Hearth & Home February 2016

Franklin fire table from Agio.

A Fire Pit is Really an Affordable Lifestyle in a Box

By Bill Sendelback

Banchetto 42-in. round fire pit from Tropitone.

Fire pits are the hottest product in the rapidly growing Outdoor Room market. No industry data supports that claim, but with scores of manufacturers offering fire pits, and most reporting very strong sales, it’s safe to assume that is the case. With all that competition for the fire pit market, consumers can now choose from every conceivable shape, size, material, height and price range, along with an increasing number of features.

The term “fire pit” is a very broad and generic term that is much more than just a circle of bricks for burning wood. Fire pits also include fire tables and standard fire pits in coffee table, counter and bar heights.

The industry has no data on fire pit sales, however, Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT) recently conducted an independent survey of the outdoor market, including fire pits and outdoor fireplaces. While both product categories were each estimated in the survey at $60 million in total manufacturer sales, fire pits represent the majority of those sales, and are estimated to be more than one million units, according to Bob Ballard, HHT’s senior vice president of marketing. HHT does not sell fire pits; it concentrates instead on outdoor fireplaces.

Agio offers a very broad line of fire pits, after pioneering the modern category in 2002. “We were virtually alone in that market until the last four years,” says Bob Gaylord, president. “Our business doubled when we introduced gas models, and now it’s a $50 million category for us, and we think we own 70 percent of the market.”

Like many outdoor furniture suppliers, Agio has found sales success combining its fire pits with its outdoor furniture into “chat groups.”

“In 2000,” he says, “deep seating, or lounge chairs, was less than one percent of outdoor furniture sales. It was all dining chairs. Deep-seating sales are now growing by leaps and bounds and represent 50 percent of our outdoor furniture sales. Putting comfortable seating around a fire pit helps to sell both.”

Agio’s best-selling fire pits are 24-in. high, but the company sees growing interest in counter- and bar-height fire tables. “Fire pits are getting bigger, with more features,” says Gaylord, “but price-point models don’t sell, being only three percent of industry sales. The fire pit category is still in its infancy and offers dealers a big opportunity.”

Tropitone also has seen its largest recent sales increases in deep seating combined with fire pits. “This trend was more significant in 2015,” says Frank Verna, Tropitone’s director of Sales and Business Development.

Tropitone is introducing 30-in. fire pit models to meet the demand for commercial-grade fire pits for smaller spaces. The Boulevard and La Stratta models feature aluminum tops. Also new from Tropitone are fire pit risers, three-in. and nine-in. platforms that can increase the height of the company’s standard 25-in. height to dining or counter heights.

Marseille fire bowls from American Fyre Designs.

R H Peterson Co. is seeing its largest sales increases in fire bowls in its American Fyre Designs line, particularly its lower profile or 16-in. high models. But since these models cannot accommodate a 20-lb. LP tank, accessory pedestals are offered as well as water spout options.

“Contemporary stuff in general is selling,” according to Bob Dischner, senior vice president of Marketing, “and fire tables tend to be modern. But we’re finding that consumers like the low, contemporary look like our 24-in. chat height models.”

“We sell a lot more fire pits than outdoor fireplaces,” says Ross Johnson, vice president of Marketing for The Outdoor GreatRoom Company. “They are less expensive, easier to install and more social since you can sit around them. We’re working 24/7 and still cannot keep up with the demand.”

With 50 models, the company has styles “all over the board,” according to Johnson. “We’re seeing an increase in custom models, including some pretty costly ones for the hospitality market.”

Coffee-table height models, 20 to 25 in., are the company’s top sellers, but Johnson says there is increasing interest in its dining- and pub-height models. Popular accessories are fire pit covers and glass wind guards. “Burner covers are also popular for the fire tables, for customers who want more than just fire.”

The Wave from The Outdoor GreatRoom Company.

Bill Harris, managing partner of Masonry Fireplace Industries, is seeing “significant growth” in both his finished and unfinished models, as well as fire rings. “Fire features are a huge market,” Harris says, “and customers want them bigger.” The company offers many diameters in 16- and 24-in. heights in both wood-burning and gas models.

Eldorado Stone recently introduced its Modern Collection of Fire Bowls at the International Builders Show in January. It accentuates the modern and contemporary designs with clean lines and simplistic colors that appeal to a variety of aesthetics.

For example, the monolithic square design of the Talus creates an impressive contemporary centerpiece. The gently sloped sides of this circular fire feature will attract friends and family to gather ’round.

Talus by Eldorado Stone.

Approvals and Legislation for Fire Pits

Wood-burning fire pits are not covered in the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), and there are no testing standards specifically for wood-burning fire pits.

However, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is attempting to include all gas hearth products, including gas fire pits, under its Proposed Determination of Hearth Products as Covered Consumer Products. This proposal was expected to go into effect in mid-2015, however, the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association is very actively challenging that proposal.

More Stories in this Issue

Perspective

What began as a hearth shop in the late ’70s slowly evolved through the years to become a purveyor of upscale patio furniture, barbecues, spas and saunas.

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Perfect Timing

By Richard Wright

Empire Distributing’s diversification into outdoor products came at just the right time.

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Outdoor Elegance

By Bill Sendelback

Rather late to the party, outdoor fireplaces showed strong growth in 2015; now’s the time for retailers to jump in.

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Forever Brown

By Tom Lassiter

It’s beginning to look a lot like … brown will remain the dominant color for resin wicker for a while longer.

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2015 December Business Climate

In early January, Hearth & Home faxed a survey to 2,500 specialty retailers of hearth, barbecue and patio products, asking them to compare December 2015 sales to December 2014. The accompanying charts and selected comments are from the 208 useable returns.

» Continue