Never Stop Asking, “What If?”

Smart shading solutions provide year round comfort in the outdoor area

By Scott Selzer

Remember as a child when we thought outdoor living meant pitching a tent in the backyard for a night or two? What a feeling to gaze up at the dark sky and wonder about each shimmering star and the endless possibilities they represented. Who knew that outdoor living would evolve into actual outdoor family rooms, fully equipped kitchens, and even outdoor theaters that could be protected from the elements and functional year-round?

One of the best things about outdoor living in 2020 is the growing innovation applied to everything from outdoor decor to permanent structures. For those of us on a mission to bring the indoors out in the residential setting, we are seeing, first-hand, how asking the question “What if?” can ignite an industry.

For years, installing a swimming pool, hot tub, or deck were the go-to outdoor renovation projects for adding value to one’s home. But gradually, perhaps thanks to home and garden TV or because not every yard could accommodate a pool, home-owners started to get more creative with their backyard spaces. At first, they used simple decorative applications—paint, plants and flowers, colorful pillows, and temporary seating. But home- owners began to subscribe to the notion that a more inviting and protected outdoor space would be used more often, manufacturers and builders began to offer up more complex and enduring options. What if outdoor grills could be surrounded by counters to improve prep and serving space? What if outdoor sofas weren’t so stiff? What if there was a protective outdoor covering that could be adjusted to function in all weather conditions?

Furniture-makers, for example, began considering year-round comfort, in addition to durability, when conceiving their designs. This led to cozier cushions, experimenting with different materials, and developing unexpected ergonomic shapes and sizes for alfresco seating. Shade systems, too, began to evolve. Basic awnings and pergolas gave way to sturdier shade structures that could automatically adapt to the sun’s changing angles.

As someone with first-hand experience in the shade structure business, it has been exciting to see how our pergolas, with pivoting, interlocking louvers that rotate a full 170-degrees, have improved the way people use their outdoor spaces. Whether more sun and sky views are desired, or additional shade is needed, or a fully closed option is required for inclement weather, products that offer year-round protection from the elements lead to greater use of outdoor real estate. Not to mention, protected areas have become the catalyst for creating on-trend features like outdoor fireplaces, tricked-out kitchens, and comfy living rooms that are just as functional as indoor rooms.

A driving force of innovation is the advancement of technology. Even if you make an outdoor product that isn’t considered high-tech—think rugs or fabrics—what if new software, hardware, or electronic parts could improve the manufacturing or factory-to-consumer delivery process? Case in point was StruXure’s switchover last year to Somfy MyLinkTM technology. It was a game-changer, since StruXure products could be operated via wall switch, remote control, or by voice command through Amazon Alexa or Google Play. These types of improvements take already great products to a whole new, unexpected next level.

Building “green” continues to be a priority for many homeowners, which has led some manufacturers to ask, “What if we can make our products more sustainable.” From the start, StruXure has used extruded aluminum, which not only weighs less by volume than most other metal materials, but is also incredibly strong, non-corrosive, and non-combustible. Extruded aluminum also retains a high scrap value. It can be recycled indefinitely without losing any of its superior characteristics.

There are other “What if?” questions being asked these days, due to the global pandemic—concerns about staff and client safety and ramifications of altered business practices. In response to those valid anxieties, I can offer my personal belief that the world still needs innovators during difficult times…maybe especially during these times. Just look at how outdoor spaces are creatively being used to keep kids occupied while stuck at home, or as makeshift offices for workers sheltering at home. Maybe the question we should be asking is, “What if we start preparing now for the calmer days ahead that will certainly come?” R&D takes time. Shifts in market strategies take time. We need to stay focused as an industry and continue our collective quest to give people a great outdoor living experience.

Scott Selzer is the CEO of StruXure- smart shading structure

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