“Nobody was doing anything innovative, they were stuck in the 70s and 80s, but now there are bigger beach umbrellas and beach shades,” he says.
Clark started the business with an initial order of a container of 6000 beach umbrellas.
“I was confident and I showed [the umbrella] to a few people in the industry who liked it,” he says. “The first year is always pretty scary, you don’t know which way it is going to turn but it has been growing unbelievably since.”
Now the Melbourne based business turns over more than $1 million a year and Clark says its brand Hollie & Harrie is the “market leader” in A shape shades which are selling strongly.
Clark says the biggest challenge is dealing with Australian standards as Beachkit only sells UV rated shades.
“You need to jump through hoops,” he says.
“Here in Victoria half the beach umbrellas on the beach [have] no sun protection at all and people are sitting underneath them getting burnt.”
Everything that’s old is new again, according to Nathan and Sarah Causer the owners of Byron Bay Beach Life.
The brother and sister team started their Byron Bay based business in 2013 after an old beach shade they were using from the 1960’s attracted lots of positive comments.
“It’s not an overly complex product but it’s just super efficient and does a really good job,” Nathan Causer says.
“Until then people were using umbrellas and those dome pop up tents and you generally see on a windy day umbrellas tumbling down the beach and you see people wrestling with the dome tents.
“These beach tents even though they are fairly simple, they let the breeze through and they don’t block the view.”
The Causers ordered 1000 beach shades from China to start the business using $50,000 in savings.
“It’s strong, it’s growing year on year,” says Causer.
“It is kind of self perpetuating, the more shades that go out on the beach the more people see them.”
The business now turns over under $1 million a year and Causer says sales are strong.
“It’s a product that lends itself well to the online space. We try to keep it fresh by changing designs, pretty much every summer we have introduced new designs to keep it fresh and keep on trend.”
Beach igloo stalwarts
The biggest player in the sector is Shelta which started in Sydney in 1911 and is now owned by multinational Activa Leisure.
Chief executive Gary Fischer says sales of the beach igloos which he calls ‘UV protectors’ are still strong.
“They have been a company stalwart for six or seven years,” he says.
“The UV protectors are easier to put up and put down now and they look simpler.”
However he concedes “you see some of them flying across the beach in desperation some days”.
Shelta turns over around $20 million a year and only 25 per cent of its sales are from beach accessories with the majority of business now in outdoor furniture.
Fischer says the summer period is “a little frenetic” and traditional beach umbrellas continue to be in demand.
“I tend to see a lot more umbrellas and I guess that is because if you are by yourself you don’t want a tent,” he says.
“There is also the issue of how much space you want to take up on the sand on a busy day on Bondi.”
Cara is the small business editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne