Laurel Hill | DeWayne Day | www.eastcoastumbrella.com
Work with the SBTDC, and you’ll find out just how easy exporting can be.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND EAST COAST UMBRELLA?
My father, Darrell Day, started East Coast Umbrella on his living room floor after a nearby umbrella company made too many and was throwing them away. Dad bought them at $25 apiece and lined our whole front yard with them, selling them at a profit. Eventually, people started asking for more, and that’s how East Coast Umbrella got started. That was 30 years ago, and it is still family-owned with three generations working here. East Coast Umbrella has grown to become one of the leading outdoor umbrella and cushion companies in the USA.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PROJECTS?
We do a lot of the umbrellas for Dunkin Donuts and Hyatt Regency, but we’ve had some famous umbrellas. You can spot them on television and in the movies — Dawson’s Creek, Dirty Dancing, Iron Man III, and Ralph Lauren had some made for his stores and liked them so much he had us make some for his mansion. And we’ve sold umbrellas to members of the royal family in Dubai.
HOW DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT THE SBTDC?
Our sign out front that says, “OK, YOU SAID YOU WOULD STOP BY NEXT TIME. ITS NEXT TIME,” actually worked! Owen George, our counselor, dropped by one day to check out our shop and struck up a conversation with the manager on the sales floor, and we are glad he did. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the international growth that we’re seeing today.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST PROBLEM YOU FACED TOGETHER?
Exporting wasn’t something we pursued – after we got burnt on a shipment to France and were never paid. But Owen convinced us there was a safer way. We developed an international strategy and when we were ready, Owen connected us with a Canadian designer interested in distributing our umbrellas. He also referred us to the Export-Import Bank where we received an export credit insurance policy that protects us from getting burnt again. Now we continue to receive export training through participation in Export University, which is basically six classes of one-on-one instruction over a three year period.
SINCE THAT FIRST CANADIAN EXPORT, HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED?
We were told that it typically takes 18 months or more to flourish once you get a game plan together, but things went more quickly for us. We flew up to Canada for a trade show and that experience showed us what we could do with some effort. Then Owen showed us an even better way to go. He directed us toward RestaurantPoint, which is an alternative to tradeshows. It’s expensive, but you meet individually with restaurant chain decision makers and make your case. It was a home run. Dunkin Donuts told us that we were “good old boys from down in the country and I want to do business with you.” I guess some companies walk away and aren’t sure what they got out of it, but we made deals right there.
WHAT OTHER COUNTRIES ARE YOU EXPORTING TO?
Owen helped us with a State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) grant so we could participate in a trade mission to Guadalajara, Mexico – and he introduced us to a sales contact from Singapore. The STEP grant paid for our booth, airfare and hotel to Mexico — and now we’re exporting to Mexico and Singapore. We’re also in Dubai, which was an expensive investment of time and resources, but it has paid off. Just this morning we sold to Dubai 36 Illumishade umbrellas – which are $500-$600 each.
WHAT MAKES YOUR UMBRELLAS DIFFERENT?
We are known for our quality, customization, and how fast we can turn around a job. We’ve also been working with our counselor on having products that tell a story and stand out in the international market. We just released the first umbrella in our “Made in the USA” line. To [legally] claim that label, only 51% of the materials and labor need to be sourced in the U.S.A., but ours is 100% American. The wood comes from Maine, the fabric from the Carolinas, and the design, sewing and assembly is all performed in-house – it really has that story quality.
WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE?
We plan to go back to a tradeshow in Dubai and to Saudi Arabia in November. Now that we’re started, it is getting even easier. We have reps in the Middle East region and with the STEP Grant to help pay for the booth and samples, our reps will be on site to handle the tradeshow.
We’ve already gone from 50 to 64 employees since working with the SBTDC, and we plan to add 10 to 12 more in the near future.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHERS HOPING TO BREAK INTO THE INTERNATIONAL MARKET?
Work with the SBTDC. They held our hands through the process, and we never would have gone to those other countries without their help. Work with the SBTDC, and you’ll find out just how easy exporting can be.
This story was originally published in the SBTDC 2014-2015 Annual Report. Click Here to view the report.
More Success Stories
I was searching online and stumbled upon the SBTDC’s website, and I got really excited reading through the services available. The website is fantastic with resources for finding funding options and starting a business. I was able to download an outline for a business plan, which felt kind of like cheating because I just had to fill in my own information. Then, I met with Pieter Swanepoel and Whitney Hildebran. They sat down and walked me through my financials and marketing strategies to get this going. Since Pieter is a very successful businessman himself, he gives insightful feedback when I need someone to bounce my ideas off of.
The SBIR grant assistance is the most valuable thing the SBTDC has provided. Receiving the SBIR funding is what allowed us to move forward and we’ve actually been able to win three grants, although we had to turn one down. They have provided much needed advice on business development and we have also paired up with several student interns for marketing analysis.