As I See It

The King of Performance Fabrics

For nearly 50 years, Glen Raven Custom Fabrics (based in Glen Raven, N.C.) has been producing what has become the most recognized, proven name in performance fabrics around the globe. Glen Raven provides Sunbrella® fabrics to almost every major furniture manufacturer, continually enhancing design, style, and performance. Patio & Hearth Products Report sat down with Suzie Roberts, vice president and business manager of furniture fabrics for Glen Raven, to talk about performance fabrics and about the position of Sunbrella as their leader.

P&HPR: What do you think performance fabrics have done for the outdoor-furniture industry?
A: Without a doubt, performance fabrics have helped bring the outdoor-furniture industry to a whole new level of sophistication. Both furniture and fabric design have undergone a dramatic transformation that has given rise to the era of the outdoor room.

The weather-resistant properties of Sunbrella fabrics have made it possible for people to get the luxury of indoor fabrics—like velvets, chenilles, and bouclés—in their sunrooms or on their porches. People have invested more than ever before in comfortable outdoor spaces so that they can relax with friends and family. As a result, the industry has experienced unprecedented growth.

P&HPR: How did the Sunbrella brand become the industry leader that it is today?
A: Sunbrella fabrics have become leaders by being proven products. For years, the Sunbrella brand had a high-profile reputation in a niche market with its marine and awning fabrics. When we first introduced our fabrics for outdoor furniture in the mid-1980s, retailers and consumers were skeptical initially because they were used to the ruggedness of vinyl for outdoor furniture.

They had a hard time believing that our soft, beautiful fabrics could withstand the elements without fading, mildewing, or staining. It took a few years for people to accept that Sunbrella fabrics would perform in the outdoors, but that acceptance has been won with enthusiasm. We have put a lot of marketing behind the brand to raise awareness and to educate retailers and consumers about Sunbrella fabrics.

P&HPR:  How does Glen Raven plan to continue to raise the bar with its performance fabrics?
A: Because there is more competition today than ever before, we constantly have to invest in our brand and leverage all the resources that are available to us. We are a vertically integrated manufacturing company, which is an advantage in terms of quality assurance and new-fabric development. We have a great design team that stays on top of the trends and works directly with our customers on fabric creations.

Our research-and-development group is always coming up with something innovative and interesting to give consumers solutions for their fabric needs. Just as long as we keep these things at the top of our list, we will continue giving our customers the best performance products available today.

P&HPR: What do you think the next evolution of performance fabrics will be?
A: That’s a good question; I would say making a fabric that is even more durable and easier to maintain than it is today. We get a lot of hits on our Web site from consumers asking questions about our fabrics and, believe it or not, we’ve had many of them ask us why we can’t offer self-cleaning fabrics. You hear that and say, “You’re kidding me,” but there is actually up-and-coming technology out there that may eventually allow consumers to enjoy something like that. The next evolution in performance fabrics will also offer even more sophisticated design and comfort.

P&HPR: How is Glen Raven partnering with retailers to help them grow their businesses in 2009?
A: I know 2009 is going to be tough for everybody. What we are trying to do is help retailers attract customers to their stores. One way we are doing that is by stirring up excitement surrounding our products. HGTV designer Joe Ruggiero is making in-store appearances at retail locations across the country to talk up his popular line of Sunbrella furniture fabrics and to generate a buzz about the Sunbrella brand in general; we have gotten a great response so far from retailers.

We have also given the Sunbrella logo a fresh, new look and updated all of our point-of-purchase materials. The new materials will be available to all retailers who carry our fabrics. We are continuing our national advertising program in consumer and shelter publications to keep our name in the public eye and bring consumers into retail stores asking for our fabrics. Also underway is a project to refresh the Sunbrella Web site.

P&HPR: What changes can retailers expect to see in the Sunbrella brand in the next few years?
A: We want to continue developing products that consumers want, in terms of color, design, and performance. We work closely with furniture manufacturers and retailers to track what is selling and to see where there are gaps in the marketplace. We are at a point where we offer fabrics for every outdoor application imaginable—including furniture, umbrellas, draperies, and accessories—and there are many opportunities that we are going to explore in these areas.

One product we’ve recently introduced is a mesh fabric called Sunbrella Shadow that features an open-weave, flow-through construction. It’s perfect for shading applications where you may want diffused light (umbrellas) or as a cushion fabric where quick drying is important (poolside settings).

P&HPR: What do you see as the biggest challenge and the greatest opportunity for Sunbrella fabrics?
A: As it is for everyone else, our immediate challenge is the economy as a whole and how we can all pull together, as an industry, and make it through this. We’re doing everything we can to support manufacturers and retailers as they look for ways to boost sales. Our long-term challenge is to educate people on the benefits of our fabrics. We can advertise all we want, but we need to make sure people understand what the Sunbrella brand means.

Over the past several years, people have come to associate the Sunbrella brand with the leader in outdoor fabrics for furniture. We want to take this recognition to the next level, so that they not only know and trust our brand as a performance offering, but also understand the advances we have made in the look and feel of our fabrics, making them ideal both outside and inside the home. Our biggest opportunity is the same as our challenge: getting people into stores to ask for Sunbrella fabrics by name.


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