The election is finally over and you’re either ecstatic, happy, relieved, very upset, frightened – or an amalgam of all those emotions. Facing the unknown, we all have the tendency to hunker down, close our wallets, and wait for the world to settle down (as if it ever does).
Nevertheless, 2016 turned out to be a wonderful year for the patio furniture industry. The weather cooperated and, when it was too hot, retailers sold a ton of umbrellas; shade is rapidly becoming a coveted amenity.
The old adage that business declines during major election cycles was proven wrong this year – at least for the patio and barbecue ends of the business.
Out of the three industries we cover, clearly patio furniture – at the specialty level – is the most luxurious product. Does anyone really need a $12,000 woven group, or a $4,000 teak chair?
No. Yet the patio furnishings industry had one of its best years in a long while. Millennials were actually buying – something, anything – this past spring, summer and fall, and a few retailers were keeping patio products on the floor at least a month longer than usual (yes, Climate Warming is a friend of outdoor products).
A number of patio retailers either created additional stores, or remodeled and added space to their existing shop. Large – and we mean large – tables are much in demand these days, which speaks to family and friends having great gatherings (now there’s a good name for a store).
Cast aluminum appears to be declining in popularity, while plastic furniture continues its rapid climb. Teak is on the shopping lists of many consumers, but synthetic wicker not so much. Companies such as Berlin Gardens, Jensen Leisure, Kingsley-Bate, Treasure Garden, Seaside Casual and Telescope strengthened their importance to patio retailers over the past year.
We could say much the same things about barbecue products. Quite a number of stores have expanded their retail space; some who have never offered outdoor kitchens and Outdoor Rooms are now doing so; others have, for the first time, started to put on cooking classes and embraced the hospitality end of the business. These changes, if they continue, will have a major, and positive, impact on the industry.
A number of companies do offer luxury grills at sky-high prices (think Kalamazoo, R H Peterson Co., etc.), yet most barbecue companies are in the mid-price range – more so, we believe, than the patio people.
It was a good year for the barbecue industry, just not quite as good as the patio folks experienced. A shocker was that charcoal-fueled kamados had a less than stellar year. This year was the first time in decades that retailers appear to have had less success with the product than anticipated.
Why that happened is anyone’s guess.
The Outdoor Room trend is alive and well and helping to increase business. Sales of pellet grills continue to increase for many dealers. If you’re not in that category, jump in now.
“The hearth business is lackluster with little profit,” said one retailer. “Wood and pellet products are dead,” said another. Gas is, and has been, king for a while now, but not to this extent.
Climate Warming is not a friend of wood products, nor are new NSPS regulations, nor Net Zero regulations in California and Vancouver. The low prices of fossil fuels are perhaps the greatest enemy of hearth products. As long as they remain low, the industry will suffer.
Now is the time, dear hearth retailers, to bring in counter-seasonal products such as patio furniture, barbecues and, perhaps, spas. Start selling Outdoor Rooms that include full outdoor kitchens, patio furniture and an outdoor fireplace or fire pit.
When asked about a sales forecast for 2017, one hearth dealer said: “Heck, we’re just trying to survive 2016!”
As Yoda would say, “If you’re selling hearth products, diversify!”