Hearth & Home January 2018

FusionFire steam fireplace by Modern Flames.

The Time is Now

By Bill Sendelback

The market is huge, the products are refined, and the customers are ready; electric fires are prepared to take center stage.

Electric fireplaces now top approximately 2 million unit sales annually, making them the largest selling hearth products category by far. The most recent industry shipment figures (2016) show that annual sales of electric fires are now more than double the total of all wood, gas and pellet stoves, fireplaces and fireplace insert sales in North America.

Unfortunately, those sales are being made primarily by mass merchants and furniture stores. But manufacturers report that this trend is slowing as more hearth product dealers take on electric fires, concentrating on high-end, full-featured models and leaving the inexpensive models to the Big Box stores. Increasing interest in electric fireplaces from homebuilders is also adding sales opportunities for hearth dealers.

According to Hearth & Home’s Annual Hearth Retailer Survey (see Buyer’s Guide, June 2017), 53% of U.S. hearth product dealers now carry electric fireplaces, while 23% sell electric stoves. However, dealers reported that their electric fireplace sales in 2016 were only up an average of 2%.

While not selling to mass merchants, Amantii has had an “exceptional year, with double-digit sales increases in both the U.S. and Canada,” according to Brian Richards, president. “We’re seeing growth in the U.S., but our hottest market is still Canada, and more and more builders are turning to electric fires as their fireplace of choice. Builders appreciate the smaller footprint of our models, how cost effective they are, their ease of installation, as well as the time savings of less after-installation service.”

Richards says Amantii’s strongest sales increases ironically are in areas where linear gas fireplace sales have been hot. “This trend is being driven not by superfluous features, but instead by the improved aesthetics and functions of today’s electric fires.”

BI-60-Extra Slim model by Amantii.

New from Amantii is its XS (Extra Slim) model, only four inches deep and rated for indoor, outdoor and bathroom installations. The XS features Amantii’s multi-color Fire & Ice Flame presentation and is available in 40-, 50- and 60-in. widths.

Also new is Amantii’s XT (Extra Tall) Panorama model aimed at the popularity of the newest gas fireplaces. Rated for indoor, outdoor and bathroom installations, the XT is 18-in. high, which is 6-in. taller than the company’s regular Panorama models. The XT is 12-in. deep and includes Amantii’s Designer Media Kit featuring an 11-piece log set, and Ice Media of black glass, pebbles and stones as an ember bed. The XT is available in 40-, 50-, 72- and 88- in. widths.

Dimplex North America is enjoying “really good, solid” sales of electric fires, showing double-digit increases, according to Gary Kraemer, manager of Marketing Communications. “Although we’re seeing big growth in our furniture outlet side, we’re focused on our high-end products and our specialty hearth dealers, as well as new construction markets.”

Linear design is a “huge” trend for Dimplex, in particular its thin linear models designed to be recess-mounted into 2x4 walls. “The top 10 models in our line are all linear models,” adds Kramer. Dimplex also sees a shift away from glass ember bed media toward pebbles and stones, and “more organic” ember media. Dimplex models now top out at 100-in. wide, but the company is adding new sizes of less than 100-in.

Christina BuiltRite Mantel by Dimplex.

New from Dimplex is its BuiltRite modular system aimed at hearth product dealers and new construction. Available in two fireboxes, the patent-pending BuiltRite system features a cabinet and a surround, available in various styles and finishes, so that the dealer can install the electric fire in the cabinet or just use the front surround for an inset mount, for installation in less than an hour.

Also new is Dimplex’s Comfort Saver feature now available on the company’s high-end models. “Dimplex is a heater company, so our Comfort Saver system is like cruise control for an electric fire, automatically varying the heater and the fan to keep the room temperature at the desired level,” Kramer explains. Also from Dimplex is a new Opti-myst firebox offering single-sided or see-through installations, with or without a glass front, with various ember bed media and now with a heater.

Electric fireplace sales, traditional built-in models in particular, have grown by double-digits in the past year for Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT), according to Jeni Forman, senior vice president of U.S. Sales and Marketing for Dealer and Wholesale Business.

“Nationally,” she says, “more townhouses and multi-family dwellings are being built where venting may be a challenge, providing an opportunity for sales of electric models. In addition, Millennials tend to see electric fireplaces as art or a design feature, so they are open to, and looking for, built-in, linear products. We expect these design trends to continue to evolve – linear electric fireplaces with more realistic flames and improved ember bed technology, putting electric fires visually on par with gas fireplaces.”

SimpliFire Allusion 48-in. from Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT).

