Details Make the Difference
By Bill Sendelback
PhotoS: ©2018 David fonda architectural Photography. www.davidfondaphotography.com.
Certainly the big things are important in running any business, but Dave Rettinger, owner of Rettinger Fireplace Systems in Voorhees, New Jersey, strongly believes that you also need to take care of the little details – the things that can slip through the cracks – to truly be successful. That philosophy must be working for Rettinger, since the hearth retailer posted a 20% sales growth in both 2016 and 2017, and will end 2018 with sales up an additional 15%.
“We pay very close attention to the details,” says Rettinger, “and that is very evident in the products the customer receives and in our reputation for customer satisfaction. Our motto is, ‘Where Details Make the Difference,’ and we live by that. Included is treating each customer with respect and providing the best possible service. But what has really made us successful through the years is that we always finish what we start. We never walk away from a problem – we finish the job and satisfy every customer. We strive for each customer to be 100% satisfied with Rettinger.”
While many hearth product retailers have diversified into other categories such as grills, patio furniture, and even hot tubs, Rettinger Fireplace Systems is almost totally devoted to hearth products. Close to 90% of the store’s sales are hearth products, including wood, gas, and electric fireplaces, wood, gas and pellet stoves and inserts, gas logs, mantels and surrounds, and fireplace accessories.
The remaining 10% of Rettinger’s sales is outdoor fire tables, some high-end grills, and a few outdoor kitchen items. “Hearth products keep us busy year ’round,” says Alexis Rettinger, Dave’s wife and right-hand person. “When in April through July we think we’ll have time to catch our breath, our fireplace business is hopping along with the wood mantel and cabinetry items we design and build in-house. We’re not a grill shop nor an outdoor furniture store, and (we don’t have) spas or hot tubs. We really don’t have time for different product categories because fire is what we do, and we want to continue doing it right.”
Mantels and surrounds were made at the company’s woodworking shop.
In addition to retailing hearth products, Rettinger operates a complete woodworking shop in its 8,000 sq. ft. warehouse about five miles from its showroom. “We build mantels, surrounds, bookcases, and cabinets,” says Dave, “whatever is needed for the job. Our wood shop is pretty busy even in the off-season for hearth products.”
In 1995, Dave Rettinger had been working for an architectural hardware firm for 11 years, heading up the fireplace end of that business. He felt there was an opportunity to expand that part of the business, but when he approached his bosses with the idea, they said ‘no,’ apparently being content with that part of their business as it was. So Dave resigned and quickly started his hearth products dealership in his basement, bringing with him experience in woodworking and new-home construction.
Dave’s wife, Alexis, joined the Rettinger operation in 2000, after having been a court reporter for 20 years. “Dave needed another set of eyes, ears, and hands to help him,” she says. “I knew nothing about hearth products.” Besides being Dave’s right-hand person, Alexis handles the company’s marketing efforts.
In 1996, Rettinger moved from his basement to a small 1,600 sq. ft. showroom; two years later, in 1998, he moved again, this time into an even larger showroom as the company grew. Then, in 2007, Rettinger Fireplace Systems moved into its current location, a 6,400 sq. ft. showroom in the Voorhees Design Center, a high-quality home improvement products location featuring Rettinger and other retailers offering tile, stone, kitchen and bath fixtures, and accessories.
Although each retailer has a separate showroom, customers can easily visit each store. “All of our businesses feed off each other,” says Dave. “Customers can see all kinds of different high-end home products. So a lot of our customers are interior decorators, designers, and architects who use the center for one-stop shopping.”
Once a year retailers in the design center host a combined open house, inviting all of their customers, which includes custom home builders, to the event. “All our showrooms are open to them,” says Rettinger, so they can wander around to each showroom, enjoying the environment of each business, although most folks ultimately come back to the warm, cozy ambiance of our showroom.”
While headquartered in South Jersey, Rettinger also serves the nearby greater Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, metropolitan market, and the Jersey Shore with its many second homes. “The economy in our area has improved in the last couple of years,” Dave explains. “Our clientele is a little bit high end. New-home construction here is still sort of flat – steady, but nothing like it used to be. But we stay busy with remodels and high-end, custom, new-home construction.”
While heading up the fireplace business for his former employer, Dave learned the new-home construction business and developed relationships with local homebuilders, relationships that he has brought to Rettinger. Today he and his son, Dave, Jr., focus on the new-home construction business. “It’s a father‑and‑son team, but all of our staff can work with these clients,” says Dave. “Dave, Jr. has done a great job of opening new doors for us in the builder market.”
Rettinger encourages its builder clients to send their customers into the store to see and learn about different styles of fireplaces. “This takes the burden off the builder,” says Dave, Jr. “Our reputation is one of the biggest factors in expanding our builder business. They have heard good things about us, and when they decide to give us a shot, they switch to us. They know we’re going to make sure everything goes smoothly and properly with every job.”
Rettinger also hosts a variety of events to promote its business with homebuilders, remodelers, designers, and architects. At a recent event, 60 home inspectors were presented with information on new hearth products and provided with lunch from a food truck.
“This now allows them to remember Rettinger the next time they see a fireplace that needs to be changed out,” says Dave, Jr. Rettinger also hosts local architectural firms for “lunch and learn” events, again with a presentation on new products. Rettinger also brings in some of its suppliers to make presentations to remodelers and designers.
All of Rettinger’s installations are done by industry NFI-certified, in-house crews, whether for homebuilders or retail customers. “We don’t subcontract anything except for electrical and plumbing,” says Dave, Jr., “but we have licensed mechanical contractors and electricians for that. We have the same installation and service crews, the same guys for every job. That helps us control the quality of every installation to make sure things get executed properly and safely with proper follow-up. Maybe 5 to 10% of our customers want to arrange for their own installation, but in 90 to 95% of our sales, we do the installation.”
