For some beachgoers, their perfect day is lazing on the shore, soaking up rays. For others, it’s water sports – surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding – or maybe biking alongside the ocean. Whatever their preference, the area’s beach ware rental companies provide the equipment tourists need for their ideal vacation.
“Most people who live in Raleigh or Charlotte don’t own their own surfboards or chairs or umbrellas,” said Sean Cook, owner of Pleasure Island Rentals. “It’s awesome to be able to offer people the things they need to have a good time.”
Cook, who took ownership of Pleasure Island Rentals in 2001, says he was fortunate to build his business in Carolina Beach. The area has been instrumental to his success.
“I knew how lucrative the business could be,” Cook said. “Carolina Beach needed improvement, but I knew it would happen. It was a hidden gem. So much was happening here: the aquarium, the state park, the boardwalk.”
As Carolina Beach has grown, so has Cook’s inventory. While the bulk of his rentals is beach chairs, umbrellas, and water sports equipment and bikes, Cook also carries a whole range of beach gear and party and cottage needs, including games, life jackets, coolers, baby cribs, charcoal grills, oyster tables, outdoor seating for weddings and other items.
Tony Silvagni, owner of the Tony Silvagni Surf School, is another entrepreneur who saw the potential of Carolina Beach and incorporated beach equipment rentals into his surfing business. In addition to offering surfing and paddle boarding lessons, surf camps and kayak tours, Silvagni rents a variety of water sports equipment, bikes, chairs, umbrellas and beach trays.
“Carolina Beach in general had a lot of great opportunities for repeat business with the same customers each year,” he said. “We’ve also seen a lot of growth. Carolina Beach has a lot of new clientele coming from all over the world as tourists.”
That doesn’t mean the business is without its challenges. Topping the list is inclement weather. People can suffer serious injuries when gusty winds uproot umbrellas and send them flying across the beach.
“Every day when I wake up, my biggest fear is safety on the beach and umbrellas,” Cook said. “We are powerless when pop-up storms or windy days lift everyone’s umbrellas.”
To minimize the risk of injury, Cook is as proactive as possible. In addition to immediately dispatching staff to dismantle his umbrellas when strong winds blow, Cook has a disclaimer and instructions for customers to drop the umbrellas when a storm comes printed on the inside of each umbrella. He also trains every member of his staff on the ABCs of umbrella safety procedures and quizzes them on the information.
Another issue beach ware rental companies must contend with is the cost and care of inventory. First off, the chairs and umbrellas are downright expensive. Unlike the $15 beach chairs locals might pick up at the nearest superstore, commercial beach chairs run about $200 or so. To withstand the salt and weather, they are made of sturdy canvas, oak frames, and brass fittings, constructed to be as comfortable as possible.
Even so, equipment must be replaced or repaired regularly. People steal the equipment, umbrellas are lost in the ocean and rims break. Cook said he starts with about 350 chairs and ends the summer with about 275, 30-50 of his umbrellas need repair, and 20-30 bikes must be replaced.
These businesses must also comply with restrictions coastal towns impose. For example, in south Kure Beach, Silvagni can’t use four-wheelers to deliver equipment to his customers. To compensate for the extra time it takes to walk equipment to them, he has delayed delivery times by 30 minutes.
Cook, too, has adjusted to meet town regulations. He can only have two ATVs on Carolina Beach, and, for safety reasons, they must stay behind the dunes.
“The town has worked with us, and we listen to what it wants us to do,” he said. “The town has been patient, and we work to appease them and play by the rules.”
COVID has, and continues to, play a part in the fates of these businesses as well. Business plummeted when the beaches were closed in the early days of the pandemic, but it more than rebounded when they reopened.
“We became busier because people wanted to get out,” Salvagni said.
In the midst of the upsurge in business came supply chain issues. Although products are beginning to trickle in, Cook said he couldn’t get the inventory he needed for two years.
Cook also is experiencing staffing shortages. In the past two weeks, several of his employees have sent him photos of positive COVID tests.
“We’re losing employees due to COVID,” Cook said. “I’ve had to cut kayak tours and chair and umbrella deliveries to Kure Beach. We don’t have the staff for it.”
Despite these challenges, business is good – so much so that both Silvagni and Cook have extended their seasons. Silvagni keeps his business open all year, and Cook keeps his business open nine to10 months out of the year.