A Tailor-made Trend
It was 20 years ago that Hearth & Home began talking (preaching?) about Outdoor Rooms, and urging specialty dealers to embrace the opportunity offered.
We saw it as a logical next step for retailers selling fire, grills, and outdoor furniture – or any combination of the three. We still do. It’s not often that opportunity comes knockin,' and when it does, it’s wise to answer the door.
The beauty of the Outdoor Room trend is that specialty retailers can own whatever part of it they choose. If your choice is to sell only fire pits and outdoor chairs, so be it, but at least you should offer a variety of those products because every customer is different, and has different tastes.
From there, you could slowly move into outdoor fireplaces, again, with a wide variety of product from which your customers can choose. According to Hearth & Home’s 2018 Buyer’s Guide, there’s about 50 manufacturers making fire pits, and just about the same number making fire tables, and fireplaces. A similar variety exists with grills, and a much wider variety with outdoor furniture.
Outdoor Rooms are priced from the very low (basic) to the-sky’s-the-limit. The price points you choose to embrace can be based on the demographics of your market area. Jump in at a low level, and build from there, but at least be a part of the most important trend in your business career. (See “What’s In Outside?”.)
Been There, Done That
Here’s one retailer’s experience selling the concept of the Outdoor Room.
About 10 years ago, Fireside-Arnold Stove and Fireplace in Arnold, Missouri, added Outdoor Rooms to its product mix.
“We added a 4,000 sq. ft. patio onto our building,” says owner Ken Moss, “and included four pergolas, each with a fireplace, a fire pit, a hot tub and outdoor furniture.” 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.
“Everyone does Outdoor Rooms now,” he says, “but most are not doing it right. We can design and lay out 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.”
Fireplaces used to be a very seasonal business, but now 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.
“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.” (See “All in the Family”.)