In the summer of 2008, looking to capitalize on the long-standing residential backyard construction boom, Conrad Masterson and his then-partner Patrick Howe (who later founded the shade sail company Shazeebo in Carlsbad, Calif.) designed a permanent umbrella—something to be unobtrusive but provide adequate shade, that could hold up to normal winds and storms and would last for a long time.
They named the product gorillaBrella and dubbed it “the toughest umbrella on earth” because of its steel construction and because it’s engineered for 90+ mph winds, and features fabric and thread warrantied for 10 years against sun degradation. “The product was well-received. However, our timing was not the best,” Masterson says. “Retailers wanted them in their stores but couldn’t afford to add them to their inventory. Of course, now, in hindsight, we all know the residential market was entering a great decline.”
Not one to give up, Masterson continued to offer the gorillaBrella as an option to his customers. The products haven’t ended up in as many residential backyards as Masterson envisioned, but more often in small- to medium-sized commercial properties, such as apartment complexes and office buildings. “While we thought the gorillaBrellas were going to be standard ‘off-the-shelf’ products, more than half of what we make are customized in some manner,” he says. “We’ve made them as large as 20-by-20-feet, center poled and cantilevered. We’ve added lighting, ceiling fans, misters, TVs and custom colors. We continue to see consistent growth in the quantity we sell and plan to approach architects and designers with them as a specified product.”
Sigrid Tornquist is a writer and editor based in St. Paul, Minn.