All in the Family
By Bill Sendelbeck
PhotoS: ©2018 home advertising. www.homeadinc.com.
Henry Ford once said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” That saying hangs in the showroom of Fireside-Arnold Stove and Fireplace in Arnold, Missouri, setting the tone for its customers and employees that this company will do it correctly right from the start.
“When I saw that quote, it just made sense to me,” says Ken Moss, owner and president. “The most important things today for your business, especially in our online world, are your reputation, word-of-mouth endorsements, and repeat customers. We try to connect with the customer and get down to why they are putting in a fireplace or a grill. We really try hard to make our customers’ experiences with us truly customer-oriented to make certain they are happy customers.”
Fireside-Arnold Stove and Fireplace Center was started in 1986 by Moss’ grandparents after putting a wood stove in their son’s house, and then deciding to sell wood stoves in a strip mall store. In 1996, Moss’ father and uncle joined the business. Keeping it a family affair, Ken Moss dabbled in the business when he was only 10 years old, helping his grandmother with the business computer.
After working in the store through high school and then a short stint in college, Moss spent six years in the Air Force with no plans to return to the St. Louis area. But his father convinced him to return home, and after a couple of years, Ken was running the business. Now at 40 years old, he has bought out his relatives and is sole owner of the business, but it is still a family business with four Moss relatives and Ken still active in the store.
Known as Arnold Stove and Fireplace Center 10 years ago, the store became one of the original, independently-owned Fireside Hearth & Home stores, a program by Hearth & Home Technologies to establish stores that would predominantly sell their products. That program has since been discontinued, but it did give rise to Fireside being added to the Arnold Stove and Fireplace Center name.
|The door display is from Design Specialties; the island grill is by OFYR.|
“Hearth products are our bread and butter, they represent more than 50% of our sales,” according to Moss. Grills are 25% of the store’s sales, with Outdoor Room products such as pergolas, grill islands, patio furniture, and awnings, adding up to 20% of sales. Hot tubs add another 5%.
“Sales are up in all categories, but we’re seeing the biggest percentage growth in our Outdoor Room products. We’re selling a lot more fireplaces into Outdoor Rooms than either built-in grills or pergolas. Here in the St. Louis area, people are either adding an Outdoor Room or including an Outdoor Room in their new home. They all seem to be including an outdoor fireplace or at least a fire pit.”
With two of Moss’ primary manufacturer suppliers focusing on Outdoor Room products about 10 years ago, Fireside-Arnold Stove added Outdoor Rooms to its product mix. “We added a 4,000 sq.ft. patio onto our building and included four pergolas, each with a fireplace, a fire pit, a hot tub and outdoor furniture.
“Everyone does Outdoor Rooms now, but most are not doing it right. Even the Big Box stores sell the stuff. But people are coming back to the hearth stores because we stand behind our products. We can design and layout the whole job for them, and then do the installations. The customer deals with us from start to finish.”
Profit margins for Outdoor Room products are less than for hearth products, according to Moss. “And there is more work involved for us because you can’t just sketch out an Outdoor Room. It takes planning and measurements. But where we make up for the reduced margins on the Outdoor Room products is on the installation side.”
Moss says his large Outdoor Room patio is a big asset to selling Outdoor Rooms. “People can actually come in and look at what they are getting in an Outdoor Room setting. A lot of dealers don’t have that advantage.”
Fireplaces used to be a very seasonal business, so Outdoor Room products have smoothed out those sales seasons. “Now, whether it’s grills or fireplaces, sales are really year ’round,” says Moss, “because people are building or remodeling year ’round. People are using their Outdoor Rooms more than just in the summer; they sit in front of their outdoor fireplace in the winter to relax. Even in the summer, that fireplace is a focal point of the Outdoor Room.”
The community of Arnold is an outlying suburb of St. Louis, and the store is located between the suburbs and the rural areas, according to Moss. “Our clientele is across the board, split about 50/50 between white collar and blue collar customers. But the age of our demographics seems to have edged up. Fifteen years ago it was the 40- to 60-year-old, but now it’s the 40- to 70-year-olds.
“Since the economy started to turn around a few years ago, the people here are a lot more relaxed putting money into their homes. The housing market is booming, so we have a lot more new construction, and many customers are putting in more than one fireplace.”
|Heat & Glo’s Royal Hearth, Exclaim, and Energy Master 485T along with a number of Big Green Eggs, and an American Whirlpool hot tub.|
Moss says that even people staying in their homes are remodeling and replacing a fireplace, adding an insert, or another fireplace. “Where our sales used to be one fireplace in a home, now we’re getting two, three, and sometimes four or more fireplaces in a home.”
Competition is of little concern to Moss; he focuses on his own operation. “You see ads where dealers are beating up on their competition. That’s not what we do. We focus on who we are, what we sell, and the services we offer.”
Service to customers is a big part of Fireside-Arnold Stove’s leg up on competition. All grills are assembled by store personnel at no charge to the customer, and other products are inspected before delivery. “I don’t want a customer taking something home only to find a missing wheel or a scratch,” Moss says. “It happens, but we take care of it here in the store; when the product leaves us, it is 100% correct.” Moss makes certain that every customer has an owner’s manual.
