Cloudy with a Chance of Sales
If you have ever experienced the pedestrian lifestyle of city living in the great Northeast then you know there are a few important tools you must have in your arsenal for bad-weather survival. The first is a no-brainer: comfortable waterproof shoes. You never want to go 15 blocks in your five-inch Jimmy Choo's. I don't care if Carrie Bradshaw made it look easy, that is where television and real life part ways. Number two: a warm coat, hat and gloves. While it may not have been cool to wear these things growing up in suburbia—where you run from the family SUV a few feet into the toasty warm school—city kids know the value of a good hat. And the last but definitely not least is the one item that should live large in every attaché case, purse and backpack: a high quality, never-lets-the-wind-turn-it-inside-out umbrella.
The United States Census Bureau estimates that 82.6 percent of Americans live in metropolitan areas. That equals a lot of folks in need of a good umbrella for their bag, a couple more in the car and one on standby in the office. Umbrellas offer a second-to-none imprint area, so all you distributors out there would be crazy not to offer up this essential item to every one of your end-buyers. "Umbrellas continue to be a strong promotional category because they are a strong consumer product," said Jeffrey Nanus, president of AAA Umbrella, Paramus, N.J. "They are not only a necessity but are literally a walking billboard that generates tremendous awareness."
YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR
Although the product itself is a necessity and does not require explanation, all of the features—from frames, fabric and handles to imprinting practices—can get confusing. Gary Libman, president of Storm Duds Raingear, Attleboro, Mass., recommended distributors become educated about the product and said the old adage of "buyer beware" should be adhered to with these products. "It's important that distributors understand there are many quality levels of umbrellas to choose, from low cost budget umbrellas to higher quality umbrellas. Remember, that cheap umbrella you sold your end-user might become the most expensive umbrella you ever sold [and] it may cost you a customer," he explained.
A high-quality umbrella may be taken for granted most of the time, but when the umbrella underperforms in the middle of a big storm, the memory lingers. So what should you be on the lookout for? Inexpensive umbrellas will show weaknesses in the frames, fabric and handles. The shafts break, the fabrics bleed, the handles crack and they may not open properly—all instances you don't want your clients facing in a storm.
On the flip side, there are some must-have features to look for when shopping umbrellas. "Folding umbrellas [are adopting an] auto-open/auto-close feature," Nanus said. "This new design enables the user to more easily close the umbrella. Vented technology [is a] major trend to add vents to many umbrellas so that in a heavy gust of wind, the umbrella will not invert." He further advised distributors to look into umbrellas that have been tunnel-tested to guarantee the vents are effective.
INKING THE DEAL
When it comes to imprint technology there are a few important aspects distributors should know. Although there are new print technologies available, "screen printing is still the favored and best application to decorate umbrellas," noted Libman. "If printed correctly, a screen print will stay on the umbrella for life and will not fade or peel," he explained.
The latest advent in umbrella print technology is in heat transfers or "cool transfers." This technology has become very popular because it enables easy multicolor/four-color process logo reproduction on the umbrella fabric. But this is another case where buyers should beware. "Due to the waterproof coating applied to nylon and polyester umbrellas, heat transfers have proven to not be permanent over time and may peel. Application and quality of transfer is important," noted Libman.
COVER YOUR BASES
What is clear is that one simple umbrella is quite technical with many features and capabilities. "Sell innovation. More than ever, clients are asking distributors for new products [and] ideas," Nanus said. "There are lots of exciting new umbrella products with very high perceived value. If the distributor can source unique product then they are truly providing strong service and therefore should be able to work on better margins."
From the supplier side it is not all that simple either. Libman recommended that distributors spend time searching for responsible, high-quality suppliers. "It's important that distributors work with quality umbrella manufacturers ... who work with Chinese factories who are Fair Labor Act compliant and have been audited and approved," he said.