Dane Barnes: The co-founders of the Shibumi Shade are a wind-driven success story (’1on1 with Jon Evans’ podcast)
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The recognizable blue and teal canopies can be seen waving in the breeze on hundreds of beaches across the United States. The Shibumi Shade, invented by Dane Barnes, his brother Scott and their best friend Alex Slater, has skyrocketed in popularity since being introduced on the beaches in North Carolina in 2016. Dane Barnes says after years of lugging and setting up the family’s beach umbrellas on vacations at the coast, the three UNC grads began to wonder if there was a better way to provide shade from the sun. They came up with the idea of letting the wind do the work, designing a prototype with five-foot sections of PVC pipe anchoring hand-sewn fabric.
“We were able to go to a local hardware store and a fabric store and buy supplies, and teach ourselves how to sew,” Barnes remembers. “We made the first one and it worked surprisingly well, better than we thought. And then from there, folks just would walk up to us out on the beach and say, ‘What in the world is this thing?’ and ‘Where did you get it?’ We told them we made it, and they asked if we could make them one. At first, we told them ‘No,’ because it was not, you know, good enough or ready. But I guess we gained a lot of confidence from people coming up to us and so eventually we said ‘Okay!’ and then we started making them for beachgoers and families in 2016.”
The three budding entrepreneurs did not jump into the Shibumi Shade business full-time until years later. It continued to be a “nights and weekends” effort on their part until late October 2019, when sales and orders of the lightweight shades had increased to the point where the company needed all their attention.
“I think at that point our sales had gotten high enough to be able to support us, and also just the trajectory that we were all on just realizing how popular this idea of a wind-driven sunshade is, that we felt very confident,” Barnes says. “I think it was not only confidence, but it was just a realization that stewarding the brand of Shibumi is a really important thing, and there’s a lot riding on it. So, I think at that point, you know, we had the confidence to then go full time.”
Barnes and his co-founders made several commitments in the early days of launching the company. They wanted it to be a “North Carolina product,” and so after making the first 32 canopies themselves, they contracted with an in-state company to take over the sewing. Today there are three professional organizations handling that part of the process, two in North Carolina and one in Virginia. One member of the founding trio also personally called every one of the first seven thousand or so customers who purchased a Shibumi Shade, establishing the personal connection and welcoming feedback on possible improvements. They’ve since had to transition to sending personalized text messages to customers because of increasing sales. Barnes says he also makes it a point to approach shade owners when he’s out on the beach, to thank them in person for buying it.
“I feel a great sense of responsibility to make sure that the families are having a great time on the beach, and especially with their Shibumi,” he says. “I walk up and down the beach and say ‘Hello!’ to folks and shake hands, and that has really been a cool thing to be able to develop more of a community and more relationships and build great friendships with people who otherwise probably never would have met.”
Not every community allows visitors to use the Shibumi Shade on the beach. According to the company’s website, Rehoboth and Bethany Beaches in Delaware only allow traditional beach umbrellas year-round, while Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach in South Carolina only allow the shades in the off-season, between Labor Day and Memorial Day. Barnes made a trip to Ocean Isle Beach in June 2021, to address town commissioners and ask them to allow beachgoers to use the shade. At that time, Ocean Isle Beach was the only beach community in North Carolina where visitors could not use the shade, because of a town ordinance prohibiting those types of canopies, cabanas or tents on the beach.
“We were receiving hundreds of messages from families, both full-time residents in Ocean Isle Beach and visitors who vacation there during the summertime saying, ‘Hey, we really want to use our Shibumi Shade, instead of just an umbrella give us more shade for our family’,” Barnes said. “So we went down to meet with the mayor and the city council there to tell our story and advocate on behalf of all of these hundreds and thousands of families who want to use it there. To my surprise, there were a dozen or so maybe eight or ten locals there who were also there to speak in favor of Shibumi Shade. I think the mayor and the city council at Ocean Isle Beach were really thoughtful about a difficult issue because they had had it on the books for years. That next month, they agreed to allow wind-powered sunshades on their beaches on a trial basis. And, according to what we’ve learned, it’s been a really great success there to give families more options and make the beach safer as well.”
One of the questions many people have about the product is, ‘Where did the name come from?’.” For the Barnes brothers and Slater, Shibumi has a historical and personal meaning.
“First, Shibumi is a design concept that talks about the elegance of simplicity, which we feel like really fits into the Shibumi Shade product, and how we want to make the beach experience better by making high-quality products that are simple and easy to use, kind of lighten the load when heading to the beach,” Barnes explains. “It’s also the name of a very small apartment complex of seven units in Chapel Hill where Alex and I first lived together and then, a couple years behind, Scott lived as well. It’s a fun double meaning for us.”
I hope you enjoy this conversation with young entrepreneur Dane Barnes as much as I did. You can learn more about the Shibumi Shade by clicking here.
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