New from HHT is its SimpliFire Allusion to be launched in 2018. It will be available in two sizes, and is a modern, linear electric fireplace that can be installed fully, partially recessed, or hung on a wall; it also can be installed in any room.

“Years ago the interest from hearth product dealers was not there because this was an item sold through the Big Box stores,” says Kris Richardson, president of Modern Flames, “but the category is now accepted by the hearth community, and our dealers are having a heck of a good sales year. We don’t sell to mass merchants, but our sales this year are very strong – unbelievable.”

Richardson points out that as electric fires have become more popular with the mass merchants, consumers have become more aware of electric models, giving hearth products dealers the opportunity to differentiate themselves by selling high-quality, full-featured, higher-end models.

Linear and built-in electric fireplaces are becoming stronger for Modern Flames with its 60-in. size now it’s most popular. “As television sets have become larger, designers want to balance that with a larger electric fireplace below it,” Richardson adds.

While sales in the Sunbelt remain strong since heat is seldom needed, Richardson sees added growth in big cities, particularly in multi-family units, condos and hospitality areas where gas is not available and venting is difficult or impossible.

Winner of the electric products category in the 2017 Vesta Awards program, Modern Flames’ FusionFire Steam Fireplace will be ready to ship in January, 2018. “We have been focused on perfecting it before getting it on the market,” says Richardson. Featuring 3-D flames with LED lighting, FusionFire harnesses commercial steam flame technology from the motion picture industry to provide an extremely realistic flame. The FusionFire is a 60-in. linear model for clean-faced, built-in installations. Additional sizes will be available later this year.

Sales of electric fireplaces for Napoleon Fireplaces are “up substantially,” says John Czerwonka, vice president of Hearth Sales. Napoleon now offers 35 electric fire models. “Electric fireplaces continue to be the fastest growing hearth products category for us,” he says.

Homebuilders are moving away from cheap, builder-box, wood-burning fireplaces to direct-vent gas or electric models, Czerwonka says. “With today’s new homes so tight and energy efficient, electric models are the perfect answer.” He is seeing new home developments of 250 to 900 homes now installing electric models. “And with electric fire technology improving almost every week, we’re seeing better LEDs, more lighting and new colors – units being loaded with features.”

Napoleon recently commissioned a market research study on electric fires, interviewing 700 people from 25 to 44 years, earning $100,000 plus annually. The research found that most of this group has either purchased its first home or its first move-up home. “Many don’t now have a fireplace, but they want one, and they find electric models are their most reasonable option,” according to Czerwonka.

While linear models continue strong for Napoleon, 40% of the company’s electric fire sales are wall-mounted, 34% are inset into the wall, and the remaining 26% are furniture cabinet mounts. “But the demand for furniture-mount installations is declining,” he says.

Alluravision from Napoleon Fireplaces.

New from Napoleon is its CLEARion model, one of the industry’s first see-through electric models. Also new is its Alluravision, a thin-profile linear model that can be inset into a 2x4 wall or mounted on the wall.

Although many hearth product dealers previously have disregarded electric fires, this category will continue with its present strong sales growth, especially given the increasing environmental challenges to both wood-burning and gas hearth products.

Demographic trends are prime for the sales of electric fires. In addition, a strong positive for electric fires is that major manufacturers now are focusing increasingly on hearth product dealers for sales growth, and are developing new, unique, highly-featured and nicely profitable electric fires for that marketing channel. If you have not considered taking on electric fires, now is the time.

Twin-Star International has just introduced its 3D flame effect. According to Lisa Cody, vice president of Marketing, “In April we transitioned everything to the 3D. We still have other models for specific customers, but the in-stock specialty products for the hearth dealers all have the 3D technology.”

From its beginning, Twin-Star enveloped its electric fireplaces in appealing cabinetry, which allowed it to tap the interior furniture store channel. “Yes,” says Cody, “we do inserts that can be built into a wall – which are a part of our top 30 sellers – but we still do a lot of furniture. We sell our furniture in multiple, and different, places. We sell through mass merchants, for example.”

Just name a mass merchant, and Twin-Star is most likely in there, although it may be with a different name. But what about the specialty hearth channel?

“That has not been a main focus,” she says. “We are in the middle of doing our segmentation; we want to fully understand our consumers before we change our strategies.”

For years, many in the hearth specialty retail channel were reluctant to take on electric fireplaces, but that appears to be changing right now. The same is true with homebuilders.

“That would be great,” says Cody. “Builders are not one of our targets right now just because the lead time is so long on a lot of the projects. But in general we see a lot more of the built-ins. You can even go to Wendy’s now and see a built-in electric fireplace.”

TV Stand with Electric Fireplace in natural coconut with patent-pending 3D flame-effect technology by Twin-Star.

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