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Shade 101: Beyond the basics

May 1st, 2017 / By: / Feature

Successful marketing and selling means reaching, educating and caring for customers—in print, in person and online.

Retractable awnings from Eclipse Shading Systems® can be accessorized with a shade that drops from the front end to protect outdoor areas from low sun and add privacy. Photo: Eclipse Shading Systems.
Retractable awnings from Eclipse Shading Systems® can be accessorized with a shade that drops from the front end to protect outdoor areas from low sun and add privacy. Photo: Eclipse Shading Systems.

Sit outside in sun and rain. 

Reduce cooling costs and glare. Protect indoor and outdoor furnishings from UV rays. Add a level of privacy while enhancing the architecture of your home or business. Increase property value. Gain visibility for your business. Help customers find you. Expand restaurant seating capacity to generate additional revenue. Control the environment of your outdoor space.

Awnings, shades and screens offer a wide and appealing range of benefits, attested to by virtually every website in the business. But homeowners in particular concentrate on five letters: s-h-a-d-e.

“UV protection is important, but not mentioned as much as ‘I have to have shade back here,’” says Bill Pattison, general manager of Goodwin-Cole Co. of Sacramento, Calif. “We use energy surveys, mostly that we get from Trivantage and Rainier and from IFAI. We talk about energy savings, but not as much as we
talk about shade.”

Andy Morse, president of Ohio Awning & Manufacturing Co., notes a similar experience for his Cleveland-based company.

“We are in northeast Ohio, not Phoenix, so energy savings is a lower priority for our customers,” he says. “They’re looking at awnings to enhance their living space: ‘How is this going to help my family enjoy the backyard more?’

“On the commercial side, for restaurants, it’s about ‘How many tables can I put under this awning that will give me a revenue stream?’ It’s return on investment. For other businesses, it’s ‘How does this improve curb appeal so I have more traffic coming into my store?’ Do people see who I am and what I am?’ Maybe the awning just reads ‘pizza shop.’ Or maybe it shows the address or indicates ‘This is the entrance.’ And by changing its awning, a business gets a fresh look, which for a restaurant or store is an easy way to bring people in.

Shade sails make a striking visual statement while reducing exposure to direct sun. They’re increasingly popular over pool and play areas and in public and commercial settings where they complement surrounding architecture. Photo: Goodwin-Cole Co.
Shade sails make a striking visual statement while reducing exposure to direct sun. They’re increasingly popular over pool and play areas and in public and commercial settings where they complement surrounding architecture. Photo: Goodwin-Cole Co.

“When you are selling awnings, you try to find out why they called you,” Morse explains. “What is their pain? What is the issue? You have to start from that and then you can bring up other factors.”

“We talk about energy savings, but shade is the number one reason our residential customers buy awnings,” says Gary Buermann, president of G&J Awning and Canvas Inc. in Sauk Rapids, Minn. Because “patio life is so short” in his state, he adds, the majority of G&J’s business comes from the commercial sector. And those clients focus on street-front presence, often with identifying graphics.

Residential customers account for about 90 percent of Eclipse Shading Systems®’ installations. And for the Middletown, N.Y.-based wholesale manufacturer of retractable awnings, most commercial sales are for outdoor seating at restaurants.

“Our dealers are working with the end consumer. But overall, we are just trying to solve sun-related problems,” says Larry Bedosky, director of marketing.

 Two stationary awnings, as well as umbrellas, were installed by Ohio Awning & Manufacturing Co. to cover patio spaces at a country club. Photo: Ohio Awning & Mfg. Co.
Two stationary awnings, as well as umbrellas, were installed by Ohio Awning & Manufacturing Co. to cover patio spaces at a country club. Photo: Ohio Awning & Mfg. Co.

“Awnings are good for direct sunlight and light rain. Side-retention screens have more ‘legs’ by addressing issues of sun, bugs, temperature and privacy,” he adds. “But the application is for the same basic reason: to control the outdoor environment.”

Eclipse Shading Systems posts on its website the results of IFAI and PAMA energy studies. But, Bedosky says, “There are so many variables in studies. It’s not like you can get an Energy Star rating for a retractable shading product, which can be moved and directed. And consumers generally aren’t looking for that utility-of-value statement.”

To market, to market

Like many companies in the awning and screen business, Eclipse Shading relies mostly on the internet to market its products.

“Some of our dealers still use print for advertising; they know their clientele,” Bedosky says. “But online you can show motion [in video or animation], which you can’t do in print. We try to put a lot of information on our website and are always making changes to hold people’s attention and educate them. There’s an educational curve in that you are trying to communicate what retractable awnings do and how one differs from another.

