By Lisa Readie Mayer
Sleek. Contemporary. Sophisticated. Luxurious. Cosmopolitan. Sexy. Hot.
These are the adjectives that come to mind when describing the outdoor living spaces created by Luxapatio. The Miami-based retailer is a one-stop shop for everything to do with the design, construction and outfitting of outdoor living spaces. Its resort-like projects, impeccable quality and service-oriented approach have quickly propelled the company to a leadership role in the Outdoor Room business.
The road to building dream backyards was a simultaneous path to building the “American Dream” for husband and wife owners Hector Londono, company CEO, and Maria Sanchez, CFO. The pair first opened Luxapatio in 2005, just a few years after they immigrated to the U.S. from South America.
Hector, who had a background in residential construction, and Maria, a civil engineer, started creating outdoor kitchens out of a tiny 3,000 sq. ft. showroom in Hialeah, Florida. The timing was perfect; the outdoor kitchen concept was beginning to take root in the area and the couple found a receptive audience for their relatively simple grilling islands.
By 2008, Londono and Sanchez had an opportunity to relocate to a new 5,000 sq. ft. space in Miami’s Doral Décor District, an area known for fine home-furnishings retailers, tile and marble showrooms, architects, designers and specialty boutiques. The new location exposed Luxapatio to a host of high-end customers and the business began to take off in earnest.
About a year later came another growth opportunity when Londono and Sanchez partnered with family friends Clara Agudelo and Freddy Ochoa, an architect, on a sister business called The Patio District. The new venture became the construction arm of the company, building the pergolas, gazebos, pavilions, hardscapes, pools and other outdoor living elements requested by customers but previously had to be subbed out to other contractors.
The Patio District shares space with Luxapatio, CEO responsibilities between Londono and Ochoa, and CFO duties between Agudelo and Sanchez.
|Clean white and relaxing blue are perfect summer colors.|
By 2011, they had outgrown their space again, but were able to relocate right next door in a showroom with a combined indoor-outdoor display area of about 25,000 sq. ft. After one year and $100,000 spent remodeling the space, Luxapatio and The Patio District officially opened in their new home in January, 2012. The current showroom displays 15 different outdoor living vignettes with 10 outdoor kitchens, six styles of pergolas, fire pits, outdoor furnishings, shade options, water features, patio and decking materials, decorative items and more to simulate a wide array of backyard scenarios.
“We’re not just selling products lined up,” says Felipe Londono, vice president, Sales and Marketing, and son of Hector Londono and Maria Sanchez. “We create settings to inspire people.”
Inspire, they have. To date, Londono estimates the company has built approximately 1,500 outdoor living spaces for clients – many of them celebrities, athletes and Spanish-network stars – throughout South Florida. Business increased 25 percent between 2012 and 2013, with another 10 percent increase anticipated for 2014. The recent growth is attributed to a higher-income clientele, new product offerings, unique design innovations and increased services.
“The evolution of our company has allowed us to offer more customized projects and target the higher end of the market,” says Londono. “Now, we can take a customer’s vision and use our experience to come up with an awesome design. Being in South Florida, it’s essential that people have a good outdoor living space. We can completely transform a backyard so people can have the experience they dream about.”
Apparently, their customers are dreaming bigger than ever. Just as the company has evolved, so too has the size and scope of their projects. Although Londono says Luxapatio still serves many clients with small budgets, a recent analysis by the company reveals their average customer has an income greater than $250,000, belongs to a country club and has a discretionary spending budget of over $30,000 for their outdoor renovation.
According to Londono, for the past three to four years, the company’s average Outdoor Room sale has been around $25,000. However, this year, Londono says the average project is closer to $40,000 and includes a fully equipped outdoor kitchen, pergola, paver patio and more.
For an outdoor kitchen alone, Luxapatio customers were spending $12,000 on average three years ago; today that figure is between $16,000 and $17,000. Their grandest Outdoor Room project to date totaled $250,000 and featured a pool, outdoor kitchen, outdoor TV and other premium elements.
While the majority of the company’s work is custom, Luxapatio also offers prefabricated outdoor kitchens from Lynx that start around $6,000.
“They’re not as luxurious as our custom kitchens and are limited in design and configuration, but they cost less and are delivered in a couple weeks,” says Londono. “They are a great option if you want a straightforward, six-foot box structure with a grill and a set of access doors.”
|Large images of fun in the sun evoke a relaxed and pleasant mood.|
The showroom is overseen by general manager Maria Otero, who has been with the company since its start, and an in-house team of five salespeople/project coordinators, all of whom have design experience. After an initial meeting with a customer in the showroom, a project manager will visit the home to take measurements and photos. Once a design is developed, the plans are reviewed by Ochoa and Sanchez, with each line item in the estimate priced separately.
“This helps customers eliminate an item, if necessary, to suit their budget, or to plan the project in stages,” says Londono, although he points out that for the past 18 months, the trend has been for customers to commit to the entire project at once.
