings are pretty simple, in that consumers are tired of putting up with too much sun and heat. Screens and shelter products, however, are more often specified, where either the homeowner is doing a remodel or reconstruction, or a commercial application, and is working with a designer or architect. “We have had a lot of success working with this ‘specifier’ market,” he adds.
“We approach the design aspect of awnings and canopies with architects and designers,” says Beals. This may consist of incorporating signage, color and dimension. “I may refer them to some of our past projects, or I may provide computerized renderings of our concepts.”
Queen City Awning works with general contractors, architects and owners. “Often, architects are very well-versed in what our product can do for their particular project, such as energy conservation,” says Weingartner. For example, the company often works on projects that need to be LEED-certified, so the actual products that they use need to meet certain energy conservation requirements. General contractors follow specs, including energy specs. “It can be more of a challenge with owners, who may not be as well-versed on energy benefits or other advantages of the products,” he adds. “As a result, we spend more time educating them on these benefits.”