Like most successful retailers, Dave Rettinger has learned to focus on his own operation rather than worrying about competition. “Some of our competitors have similar products, but we’re not a discount house. We know what things cost, so we price accordingly. We will work with a customer to make a sale if we can, but we’re not just going to drop the price for the sake of the sale.”
“Part of working with a customer is walking that customer through the whole permit process, the documents and paperwork,” says Alexis. “We’re essentially working with fire, and we need to go to sleep each night knowing we’ve done our very best to give the customer the right product for their needs and to ensure it’s installed safely and correctly.”
An appropriate quote from Frank Lloyd Wright.
Dave Rettinger drew the original design of his showroom on a napkin as he and Alexis were on their way home from an HPBA show. Then, with Dave’s woodworking experience and the company’s in-house woodworking shop, he and his staff built the showroom. The 6,400 sq. ft. showroom includes 70 burning models and two large televisions.
“When I did the original design, I thought about how customers move in a showroom,” says Dave. “If you walk right, left or straight ahead from our front door, you’ll not reach a dead end. There is a constant flow to our showroom. My whole idea was always to have people moving without ever feeling trapped.”
With high ceilings in the main part of the showroom, products such as gas fireplaces are displayed in one area, while what Dave describes as “energy products,” such as stoves and inserts, are displayed in another area. In an open area is a large couch where customers can relax and watch the large TVs showing products, jobs that the company has completed, or maybe relaxing scenic views from YouTube. There are several large, hardcover picture books on a coffee table featuring Rettinger jobs.
“People really like to sit in this area, relax and see the jobs we have completed,” says Alexis. “Our showroom is always changing, and we are constantly updating it. We’re proud of it.”
Back in the day, retail advertising was Yellow Pages, newspaper ads, and perhaps some television spots. That’s long gone now. Today, social media and targeted promotions are all the rage, and the Rettingers are right on track with current marketing efforts.
“We put a lot of effort into our online presence,” according to Alexis, who heads up Rettinger’s advertising and marketing. “We have a very large exposure on social media with Google Quest, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and Instagram. This type of advertising is not only a lot more effective with today’s consumer, it’s a lot less expensive, and we can get manufacturers to co-op it, and that is very important. Our reputation and online reviews set us apart from our competition.”
Alexis works several hours a week to add, update, and improve contents of the company’s social media efforts. “We get a lot of traffic as a result of this effort,” she says. “People frequently say we were recommended on Facebook or they are here because of our Google reviews. So 85% of our advertising budget is spent on social media.” Alexis also does a small amount of print ads in a few targeted, high-end local magazines plus single-line listings in local phone books.
While every one of Rettinger’s 22 employees Dave and Alexis consider very important to the success of the company, a few are key. Daughter Alyssa Rettinger-Smith handles purchasing. The showroom manager is Lee Pinardo, Jr., whose father started Pine Barren Wood Stoves back in the heyday of wood stoves. Both installer John Hawley and Sales associate Angelique Rusch have 22 years with Rettinger. Linda Fleming has been our bookkeeper for 21 years. Brian Shuster has been running the company’s wood shop for 17 years. The average length of service for all Rettinger employees is 16 years.
“We’re not planning any big changes, just staying focused on what we do best to satisfy our customers,” says Dave. “Manufacturers are constantly making changes to their products, so we need to keep up with that. People want fireplaces, the latest and greatest looks, so rather than diversify our offerings into some kind of new category that we don’t really know, nor are good at, we’ll fine-tune our operation and keep our eyes focused on what we do best.
“My advice to anyone in the retail business is to be hands on,” Dave recommends. “You can’t just turn the key, open the door, and let things happen in this business. We’re dealing with fire in someone’s home, so we have to take our business seriously. You need to make certain that all of your employees are knowledgeable and well trained, so that customers will end up with the right products for them and that those products are installed correctly and safely to the manufacturers’ specifications.
“And don’t walk away from challenges. Not every job is a home run or a piece of cake, so sometimes you have to take it on the chin, profit-wise, to ensure a happy customer. Be sure, though, to finish what you start.”
Store Name: Rettinger Fireplace Systems
Address: 476 Centennial Blvd., Voorhees, New Jersey 08043
Number of Stores: One
Owners: Dave and Alexis Rettinger
Key People: David Rettinger, Jr., manager; Alyssa Rettinger-Smith, purchasing; Lee Pinardo, Jr., showroom manager; Angelique Rusch, sales
Year Established: 1995
Web site: www.rettingerfireplace.com
Phone: (833) 438-7388
Fax: (856) 783-5503
Number of Employees:
% of Annual Gross Sales by Product Category:
Sq. Ft. of Building Space:
% of Annual Gross Sales for Advertising: 3%
More Stories in this Issue
So, it was a bit of rain, and a bit of heat, that disrupted an otherwise steady march to double-digit sales growth and a substantial increase in that bank account.
Dorothy and Frank Matthews started their first ‘legitimate’ hearth shop in 1986; they sold their business and retired a few months ago. This is their story.
By Bill Sendelback
By Tom Lassiter
By Tom Lassiter
By Lisa Readie Mayer
By Lisa Readie Mayer
New products from the Las Vegas Market!
In early November, Hearth & Home faxed a survey to 2,500 specialty retailers of hearth, patio, and barbecue products, asking them to compare October 2018 sales to October 2017. The accompanying charts and selected comments are from the 232 useable returns.
All of Elena Colombo’s sculptures are made for congregating around an outdoor fire. Many are made of bronze, which starts out as pink gold, goes to dark brown, and eventually to a verdigris green.