“With our skill set and experience, we can create and build awesome concepts that are structurally sound and meet the approval of local inspectors,” Londono says.
Luxapatio carries premium brands of outdoor appliances, including Twin Eagles, Lynx, Alfresco, DCS, Fire Magic, Coyote, Bull, Delta Heat by Twin Eagles, Sedona by Lynx, Electri-Chef and Big Green Egg. Besides a grill – increasingly, customers are asking for both gas and charcoal models, according to Londono – refrigerators, access doors, storage drawers and sinks are frequently requested.
|A sun shade and ceiling fan create an island or Key West atmosphere.|
“The hottest new trend in outdoor kitchen appliances is solid-surface grills like the Teppanyaki Griddle by Twin Eagles and the Asado Grill by Lynx,” says Londono. “Maybe it’s because we are in a coastal market and cook a lot of fish, but there is a huge demand for this type of product in our area.
“People will also usually ask for a side burner,” he says, “but they’re actually not used very often, so it’s not always the most practical way to spend the budget. We sometimes try to guide them to a cocktail center instead, because it’s great for entertaining.”
Given the climate, outdoor hearth features are not big sellers for the retailer, but linear gas fire pits are often incorporated into projects for their looks and ambiance. Custom and prefab waterfalls – with or without fire features – are popular, and outdoor entertainment features have been growing fast for the past year, according to Londono.
“People want the full entertainment experience outdoors,” he says. “They want to watch sports, TV and movies, and listen to music.” He says today’s projects often incorporate an outdoor TV that automatically retracts into a wall when not in use, as well as DVD players, WiFi capability and complete sound systems.
The company also has designed an innovative covered-wall system to mount and protect a TV from the elements. “That way, even if people don’t have the budget for an outdoor-rated television, they can still go to Best Buy and buy a big indoor TV to use outside,” explains Londono. “The TV is well protected, but even if it lasts only a couple years, it’s still very cost-effective considering you would have to buy several indoor TVs to equal the cost of one outdoor-rated television.”
As for materials and designs, a modern aesthetic with clean lines is most popular in the Miami market, according to Londono.
|Nine of your best friends can belly-up to this bar.|
Londono oversees a robust marketing and advertising program for the company, placing year-round monthly ads in Miami home improvement, design and remodeling magazines, and utilizing email marketing strategies and social media campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. But the largest source of business still comes from word-of-mouth referrals.
According to Londono, 22 percent of closed sales are from referral or return customers. That success ratio is proof that Luxapatio’s dedication to customer satisfaction is working.
“Our guiding philosophy is to make the customer happy,” says Londono. “We try to make the process easy and painless for them. We know if they’re happy and comfortable with us, they will refer their friends. If they’re not happy, they will speak negatively about us, and we don’t want that; it’s hard to fix that.”
Local architects and designers are another significant source of business for the company. “We have formed strategic alliances with design professionals who bring their clients’ Outdoor Room projects to us and we handle everything for them,” says Londono. Luxapatio hopes to grow these relationships by hosting group workshops for design professionals later this year.
The company expects to expand to a second location in the Boca/West Palm/Ft. Lauderdale vicinity by the end of 2015. A franchise program is also on the radar, according to Londono. In the meantime, Luxapatio is fleshing out a plan to sell Outdoor Room “kits” online to customers outside the store’s geographic region.
|A perfect Miami outdoor kitchen complete with pergola and flowing drapes.|
The company would offer about 15 Outdoor Rooms in different configurations and price points; design blueprints would be provided free to customers who order all the specified appliances from the Luxapatio website. The customer then would hire his/her own local contractor to build the kitchen. Luxapatio already sells some outdoor appliances online, adhering to manufacturers’ rules and conditions regarding Internet sales.
“We regularly get calls from all over Florida, but it’s not practical for us to do many jobs outside Miami, Dade and Broward counties,” says Londono. “This would allow us to expand our reach.”
Like many small, family businesses, Luxapatio has discovered that expansion can be challenging. “We want to aim high, but growing to the next level and learning to delegate can be difficult,” he says. They have discovered that as the company’s territory grows, so too does the task of keeping up with ever-changing municipal regulations, further complicating the permitting process. Another source of frustration is the parade of competitive contractors who bring their clients to the Luxapatio showroom and job sites to poach ideas.
“We pride ourselves on being leaders and innovators, and are dismayed at the imitation out there,” Londono says. To stem this, the company is considering patenting some of its pergola structures, TV walls, anchoring techniques and other proprietary innovations.
Challenges aside, Luxapatio seems destined to remain at the forefront of the growing Outdoor Room industry. The fact that the family’s “American Dream” was built on helping others build dream backyards, is icing on the cake. “We are very proud of what we have been able to accomplish,” he says. “We really love and take pride in what we do and in doing the best job possible.”