Fabrics and products evolve to serve the changing needs of customers.
Companies involved in the awning and screen markest are feeling optimistic. Bill Pattison, general manager of Goodwin-Cole Co. in Sacramento, Calif., credits fabric manufacturers with introducing ever-better products with no-fade guarantees and self-cleaning technology.
“Things like that give us something to talk about with customers,” he says.
Doug Dubay, national sales manager for fabric manufacturer Recasens USA in Blue Bell, Pa., foresees growth in the market through product innovation and diversification.
“Retractable fabric pergolas are becoming very popular in Europe, and that trend is going to follow into North America as additional fabricators get into the market, promote the pergolas, and get them specified for commercial and high-end residential applications,” he predicts. “We are in the process of introducing exciting fabrics that are more aesthetically pleasing than current pergola fabrics.
“We see a steady shift from bold, colorful stripe patterns to simpler and modern stripe patterns that are dominated with neutral shades, from gray to beige,” he continues. “Customers also seem to be looking for depth or texture in the fabric. We recently introduced our Limited Collection of solids and stripes that are woven with a combination of standard-size yarn and a slightly thicker ‘slub’ yarn that gives the fabric more depth while maintaining stability and water resistance. We have also started weaving super-wide acrylic fabric for customers that want to railroad fabric on commercial awnings and retractable systems. Super-wide fabric reduces labor by eliminating the need to weld or sew narrower panels together.
“Most manufacturers, including Recasens, now produce screen fabrics around 10 feet wide,” he adds. “Fixed-frame awnings have changed very little for many decades, but there are some exciting new aluminum frames that can be assembled on-site that greatly reduce the cost and complexity of transporting awnings to the job site. It remains to be seen if traditional fabricators will adopt these systems and what the implications will be for fabrics used on them. It is my hope that they could tip the scale in favor of fabric awnings and reclaim market share from metal-clad awnings.”
Partnering with customers
Jonathan Gilmore, business development manager for fabrics and fibers at Twitchell Technical Products LLC, says the Dothan, Ala.-based company continually introduces products based on market feedback.
“Additionally, we take a customer-centric, custom-development work approach,” he says. “We feel it is a viable way to become a valuable partner to our customer base. These partnerships often result in mutually beneficial product development that can be leveraged in similar or other markets or end uses.
“The biggest change I have seen in the past year or two is the increased awareness of the fabric attributes that drive customer satisfaction,” Gilmore continues. “I see consumers wanting to garner a more thorough understanding of the performance variables for comparison between fabric configurations and constructions. I believe, in some cases, this urge to understand is driven by increased options in the market. For others, I think it is a function of the not-insignificant costs of screening systems and the customer wanting to ensure they are comfortable with and confident in the components of the system.
“In the next five to 10 years, I anticipate consumer expectations to continue to be heightened. Thus, they will seek options that offer more utility or function for greater value, all the while evolving in appearance to exceed their expectations,” Gilmore concludes.
Craig Zola, vice president of marketing and distribution for Herculite Products Inc. of Emigsville, Pa., notes a shift toward PVC-based textiles with surface treatments that create the appearance of a woven fabric, such as Herculite’s Natura®, that also offer the benefits of being waterproof and inherently fire resistant.
“We may see advances in top-coating technology that could potentially improve cleanability, durability, and smart-fabric functionality,” he says. “Wouldn’t it be interesting to offer an awning or screen fabric that would allow the consumer to regulate its opacity with their smart phone?”
Andy Morse, president of Cleveland-based Ohio Awning & Manufacturing Co., has noticed more metal being specified for commercial awnings. “I see that as a significant opportunity,” he says.
Pattison agrees: “Demand for metal awnings, especially on commercial properties, has been a big change. I think it’s just the sense of what is in style: the industrial look.”
Gary Buermann, president of G&J Awning and Canvas in Sauk Rapids, Minn., echoes his colleagues and adds: “If that’s what architects want, we have to learn to build metal structures. If that’s where the trend leads, you go with it or get left behind.”