By Bill Sendelback
photos ©2019 michael burns. firstname.lastname@example.org.
In today’s world, it’s not often that one can say they have fun going to work, fully enjoy life in a fabulous location, and yet continue to grow a profitable business. The folks at Mountain Home Stove & Fireplace in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, do just that as they live, work, and enjoy the beauty and recreational benefits in what they call “God’s Country.” Despite the distractions of living in an outdoor wonderland, they also are enjoying – and growing – seven digit sales from a small, but neat and well-designed, 500 sq. ft. showroom, with only seven employees.
Wolf (now there’s a name for an outdoorsman!) Bennett is a trained and licensed architect who designed commercial and residential buildings all over the world, but he prefers residential projects. His next step was as a homebuilder, when he discovered what he thought was the “neat little niche industry” of fireplaces.
Then, in Steamboat Springs, he began in the hearth business installing fireplaces for local contractors. In 2002, that evolved into today’s Mountain Home Stove & Fireplace. In 2014, Jackie Buratovich fled the life of a contract construction manager to stay in Steamboat Springs and join Bennett as co-owner and general manager.
L to R: FRONT ROW – Michael Burns, Moki the dog and Jeremy Kuntz.
L to R: BACK ROW – Wolf Bennett, Jackie Buratovich, Robert Rowe, Josh Peaslee, and Chris Cantrell.
Today’s Mountain Home almost exclusively offers hearth products, including gas, wood, and pellet stoves, and fireplace inserts, gas and wood indoor and outdoor fireplaces, electric fireplaces, fire pits, and gas logs. Half of Mountain Home’s sales are from gas fireplaces.
The store does offer some grills, but only as a convenience for its customers. “We tried to make grills a bigger part of our business, but we just don’t have the showroom space,” says Buratovich, “and we don’t want to compete on grills with the Ace Hardware store down the street.”
Steamboat Springs is an old mining town in the northwest corner of Colorado 6,700 ft. up in the Rocky Mountains, but today it’s more famous for its snow skiing, world-class mountain biking, and the more than 100 Olympic competitors who have called Steamboat Springs home.
The city founder arrived in 1874, and the city was incorporated in 1900. It was named by early miners who thought the sound of the area’s natural hot springs resembled the whistle of early steam boats. Today, Steamboat Springs has a year ’round population of 12,690, and more than 25,000 permanent residents in the Yampa River Valley.
“This is a small community, so our integrity is a huge plus for us,” says Bennett. “If we were not honest in how we treat our customers, we wouldn’t be here. If something is not right, we will make it right.”
“You live by your reputation in a little town like this,” Buratovich adds, “so we want to be the best value in our area, offering good, high-value products, high-value customer service, and fair pricing.”
Come summer vacation time, and snow skiing season, Steamboat Springs explodes with tourists and, more important for Mountain Home, second-home owners. As a result, almost 70% of the company’s business is with contractors building second homes. That’s fortunate because “most people cannot afford to live in Steamboat Springs,” says Bennett. “There’s a lot of money here and the property values are very high. An almost-nothing house in downtown Steamboat Springs will cost at least $1 million. If you can find anything for $500,000, buy it. Even trailer homes go for $500,000. We’re surrounded with multimillion dollar homes as large as 10,000 sq. ft.”
Bennett used his skill as an architect to make the most out of his 500 sq. ft. showroom.
Mountain Home does serve customers in smaller areas 15 to 20 miles away; that’s where the workers from Steamboat live. “We do pellet, wood, and gas stoves there, but now even in these areas, every home is selling for at least a couple hundred thousand dollars,” adds Bennett. “When I look at our top sales for the past year, all are to general contractors building second homes,” says Buratovich,
Bennett has spent the last 17 years developing and growing relationships with area homebuilders. Now his staff is continuing that important effort. “Construction here is way up,” he says, “but with these relationships, builders feel comfortable coming to us, telling us what they need, knowing that we will supply it and install it with no worries for that builder.”
Relationships are the basis for all of Mountain Home’s sales efforts. “This is a small community and it’s very, very community based,” Bennett says. “We get to know people,” adds Buratovich. “My kids go to school with their kids. Customers may have coached my kids. You see people at the market or the rec center, and you build relationships so when they call, you know their name and something about them, and you want to help them.”
Mountain Home’s emphasis on relationships has influenced its marketing and advertising efforts. “Being such a small community where relationships are so important, we do very little traditional advertising – no radio, no TV, no newspaper ads,” says Buratovich. “Besides our website, basically we do activities that support our relationships in the community. Almost all of our sales leads result from a Google search.”
“We’re doing more sponsoring of local activities,” says Bennett, “such as a local golf tournament, our annual winter carnival, high-school winter sports, and chamber of commerce things – activities that promote word-of-mouth identity for us.” Bennett says.
“The only advertising you might call traditional,” says Buratovich, “is a magazine put out by the shopping center where we’re located that features home improvement-type retailers.”
