The company: TUUCI — pronounced too-chee — sounds like an Italian word. But TUUCI is an acronym that means The Ultimate Umbrella Company Inc. It is a Miami-based private company that designs, manufactures and sells a wide range of umbrellas and other shade products.
TUUCI was founded here in 1998 by Dougan Clarke, a native of Coral Gables who wanted to make a better umbrella and turned a tiny company into an international player in the luxury outdoor furniture market. Today TUUCI sells the products he designs throughout the United States and overseas.
Clarke’s company has 250 employees at its Miami headquarters — which includes spaces for its principal manufacturing and design operations as well as sales and administration. It also has subsidiaries in the Netherlands and Vietnam.
Some of TUUCI’s designs — like the umbrella made in the graceful shape of a manta ray — easily span the distance between the practical and art.
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“Growing up in Miami, I spent a lot of time diving and spear fishing,” said Clarke, TUUCI’s founder, CEO and chief product architect. “I’m inspired by my life on the ocean.”
Products: TUUCI specializes in shade. It makes umbrellas (or parasols to be more precise), lounges and cabanas for pools and beaches, hammocks, shade sculptures, shade blades or tops for boats and yachts, bases (anchors) for umbrellas and accessories. All products are custom made and retail from under $1,000 to more than $25,000.
Getting started: Clarke worked for several years selling umbrellas and other patio furniture in Miami. He saw that most equipment was not built to withstand heavy weather or last more than a year. “I wanted to make something that was durable,” Clarke said.
Working with his longtime mentor and neighbor, Fred Herman, who owns a small boatyard, Clarke began to design and build equipment, developing a sturdy, dependable device for opening and closing umbrellas and making umbrellas more resistant. “I worked as a boat rigger since I was in high school and learned to work with my hands,” he said. He also learned how to use machinery — like drills and lathes — to fashion metal parts.
Clarke made a few samples of his new umbrella design, but didn’t have enough money to buy a stall at trade shows. “So I would walk around the shows and went up and down the elevators with my umbrella tucked under my arm. I guaranteed it would last 5-10 years.”
After showing his product to some potential buyers, he received his first orders, cashed in his 401(k) account and began making the products in a small shop. Today, Clarke holds about 15 patents on the systems he designed.
The difference: TUUCI designs and builds its own high-quality parts and materials. These products stand up to constant exposure to bright sunlight, saltwater and chemically treated water in swimming pools, as well as sand. Using a wind tunnel and stationary air boats to test equipment and materials, TUUCI products are built to customers’ specifications, with warranties of up to 15 years. Some TUUCI models, built to Miami-Dade regulations implemented after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, can withstand gusts up to 75 mph and higher. “But no one is gong to sit outside in a 75 mile-per-hour wind,” Clarke said. TUUCI provides a high level of service and repairs, and makes all its components in Miami. Moreover, it is a real manufacturing plant that brings raw materials and basic parts to its Miami headquarters, and builds its products there.
Sales: Clarke said that dollar sales at the privately owned company grew by more than 15 percent in 2015 year over year, and that orders this year remain very strong. “About 80 percent of our revenues come from sales in the U.S. and the other 20 percent overseas,” said Clarke during a tour of his manufacturing headquarters. “And you can see, we’re working hard to fill orders.”
Competitors: TUUCI dominates much of the market for high-end and high-styled umbrellas, according to people who work in the trade. However, Pavilion Furniture in Miami also manufactures quality umbrellas and other outdoor furniture. Companies like Walters, Tropitone and Janus et Cie also sell outdoor furniture.
Challenges: Keep innovating and developing new products, new designs. Testing new materials and components. Growing the company’s diverse workforce to meet new demand.
Analysts: “People want to use their outdoor spaces,” said Russell Bienenstock, editorial director and CEO of Furniture World Magazine, the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the U.S. “Outdoor [furniture] is growing, and it’s growing on the high end,” the precise market sector served by TUUCI. “And there aren’t many American manufacturers left,” he said.
“We do business all over the world and we use several outdoor furniture companies as suppliers,” said Linda Hein, senior vice president at The Parker Company, an international hospitality procurement company based in Miami that also buys from TUUCI to equip its clients’ hotels and resorts. “For high-style umbrellas and pavilions, they are a leader in the field.”
What customers say: “We’ve been selling TUUCI since they started, and we carry all their products, which range from $800 to around $10,000 and more,” said Raul Santamaria, co-owner of Patio and Things in Coral Gables. “We sell other brands as well, but TUUCI is the No. 1 seller in umbrellas.” Their design, materials and workmanship are the best on the market, he added, and they have a warranty.
Clima Outdoor, located in the Miami Design District, also sells TUUCI and more than 20 other luxury brands. “People want something that lasts, and TUUCI is our No. 1 in umbrella sales, both for cantilever and the classic pole-in-stand models,” said Stanley Bissainthe, who works at Clima. “When customers are looking for outdoor umbrellas, they always go for TUUCI.”
Outlook: “I do what I do well,” Clarke said. “I design products, manage and plan three to five years ahead. It’s critical to our business that the sun shines and our customers want to sit outside.”
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Business: Miami-based TUUCI, whose initials spell The Ultimate Umbrella Co. Inc., specializes in designing and manufacturing high-quality, innovative shade products, including umbrellas (parasols), cabanas, shade sculptures, hammocks and shade covers (tops) for yachts. TUUCI products, available throughout the United States and overseas, are sold business to business and reach retail outlets through distributors.
Global headquarters: 2900 NW 35th St., Miami; regional subsidiaries in the Netherlands and Vietnam, plus a showroom at the Chicago Merchandise Mart.
Founded: in Miami in 1998.
Leadership: Dougan Clarke, founder, CEO and chief product architect.
Employees: 250 in Miami, plus overseas personnel.
Customers: design firms, companies that equip hotels, resorts and residential buildings, as well as hotel and restaurant chains.
Ownership: Privately held by Clarke and a small group of investors.