Increasing popularity with homeowners and ease of installation make awnings  a good upsell opportunity.
Increasing popularity with homeowners and ease of installation make awnings a good upsell opportunity.

You can still see their ancient ancestors here and there. Weather-worn aluminum, mounted over doors and windows. The old awnings prevented rain from rotting moldings and kept sunlight out.

Now enter the new world of awnings made of canvas in custom colors. They're also retractable. Push a button, they roll outward to shelter porches and decks.

WORLD OF OUT DOORS For home improvement companies looking for an upsell or a new product, the even better news is that today's awnings require little inventory and not much training to install.

“More people are investing in their outdoor areas,” says Dawn Maneese, owner of Awning & Patio Solutions by Dawn, in Ashland, Ohio. Maneese has been selling retractable awnings for eight years. Each year, she says, sales have increased. The product typically sells for $2,800 to $6,000 to homeowners; commercial sales can go as high as $20,000.

Learning to install retractable awnings isn't hard, says Chuck Story, president of Atlas Siding and Window Co., in Louisville, Ky. Installations take no more than half a day, and drops and projections are field-adjustable.

“It's really more difficult on the salesman's side. He needs to know what to sell and what kind of mounting hardware to use,” Story says. “If the salesman doesn't do his job, it makes for a long day for the installer.”

LEARNING TO SELL AWNINGS The salesperson's product knowledge is the added value that contractors can bring to homeowners, who might otherwise think about awnings as a DIY project, says Robert Martensson, president of manufacturer Sunair in Jessup, Md. He cites the importance of details such as noting the different demands of western versus eastern exposure, which homeowners might not pick up on.

Like installation, marketing isn't complex. Homeowners with decks and patios are a likely market. To reach them, Maneese does home shows, has a Web page, advertises in local magazines, and uses yard signs and letters to target neighbors after an installation. In each instance, she talks about creating more efficient cooling and providing protection from ultraviolet light.

Atlas Siding and Window infomercials on cable channels show installers at jobsites, Story says.

Two factors are key to success in selling awnings, Martensson says. A contractor has to sell in the home, rather than depend on a showroom, and must have a competent installation team. “If they understand what headers and studs are, they'll do fine,” he adds.

They also might want to work on the muscles involved in lifting a 20-foot-wide awning that weighs 450 pounds. —Diane Kittower is a freelance writer in Rockville, Md.