As you can imagine, competition is no big deal for Mountain Home. There are a couple of other hearth products sellers in the area, and an Ace Hardware store; mass merchants are an hour away. “We are up here in the middle of nowhere,” says Buratovich. “People who live here want to buy locally from the small businesses in our area.”
“When folks talk about buying from a mass merchant or from outside our area, we explain the implications of that,” Bennett adds. “It will cost them more than they think. We have boots on the ground, we’re here to install and service and handle any warranty issues, and we offer very fair prices.”
All employees are cross-trained, even to do installations and service work when needed.
When they say, “good things come in small packages,” they probably did not mean dealer showrooms. But Mountain Home has certainly done a lot with a little, considering its minimal 500 sq. ft. showroom space. “As an architect, I took advantage of every sq. ft. and needed a shoehorn to get stuff in,” says Bennett, “but even so, our showroom is not overcrowded.”
Bennett staggered short walls, and placed them on an angle to gain more wall space for fireplace displays. In the middle of the showroom, Bennett displays stoves on a small island. “It needs to be appealing to the customer, and we needed a decent flow to the space,” he says. “Surprisingly, we’re not over jammed, but we couldn’t show everything even with triple the space. We really don’t have to show everything for the customer to get the feel for the variety we offer.”
“It’s a little challenging to keep it tidy during the busy season with people coming in and out,” adds Buratovich, “but we’re hoping to move next summer to a space with a larger showroom, and perhaps with an outside area for barbecue parties and cooking demonstrations.” Mountain Home also has a 1,500 sq. ft. remote warehouse. The store shows a long list of hearth product suppliers, and they purchase dealer-direct from all but one major manufacturer.
Mountain Home does its own in-house installations and service work. All of Bennett’s employees are required to get at least one NFI certification, and the company encourages further training. “Hearth products are a lot more complex than most people think,” he says, “they burn, can explode, and can be dangerous if not installed and handled correctly. Being in a small community, there really are no subs who know what they’re doing. So we provide a lot of training for our employees to make sure everything is done correctly.”
“I have a construction management background,” says Buratovich, “so we want to have control over our schedules and quality. Installations and service are definitely profit centers for us.”
Staggered short walls, placed at an angle, allow more wall space for fireplace displays.
Bennett points out that all his employees are cross-trained, even to do installations and service when needed, especially during the busy season. “We all kind of multitask,” he says, “it keeps us learning and keeps things interesting.”
You might think that wood-burners would be the big sellers in this rural, mountain area. “No, gas models are our big sellers,” says Bennett. Steamboat Springs is served with natural gas, and the outlying areas use propane. “More than half of our sales are gas fireplaces,” he says. “The convenience of flipping a switch and having a beautiful fire without having to build it has huge appeal here with our dominance of second homes. A growing number are putting in wood-burning fireplaces, and then adding gas logs.”
When not selling, installing, or servicing hearth products, Mountain Home employees take full advantage of the spectacular outdoor activities available in God’s Country. “That’s part of what Steamboat is all about,” says Bennett. “We have what we call a ‘powder clause.’ If there is a good dump of snow – a foot or more of powder – most of us will be coming into the shop late, and I don’t mind. We live here in this amazing place because this is our choice of lifestyles.”
All of Bennett’s staff skis, snowboards and rides bikes. Several hunt and fish. Bennett also coaches snow skiing at the local sports club, and flies a glider. Buratovich, with her professed “distrust of big cities,” is an avid mountain biker and coaches Nordic skiing and yoga.
Chris Cantrell, Sales manager, bikes, skis, and golfs. Michael Burns, Service manager, also is a fly fisherman, avid mountain biker, and expert outdoor photographer. Rob Lowe, lead installer, also is an ice fisherman and hunter. Jeremy Kuntz, installer, is an avid mountain biker, and Josh Peaslee, sweep and pellet and wood technician, enjoys fresh powder snow and camping.
It makes one wonder how they find time for work!
“This is a fun place to live,” adds Buratovich, “and a great industry to be in. I’d rather ride my bike every day, but this is not a bad job to have. We have the best of all worlds.”
“We love this valley,” says Cantrell. “That’s why we’re here. We live in a pretty amazing place, and we want to help make it a better place.”
Store Name: Mountain Home Stove & Fireplace
Address: 1890 Loggers Lane, Unit H, Steamboat Springs, Colorado 80487
Number of Stores: One
Owners: Wolf Bennett and Jackie Buratovich, also general manager
Key People: Chris Cantrell, Sales manager; Michael Burns, Service manager; Rob Lowe, lead installer; Jeremy Kuntz, installer; and Josh Peaslee, sweep, pellet and wood technician
Year Established: 2002
Web Site: www.mountainhomestove.com
Phone: (970) 879-7962
Fax: (970) 457-4075
Number of Employees:
Percentage of Annual Sales by Product Category: Hearth – 99%; Grills – 1%