Competition is not far from Fireside-Arnold Stove and Fireplace Center. A Lowe’s store is just across the parking lot – 100 feet away. “Everyone goes there, and then they come in here. But when you sell a better product and give better customer service, people recognize that,” Moss adds. “Some people will only spend $100 or so for a grill, and then have to replace it every two or three years. But most customers want quality and will pay for it, knowing that in the future this grill will hold up and that they will get service from us when needed.”
|Papaya Chat Chairs are from The Outdoor GreatRoom Company; fireplaces are from Heat & Glo.|
Fireside-Arnold Stove actively works with custom homebuilders, but rarely with tract builders, while also focusing on remodelers, designers, and architects. “We don’t want to see a builder-grade fireplace installed in anyone’s home, so we try to make it easy for builders,” says Moss. “We try to convince the builder to get the customer to come into our store and let our staff sell them the nicer fireplace the customer really wants. The customer is happier, and the builder doesn’t have to take his time to talk fireplaces with the customer. The builders we deal with come to us because we both make more money.”
Whether for homebuilders or homeowners, Fireside-Arnold Stove installs 75% of the fireplaces it sells with its own staff. “It may be unusual in our industry, but all of my service people and installers are local union sheet-metal members with mechanical licenses, and they know HVAC,” says Moss. “I have eight installers and service people year ’round, and they all are familiar with gas lines and sheet metal, so we train them on fireplaces. It’s nice knowing that the customer is confident that any problem they may have, from sales to installations to service, is all handled by us.”
Moss does not look at his service and installation operation as a huge profit center. “I pay my guys more because they are union, and that makes it harder for us to compete. But the profitability comes in when we have very few call backs, and not having to give time and energy on going to a customer’s home to fix a problem, and having an upset customer. A happy customer sooner or later will bring you more money in repeat sales and referrals; that makes up for the money you’re not making on installations.”
Fireside-Arnold Stove has a sizable staff, 20 full-timers and four part-timers, and Moss values each of them. “I can’t pinpoint any particular employees. I have a lot of very good people, amazing employees, and I would not be able to highlight any particular ones.”
|Three gas grills from Napoleon – Prestige 500, PRO500 and PRO655.|
Moss purchases most products dealer-direct, but he does use distributors for some items. “For us, it just makes sense to buy dealer-direct since we have three major manufacturers making up most of our purchases, especially our hearth products. These manufacturers know us, focus on us, and we always have someone there who can take care of any situation. It’s easier for us to tell a customer why we sell this manufacturer’s products rather than having to compare other competing manufacturers we might carry.”
Now in this third location for Fireside-Arnold Stove, in 2007 Moss started with a blank slate when this 5,000 sq.ft. showroom was built adjacent to a 5,000 sq.ft. warehouse. Moss’ father designed the showroom, taking cues from the two previous locations, and with the help of Hearth & Home Technologies while it was still offering its Fireside Hearth & Home stores program.
One lesson learned was that customers tend to go to the right when entering the showroom. “So our flow of products goes to the right, with the counter on the left,” according to Moss. The showroom purposely has extremely high ceilings, allowing each display area to have 10-foot walls, displays sorted by product categories, and grills and patio furniture scattered throughout. “All of our displays look like rooms in a home, so when a customer walks in, it doesn’t look like a Big Box store. We try to make our displays look like what the customer will see in his or her home. We show numerous sizes and price ranges from low to high end for each product. Everything we have on display in our entire store I can turn on for demonstrations.”
About half of Moss’ advertising budget is spent on radio commercials, and most of the other half goes for social media and search engine optimization, or SEO, the usually irritating pop-up ads that you see when you are online. “We seldom use newspapers or TV, but our radio spots work because people today are in their cars a lot,” Moss adds. “We adjust the spots to fit the season.” Moss also maintains an e-mail contact list for periodic e-mail blast promotions.
|A Lodge Pergola from the Outdoor GreatRoom Company sets the stage for one of four Outdoor Room vignettes. Rockers are from Polywood.|
Fireside-Arnold Stove also hosts evening and Saturday events for customers such as grilling classes and product demonstrations on its outside patio. “These outdoor events bring people in to actually sit in our patio furniture and enjoy themselves around a grill island, eating barbecue cooked by a local chef on our grills. Barbecue classes have been a big thing for us the last few years. We sell a lot of hot tubs, patio, and hearth products to those that come in for our cooking classes.”
Already strong in hearth products and Outdoor Rooms, Fireside-Arnold Stove is looking to expand into heating and cooling. “All my guys are HVAC guys, so it’s a natural to consider the HVAC side,” Moss says, “and, really, a fireplace is just a pretty furnace.”
Moss advises dealers that, “If you think you should make that phone call to a customer, you probably should.” He makes follow-up phone calls to all his customers to make sure all has gone well with the purchase, installation, and service. He also sends surveys to customers and non-purchasers. “These calls and surveys are easy ways to give customers the opportunity to voice their opinion, be it good or bad,” he says. “Give them a call and get any problem fixed promptly before it becomes an issue.”
Moss says we all need to say, “thank you” more, especially to customers. “Tell them ‘thank you’ and let them know you appreciate their business.” Along with a “thank you” card from Fireside-Arnold Stove, customers get a complimentary barbecue rub made for the company.
“I have found that, in life, I need to say ‘thank you’ more. Saying ‘thank you’ goes a long way with everyone, especially your customers.”
Store Name: Fireside-Arnold Stove and Fireplace
Address: 917 Arnold Command Drive, Arnold, MO 63010
Number of Stores: One
Owners: Ken Moss, owner and president
Year Established: 1986
Web Site: www.arnoldstove.com
Phone: (636) 282-0300
Number of Employees:
Gross Annual Sales: Hearth – 50%; BBQ – 25%; Outdoor Rooms – 20%;
% of Annual Gross Sales for Advertising: 3%