By Shelby Kimes
It all started on a sunny and exceptionally windy day at the beach. Bill Schermerhorn was enjoying a leisurely “beach day” with his wife when he witnessed a rogue beach umbrella accident. A beach umbrella with a metal screw shaft flew down the beach and hit a young girl, causing severe injury. As more umbrellas continued to fly away, Bill was inspired to design the beachBUB© beach umbrella based on the mechanics of patio umbrellas.
A beachBUB© umbrella is a “hybrid of beach and patio umbrellas.” The umbrellas are designed with a base similar to a patio umbrella’s base. Because of the unique design, it can be more safely secured in the sand than the typical shaft inserted in the sand with the hope and a prayer that it won’t topple or fly away while you sip your piña colada.
In January, the North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnerships Clocking In podcast team, including Phil Mintz, NC State University Industry Expansion Solutions (IES) director, Rich Sigfrit, IES multimedia designer, and me, Shelby Kimes, IES public communication specialist, visited the beachBUB© facility. We interviewed beachBUB© founder, Bill Schermerhorn, whose unique beach umbrella was named “The Coolest Thing Made in North Carolina” small business winner, an annual contest sponsored by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce. Upon entering the beachBUB©B facility in Greensboro, I was greeted with a miniature sand pit (a bit summer in the winter) and a display that replicated what a beachBUB© umbrella would look like in action.
Before conducting our interview, we were treated to a facility tour. The warehouse was stocked with hundreds of packaged umbrellas. Bill disclosed that the company restocked supply in the winter and fall, so they would be ready to go to market as soon as the first beachgoers start trickling back to the oceans in early spring.
I noticed something unique as I walked through the facility. beachBUB© wasn’t what I imagined a manufacturing facility to be. Soft rock played throughout the main floor, staffed by women in athleisure apparel, making conversation as they happily buzzed around assembling and packing products. The majority of the beachBUB© workforce is composed of older women. Bill explained the women who work at beachBUB© just happened to be members of his wife’s tennis club. So after a friendly tennis match at the club, the members arrive at the beachBUB© facility to manually assemble and package the umbrellas.
Our interview was held in one of Bill’s workshops. With trinkets and prototypes scattered across the table and his U.S. Patent plaques hanging on the wall, Bill eagerly showed us some of his “work in progress” inventions, some of which were designed to make beachBUB© product line even more efficient, other inventions were developed to make the manufacturing process easier for his employees.
In this episode of Clocking In, Phil and Bill discuss the founding of beachBUB©, its unique culture and workforce, why beach umbrella safety is vital, how he used his truck to help test his umbrellas in the early days of beachBUB© and more.