Shades of Envy

Story: Mark Daffey
Shade cloths have a multitude of applications depending on whose purchasing them. Tradespeople will typically buy shade fabric for fencing applications on a job site to prevent debris from entering or leaving the site, and as a security measure to prevent people from seeing the contents of the site. The majority of sales, however, are to DIY customers who are either creating or enhancing living spaces, developing or nurturing a garden, or using fabric as a functional windbreak or as privacy on a fence. The advent of the Fifth Room in Australian housing has also been a factor in helping to improve shade cloth sales. Unlike Europe, Australian houses typically have large backyards that are amenable to living areas extending beyond the basic structure. But the harsh Australian sun and concerns about skin cancer mean that shaded areas are a must should home owners wish to move their living spaces outside. Gale Pacific (GP), under the Coolaroo brand, has been supplying the Australian market with shade fabrics and value-add items for nearly 30 years. For much of that time, it had that market to itself, but it’s biggest competitor these days is Absolute Trade Supplies (ATS), which began manufacturing its Abshade brand of shade cloths in 2002. Both companies make their products in Asia – GP in China and ATS predominantly in Korea. GP own and manage the entire process of producing their fabrics, from raw material sourcing to extrusion, knitting, finishing and packaging. It manages a strict ISO facility and regularly tests its fabrics to maintain quality and consistently meet product specifications. ATS, on the other hand, contracts the work out to several Korean companies according to their own strict specifications that are guided by Australian standards.

GP and ATS also target similar markets – consumer, commercial architectural and agricultural – in which to sell their products, with GP having the advantage of a wider distribution network. GP’s General Manager – International Sales & Marketing, Andrew Scott, lists all the major buying groups – Danks, Mitre 10, HBT, Natbuild, etc as stockists, whereas ATS Marketing Manager, Monique Anast, says Abshade has strong supply relationships with Natbuild, HBT and CRT. “The Mitre 10 Warehouse currently stocks Abshade shade cloth, waterproof shade cloth and shade sails in selected colours,” she adds. “However, many stores purchase the full range of colours and other products – weedmat, polythene and birdnet – via Mitre 10 chargeback.”

Size and longevity obviously favour GP in that regard, but when it comes to the opposing company’s offerings, there’s little to differentiate them. Both produce ranges of shade cloths that differ in UV protection according to their application. Heavier grades are designed to protect people from sunburn and provide an aesthetic addition to the home, whereas the lighter grades are typically used for plant nurturing.

“We also produce other shade fabric variants that are applied to external window coverings, gazebos, umbrellas and shade sails,” says Scott. “Under our commercial brand, Synthesis, we supply heavy-duty fabrics designed for high tension architectural applications, as well as agricultural use. And we supply a stentered product into the Australian market, a process that provides an aesthetically pleasing and flat material that is easy to work with.” “Abshade shade cloths meet and even exceed the quality of our competitors’ products, but is offered to customers for up to 30% cheaper per roll,” counters Anast. “Our aim is to provide customers with a quality product without having to pay unreasonable prices.

“Our Domestic Plus range of shade cloth (which includes bulk rolls, pre-packaged shade sails and handy packs, as well as waterproofed shade cloth) differs to our competitors as we offer a fully coordinated range of shade cloth products. This means that our shade cloth rolls, shade sails and waterproof shade cloth are all made using the same fabric and same colours, which is ideal for DIY users who wish to install more than one product around the house. Customers can mix and match as they please without worrying about issues such as colour variation.”

As a hardware retailer, it’s always good to know as much as you can about a product so you can pass that information onto the customer. Even better though is also knowing what lays over the horizon. Both GP and ATS have been busy listening to the markets and tinkering with their products to meet their customer’s needs. It might mean a new colour is about to be released or a shade cloth with a completely new application. Rather than speculate though, AHJ asked the spokespersons from the respective companies to tell us what they’ve been working on.

“We have finessed our range recently to include new colours and new pre-pack configurations so that retailers might be able to sell more due to colour trend and ability to stock more product in the same space,” says Scott. ATS has taken a slightly different approach. They’ve introduced new colours to their range, but they’ve also been backing up their claim that theirs is a superior product against those of their peers. “Over the past year, ATS has had a substantial number of enquiries for white shade cloth in particular, so we will be releasing our Domestic Plus shade cloth in 50% Light, in green and white,” says Anast. “The 50% will feature the same mono/tape construction as the Domestic Plus Medium and Extra Heavy, and will be available in 50-metre rolls in widths of 1.83 and 3.66 metres.

“A recent change we are quite excited about is the announcement of our extended warranty on Domestic Plus shade cloth rolls. We now offer a comprehensive 15-year warranty against UV degradation. This warranty far exceeds any other warranty offered in the domestic shade cloth market at the present time.” In the end, as a retailer, it’s making sales that counts, and often it’s the how they do the little things that most impresses. Anthony Scott believes that’s an area GP has well covered.

“Our product has a proven track record of performance in terms of sales and performance (outlasting its warranty period). We also support our products with national marketing campaigns and in-store support,” he says. “Being a small, sales-oriented business,” counters ATS’ Monique Anast, “we have the ability to adapt our product ranges to meet changing market needs. We pride ourselves on listening to our customers requests and, wherever possible, meeting these requirements.”

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