“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”
— Buffalo Springfield, 1966
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. But hearth products always remained the company’s top-selling product – the flagship of the business.
Until 2015, that is.
That was the year when sales of patio furnishings eclipsed those of hearth products, and barbecues were not far behind. The good news was that combined sales of patio furnishings and barbecues more than made up for the decline in hearth sales.
Factors contributing to that coup are obvious: the very low price of fossil fuels, and record-setting warmth throughout the eastern half of the country – right up to the end of 2015 (see Business Climate).
Apparently that latter event was pleasant and compelling enough to move consumers to purchase outdoor products through to December 31.
As we do every month, at the beginning of January we (Hearth & Home) faxed our monthly Retail Sales Survey to 2,500 retailers, asking for sales data for the prior month – in this case December. We asked for a comparison between sales in December 2015 and December 2014.
What we received back gave us a jolt.
Many retailers were telling us that their patio and barbecue sales were up dramatically from the prior year. We were receiving numbers such as UP 100 percent, UP 190 percent, and even UP 350 percent. In 35 years of publishing Hearth & Home and conducting surveys, we had never seen numbers such as those.
Granted, up to this point at least, there haven’t been many sales of patio and barbecue products in December in the Snowbelt area – which is where those numbers were originating. Therefore it’s easy to leap up 200 or 300 percent when you’re beginning with very low numbers.
Nevertheless, the fact that such sales were occurring in the month of December is striking. Results of our survey show that, on average, Patio Furnishings were up 17 percent, Barbecue Products were up six percent, and Hearth Products were down six percent.
A short time ago, Jim Houck wrote an article for us entitled “Consumers & Climate Change”. In it, he made the point that there will be opportunities associated with the warming of the climate. Well, if you’re involved with outdoor products, what occurred this past year is a positive example of such an opportunity. If you’re involved with hearth products, the reverse is true.
Manufacturers would be wise to be prepared for much longer seasons for outdoor products; retailers should think twice about changing out their floor before such extended seasons for outdoor products are really over.