Ohio Awning & Manufacturing installed a temporary awning for shade and rain protection for Facebook’s on-site operations during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: Ohio Awning & Mfg. Co.
Ohio Awning & Manufacturing installed a temporary awning for shade and rain protection for Facebook’s on-site operations during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: Ohio Awning & Mfg. Co.

“We ask consumers to review our products and tell us what they think of their overall buying experience,” he continues. “For six years, we have been rated No. 1 on retractableawningreview.com. We also use Twitter and Facebook, but I don’t believe social media has much of a sales impact for us. Millennials aren’t our customers up to this point. The reason we do social media is for improved ranking on search engines.

“About one-third of [awning] consumers take a year to buy, so we instituted CRM [customer relationship management] software,” Bedosky says. “We give you the option to have a dealer contact you, and we stay in touch with you until you buy or die—or say ‘stop.’

“This is a major purchase. A lot of people say, ‘I didn’t know awnings were so expensive.’ Then they reconsider when they haven’t solved their problem. People will buy high-quality products with more options than they have in the past. Their first outdoor furniture was likely a wooden picnic table; then, as those didn’t last, they moved onto buying something more durable. That seems to be where the world of retractable awnings is.”

Most important, Bedosky says, awning and screen companies should make sure that what they post on their websites is valuable to the consumer and not simply self-serving.

Goodwin-Cole has advertised in the newspaper and on radio, but, Pattison says, “We don’t get too wordy in ads. We can put more information on our website. Then when we make face-to-face contact, we go over features and benefits. You never know what’s important to certain clients. We talk about energy savings, but we really try to tell our story—that we have welding and sewing shops; that we design, build and install.

Eclipse Shading Systems’ cassette box-style screens are more effective in energy savings than interior-mounted shades. They’re available in varying widths and drops up to 16 feet, with aluminum side tracks or coated stainless steel cables. Photo: Eclipse Shading Systems.
Eclipse Shading Systems’ cassette box-style screens are more effective in energy savings than interior-mounted shades. They’re available in varying widths and drops up to 16 feet, with aluminum side tracks or coated stainless steel cables. Photo: Eclipse Shading Systems.

“[Goodwin-Cole] spends a lot of money on buying keywords on Google, and we spend money every month on optimization of our site,” he continues. “We do some social media, such as Facebook. We go to home shows and send out postcards to any residential property that changes owners, which is information we get from the local paper that lists residential home transactions for the past week. We get some business from that.”

More fruitful leads come from having a booth at the annual home show on the state fairgrounds and from ads in home-improvement magazines.

“One of those magazines goes to 200,000 homes; the other is picked up in places like Starbucks,” Pattison says. “We have call tracking on them; so if we get a lead, we know where it came from. Our customers are predominantly 35 to 60 years old. We are looking at retargeting our advertisements to millennials.” Goodwin-Cole, however, did reconfigure its website in 2016 to make it friendlier to mobile devices.

Making the rounds

“Our greatest source of business has been property managers and contractors. Architects are great at recommending awnings, though they don’t necessarily recommend [Goodwin-Cole],” Pattison says, adding that he goes out with salesmen on group calls to see “key people in the community.”

G&J Awning and Canvas advertises in newspapers, sends emails to architects and developers, and engages in social media through Facebook and Twitter. Buermann notes that his company exhibited at four home shows in the past year, but attendance was down and exposure was further hampered by familiarity.

Recasens USA and Llaza created the Fotostyle360® marketing tool to help manufacturers sell awnings to homeowners and businesses. The free app can be used on a tablet or smartphone for ease of use in the field. Photos: Recasens USA
Recasens USA and Llaza created the Fotostyle360® marketing tool to help manufacturers sell awnings to homeowners and businesses. The free app can be used on a tablet or smartphone for ease of use in the field. Photos: Recasens USA

“If you have a retractable awning, people have seen that; it doesn’t stop them. They’re looking for something new. In the home market, we haven’t found the next great showstopper yet,” he says, adding that his company has run across the same type of problem when exhibiting at trade shows that attract architects.

“If you are the new guy, they stop. But once they have seen you, they don’t. So we have done different shows over the years.

“Most of our customers are repeat business and from word of mouth,” Buermann continues. “The next best thing is search engine optimization [SEO] for our website. Millennials are just getting to that age where they are buying houses and becoming our customers, so we rely on social media a little more every year.”

Ohio Awning also uses SEO tactics to attract visitors to its website.

“We do a little social media, Facebook primarily, but need to improve on it,” Morse says. “We do some advertising in print, but very little. And we are not finding home expos to be as beneficial as they once were. In other markets, they may be; but we are not getting many quality leads. For a company that has been in business 150 years, a lot of our business comes from referrals.”

Considerable opportunities also come from new construction, Morse notes.

