Tough Times in SoCal
The retail attrition that began over six years ago continues today at ground zero of the housing crisis – southern California. Long-standing and seemingly well-run operations are still going out of business, casualties of Internet sales, the anemic housing climate, companies moving out of state, high unemployment and state and local regulations targeted at the hearth industry.
The impact of these factors – and others – is making it difficult for specialty retailers of hearth, patio and barbecue products to survive in SoCal. Those that are surviving most likely have targeted the higher end of the market, and have displayed aggressiveness in their marketing and promotional efforts.
“Quit worrying about the low end and go after higher-end customers,” says Pat Rosengren, executive director of the Pacific Hearth, Patio & Barbecue affiliate.
That’s sound advice.
As Willie Sutton is credited with saying, “I rob banks because that’s where the money is.” Well, today there is no middle market, and selling at the low end doesn’t provide enough profit. You should sell to the upper end of the market because that’s where the money is.
With four stores in southern California, Bob Vartanian is considering opening a fifth. “We’ve turned our stores into high-end outdoor living centers – very high end,” he says. “There’s not enough profit in low-end products to stay in business. At the high end, we have fewer customers, but there is much more profit in each sale.”
When it comes to recognizing trends in colors and textures and their impact on consumer goods, most of us are aware of only the most obvious signals (“Was that an orange car that just drove by?”) However, there are those who make it their business – their life’s work – to identify those trends and interpret their significance.
Maxine Lauer and her company, Sphere Trending, does just that, and she does it well. Through many hours of hard work, travel, reading and just plain watching, she is able to identify even minor shifts in the color palette and the introduction of new textures.
Before you head to Chicago and the Preview Show in July, read Maxine’s article in this issue, and then shop accordingly. Let her understanding of trends be your guide to fabric and finish selection.
Feeding Those in Need
At the HPBExpo in March, Kurt Rumens, president of Travis Industries, pledged his support for Operation BBQ Relief. Two weeks later he and 35 employees were on the scene cooking and feeding first-responders at the disastrous mudslide in Oso, Washington; it occurred only 40 miles from the Travis plant.