Feature Article - October 2012
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Are You Covered?

Shelter & Shade Trends, From Sun Protection to Customization

By Deborah L. Vence

Shelters and shade structures not only provide a necessary service—to protect people from the sun and rain—but they also can add an attractive hint of color and shape to recreation facilities, playgrounds and waterparks.

Basic fabric structures now have turned into more sophisticated billowy, wavy shapes—with bright colors of blues and greens casting a comfortable veil of protection from the outdoor elements. Shade structures and shelters now are part of a recreation facility's backdrop, if you will, imparting almost a decorative feel to recreation centers.

"Some of the latest trends in shade shelters are more customization, options for solar lighting, more playful color combinations. More and more schools, universities, federal facilities are looking for sun shade to prevent more skin cancer," said John A. Martin, national sales manager for a Dewey, Ariz.-based company that provides shade structures, shelters, kiosks, bus stops, pavilions and gazebos.

Experts in the business of manufacturing shelters and shade structures discussed the latest trends, how to pick the best shelter or shade structure for your facility, and some of the aesthetic and thematic styles dominating the industry.

What's Trendy

For the past few years, recreation facilities have had their share of budget woes, having to cut corners here and there, or put off costly renovations. So, rather than invest in an expensive refurbishment, for example, recreation establishments are making strides in less costly improvements—such as bringing in new shelters and shade structures—to perk up their facilities.

"With budgets continuing to shrink, purchasing departments are looking for the 'biggest bang for the buck,' said Brad Fritz, sales and customer service manager for a Holland, Mich.-based manufacturer of steel park shelters, steel picnic shelters, metal picnic shelters, metal bowery, steel bowery, sun shelters, gazebos, pavilions, amphitheaters and more.

Fritz further explained that the "design is something that we will try to help them with. Changing the pitch, height or shape might reduce the price enough to add a bench or another grill. It is our goal to help our representatives be successful in all of their product lines. At the end of the day our name is on the shelter, which is now part of that community. The residents don't see it as five different suppliers. They see an overall project or city improvement."

Similarly, Alan Bayman, president of an Ocala, Fla.-based company that designs and manufactures pre-engineered outdoor fabric shade structures, canopies and awning covers, said that municipalities, parks and recreation are seeing their budgets being curtailed.

"What we found is that the majority of our market is tax-supported. Those customers get their funding from property taxes. What we found is a trend in shade structures; what money they have available, they spend it toward shading," Bayman said.

Taking it one step further, recreation establishments also are looking to create more distinctive shade structures, with the goal of increasing profits.

"Customers are looking to develop unique shade structures for their community that are inviting and have the potential to increase revenue by either renting the actual space or increasing community involvement and retail revenue through highly publicized entertainment venues, for example, amphitheaters," said Ben Judy, vice president of sales and marketing (Americas) for a Holland, Mich.-based manufacturer.

He added that trellises continue to be very popular as well, and provide additional architectural design elements to a community's landscape, while custom ornamentation requests have become more popular, too, sometimes making a standard shelter look more unique and inviting.

That trend in shade structures as a way to make less costly improvements also sheds light on another noticeable trend—fabric shade structures.

"The continuum we're in [is] where we find municipalities opting for fabric shade structures, rather than solid. They are more cost-effective. They do better, more interesting things with design. Our sail systems have different shapes, and you can dangle them in different ways," Bayman said. "Fabric structures actually cool the air better. It doesn't trap the heat. The fabric we use is 80 percent water repellent, and allows air to pass through it. Hot air rises and will pass through the fabric membrane. There is cooling action under the structure," he added, noting that the type of material used for fabric shade structures is a knitted polyethylene.