Revealed: The Qld man behind CoolCabana empire
Like wildflowers after a desert storm, they are popping up everywhere.
From Byron Bay to the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and Stradbroke Island, CoolCabanas are the must-have sun shades for holiday-makers.
Our beaches are increasingly dotted with the patterned four-pronged shades with sand-filled pockets and they're packing onto shorefronts like tents at a festival.
CoolCabanas have become a global frenzy and a business empire.
The simple - yet genius - design is the brainchild of Queensland architect, Mark Fraser, who
came up with the concept while holidaying at Noosa with his wife and kids in 2014.
As he watched people fumble to put together their umbrellas, he saw a business opportunity that has quickly become an empire.
"We've always enjoyed the beach and like everyone, have seen beach umbrellas blow away or mum and dad's struggling to fold away a springy beach shelter while in full view of beach goers," he tells The Sunday Mail while back in Noosa.
"I was at Noosa relaxing and wondered if I could create a better design.
"I set myself a core brief that it needed to be wind resistant, easy to use, and comfortable enough for families to spend the entire day under.
"I literally sat there sketching out design options in the sand and came up with the core idea.
The one centre pole for ease of use and corner arms held in tension with sand bags."
Fraser, who is the director and CEO of Fraser Group, wanted to simply help Australians beat the harsh summer heat.
"I watched too many family beach trips being cut short out of frustration with existing shelters, lack of shade and of course, Melanoma and how by simply applying better design, the levels of sunburn could reduce and families could more easily have fonder memories of time spent at the beach," he says.
Fraser, who was born in New Zealand, hired a local seamstress in Brisbane to make a prototype and across the summer of 2014/2015, he tested it on the beach with his family.
The more passers-by who showed interest, the more he knew he was onto something.
"I further developed the idea by considering the typical end users, what else they would want, not want and thought about all the emotions and issues people were experiencing back then while heading to the beach, staying there and packing up," he says.
"This added the finishing touches such as the hidden pockets for car keys, wallets, sunglasses.
"I think a successful key was to identify the ideal user as being a Mum with young children and giving her the confidence to head to the beach by herself and confidently set up a decent beach shelter on her own for the family."
Five months after he drew those initial sketches, Fraser began to sell the first CoolCabanas to the public.
The Australian summer, and peak sales time, had passed so he looked overseas to generate buzz and, he says, it worked.
He launched a crowd-funding campaign via American company Kickstarter and smashed his goal of $4450 with 100 backers pledging $11,470.
"To sell the stock I turned to social media marketing within the USA where it became an instant hit," Fraser says.
"CoolCabanas launched in Australia the following summer (2015).
"Since then I've improved it, listened to customers who wanted a larger size, simplified the design and mechanism to make it even easier."
Fraser admits it was a slow process to crack the market but sure enough, momentum grew.
"It was tough," he says of the early days.
"I've spent a fortune on marketing and building the brand and set up and sat under a CoolCabana countless times for half an hour then relocated further along the beach using this as an opportunity to demonstrate the product to build interest.
"Most times at least two people would come over and ask where to buy one."
CoolCabanas, which are produced in China, now ship worldwide with key markets in USA, Europe and of course, Australia, according to Fraser.
The CoolCabana's simple concept has earned Fraser major awards in Australia and New Zealand including the Good Design Award in the sport and lifestyle category last year and Award of Merit for Design Excellence in Australia.
However, the product, which comes in two sizes, has divided opinions on whether they're claiming too much valuable space on Australian shores.
With the largest providing 5.76m² worth of shade, 50 per cent more than their smaller size, Fraser disagrees.
"In terms of options that provide usable shade for two people or more, we actually have the most efficient footprint on the beach," he says.
"A square area of shade is much more efficient for a human body to lie or sit under than the circle of shade provided by an umbrella.
"Last year we prepared a comparison between umbrellas and CoolCabanas set up socially distanced on the beach at 1.5m and 2m, what this showed is CoolCabanas were over 20 per cent more efficient and they have the benefit other beach goers can see through them."
Despite the critics, their popularity continues to rise at a phenomenal rate.
Fraser declined to release any sales information for CoolCabanas, a private business, but it's not difficult to see how successful they are and, in turn, how successful he must be.
But the designer says his life remains unchanged.
"I've always done my own thing and I'm not driven by money," he says.
"Life's about memories, besides demand is such that everything goes back into the business anyway."
Fraser is a private man and when talking to The Sunday Mail, doesn't give away much, personally or professionally, but what is clear is his passion.
"What I'm happy about is I've helped families have more fonder memories of time spent together at the beach and I'm helping reduce melanoma."
Fraser's love for design started as a kid, where he grew up in Central Otago in New Zealand and went onto study at Victoria University of Wellington.
He launched his first architecture and interior design business in New Zealand which focused on office fit-outs before moving to Queensland, where he lived between Brisbane and Noosa.
Over the years, Fraser has opened numerous businesses including Markitcart, a shopping trolley made out of recycled plastic and ACF Porcellane, coffee cups made from durable porcelain.
His work has taken him around the world and prior to COVID-19, he was based in Asia for up to nine months of the year to build his businesses.
But when the pandemic hit, he returned to Australia and for now, is back in Queensland developing his arsenal of ideas.
"In improving the CoolCabana fold, I've obtained a range of patents, one of which has opened the door to a new type of winter or rain umbrella," he says.
"I'm also developing some surf products, toddler products, building products and marine products.
"I was recently granted a patent for a new type of sail for yachts which is more efficient and easier for boaties to use.
"E-commerce and software is also area which presents huge potential upside."
Right now, looking out at a sea of CoolCabanas on the beaches of Noosa, Fraser can't believe how far he's come.
"It's fantastic. Beach goer's are loving them, staying safe, and enjoying summer … all I can say is wow," he says.
Originally published as Revealed: The Qld man behind CoolCabana empire