“We have relationships with general contractors and architects. We do ‘lunch-and-learn’ presentations with architects a couple of times a month in the winter. We find that to be very effective in helping increase awareness of our company. And we follow up with contractors even if they don’t get a job [that they bid] to see what else they have. We try to work the network.”

“Good, established dealers care about their customers. Referrals can generate about half of their business,” Bedosky says.

Janice Kleinschmidt is a freelance writer and magazine editor based in San Diego, Calif.

Because Sacramento does not experience much wind, Goodwin-Cole Co. doesn’t sell many wind sensors for its retractable awnings. According to general manager Bill Pattison, the company’s customers buy computer controls for interior shades, but “not so much” for exterior products.

The situation is substantially different in other parts of the country, especially in storm-prone areas.

“Retractable awnings are a large investment for homeowners. Their worst enemy is the wind. We sell a lot of Somfy® wireless wind sensors,” says Larry Bedosky, director of marketing for New York’s Eclipse Shading Systems. “More and more consumers are taking advantage of computer-control modules, which you can add on any radio technology Somfy motorized shading products we offer.”

Fully 95 percent of Ohio Awning & Manufacturing Co.’s retractable products are sold with motorized controls, many of which are operable by a smartphone. “We sell a lot of wind sensors and not so many sun sensors,” president Andy Morse says. “Exterior screens are more for rain protection.”

About half of G&J Awning and Canvas’s customers purchase a wind sensor, which company president Gary Buermann says the Minnesota company sells at cost. “It’s an inexpensive insurance policy,” he says.

Manufacturers and suppliers of fabrics for awnings and screens also have clear marketing objectives and tactics. Recasens USA of Blue Bell, Pa., promotes its products through ads in trade magazines, at trade shows, through B2B email blasts and with personal sales calls.

“People love the flat lay, hand and stability of our acrylic and solar-screen fabrics, so we send out a lot of sample yardage to get them in potential customers’ hands to work with, test and prototype,” says Doug Dubay, national sales manager. “The solar-protection market is by far and away our primary market.”

Jonathan Gilmore, business development manager for fabrics and fibers at Twitchell Technical Products LLC in Dothan, Ala., endeavors to personally meet with customers for the company’s Textilene® fabric.

“This allows us to understand what attributes are of primary importance for their competitive environment and end-use specifics, while allowing us to most comprehensively and efficiently address those areas of concern,” he says. “Such interactions may take place during a dedicated customer visit, at a variety of trade shows we attend, or perhaps at a show in which we exhibit.”

Twitchell also promotes additions to its product lines through direct mail, eblasts and targeted sampling, which Gilmore explains as selecting the items they perceive to be of the greatest applicability to customers, their products or their competitive environment.

“The opposite would be sending them any and everything we manufacture,” he says. “The danger in that scenario is that they lose interest due to being overwhelmed by the quantity, or having less-than-optimal understanding of the minute differences in the fabrics.”

Herculite Products Inc. of Emigsville, Pa., markets its PVC textiles through print ads in IFAI publications and through its website.

“We reach out to awning manufacturers and product specifiers by offering compelling blog articles and ebook content,” says Craig Zola, Herculite’s vice president of marketing and distribution. A blog may be a checklist for architects on what to look for in high-quality awning fabrics or “Make sure you do this before buying outdoor awnings for your business.” Ebooks are downloadable documents such as awning case studies and “Five Factors to Consider When Determining Awning Fabric.”

“We consider Herculite Awning Fabric brands as the ‘flagship’ within our range of product offerings,” Zola says. “In many cases, our fabrics are used in screen applications as accessories to the awning structure. The co-application package is an important part of our business.”

Shade is an online occupation these days. Goodwin-Cole, Eclipse Shading Systems and Ohio Awning & Manufacturing use Trivantage’s Awning Composer® 3-D visualization software as a point-of-sale tool. G&J Awning and Canvas doesn’t use 3-D modeling, but takes a picture of a potential customer’s structure and superimposes an awning onto it.

Fabric manufacturer Recasens USA and Spain-based awning systems manufacturer Llaza collaborated on developing an augmented-reality marketing tool called Fotostyle360®.

Launched last year, the free app shows Recasens fabrics on screen and awning component systems made by Llaza. It can be downloaded on any smartphone or tablet from the Apple Store or Google Play.

According to Doug Dubay, national sales manager for Recasens, Fotostyle360 is being used by a large dealer network in Spain as a visual sales tool that can—within a couple of minutes—produce renderings of a retractable awning or screen at the home of a prospective customer.

“The goal is to professionalize and modernize the sales presentation and give prospective customers an immediate representation of what the awning or screen of their choice is going to look like on their home,” he says. “The idea is that customers will be more comfortable in their decision to buy an awning or screen if they can visualize it.”

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