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Hearth & Home October 2019

Richard Wright
Hearth & Home Magazine

Perspective: In Search
of Retailers, and Customers

Over the past three or four years, we’ve heard from retailers – particularly, but not exclusively, patio retailers – that traffic is down, but sales are up due to customers purchasing high-end products.

If sales are up, you might say, then what’s the problem?

The problem, my friends, is that no business can withstand, for long, a decline in the number of consumers entering their store. In many respects, retail is really a numbers game. As a storeowner, you certainly want to attract as many customers as possible. In numbers lies security, as well as success.

Remember, the decline in retail traffic began about four or five years ago, and if traffic is down, it might be a harbinger of worse things to come.

A year or two ago we tried to convince those patio and/or hearth retailers with traffic problems to begin selling barbecue. If there’s one product that can attract a crowd it’s the sight, smell, and taste of barbecue. Draw them in with a rack of ribs, a little music, and perhaps a cold drink, then show them how comfortable that deep-seating chair is, how warming a fire pit can be, and how easy a pellet grill is to operate.

It’s really a no-brainer, yet we doubt that many retailers took that advice.

Closing Shop

The numbers of retailers who are closing their doors and walking away continues to mount. The lucky ones are those with sons and daughters who are interested in running the business. The lucky ones are also those who find a willing buyer. But the majority, it seems, are those who put the key in the door, and turn it for the last time.

Traffic at Markets

At the July Casual Preview Show, at The Mart in Chicago, traffic was also down – not just a little, but a lot. Sure, there were some showrooms with decent traffic, you know, the ones that are always jammed to the hilt. But for the majority of manufacturers, the Preview Show was far from normal. 

Three weeks ago (September 10-13), the Casual Market came and left – it left with many manufacturers scratching their heads. Once more, traffic was down; hallways that normally are packed with buyers were far from packed this time. 

The fault is not with The Mart, nor with the ICFA; both entities always do a commendable job. It lies totally with the retail base. 

Why weren’t more retailers at the show, as usual? How will they choose which products to floor in the coming year? The pressure is now on the reps. Why, why, why, did so many retailers stay home? Send email to

Fireplaces Flickering Out?

Fireplaces are apparently on the wane, reports the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). The primary reason for this, the group believes, is cost. A moderately elaborate masonry fireplace can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars, and though gas fireplaces are far less costly, they may be less must-have than they were in the past.

Only 41% of single-family homes started in 2018 included fireplaces, according to the NAHB tabulation of recently released data from the Survey of Construction produced by the U.S. Census Bureau. This percentage is the lowest on record since the NAHB began tabulating the data in a consistent fashion in 2001. Since 2015, the share of single-family homes with fireplaces has been declining steadily, setting a new post-2001 record low each of the past three years. 

According to the 2019 edition of NAHB’s “What Home Buyers Really Want,” 55% and 48% of homebuyers rate gas- and wood-burning fireplaces, respectively, as at least desirable. By this measure, fireplaces fall in the middle of the list of decorative features in the NAHB survey in terms of desirability. However, only 16% of buyers say either type of fireplace is essential (meaning they are unlikely to purchase a home unless it has one).

More Stories in this Issue

Canada: An Introduction

By Richard Wright

Last year, a major topic of conversation and concern was the 2,000-plus wildfires burning in British Columbia, and polluting the air in places such as Vancouver to the extent that it was said to be “worse than that in Beijing.”

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Mornings in the Tub

By Bill Sendelback

For some it’s yoga, for others meditation, but for the Bourques it’s hot water and planning the day that leads to success (yep, even throughout the frigid Canadian winters).

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Known & Respected

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Known for its commercial foodservice appliances, Crown Verity adds residential appliances to its lineup.

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Not the Greatest

By Tom Lassiter

Patio furniture sales were impacted by the weather (surprise!), a weak loonie, and the U.S. president’s tariffs.

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A Formidable Team

By Tom Lassiter

CabanaCoast has visionary owners, quick-ship on everything, and a concentration on both specialty and commercial business.

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Join the MARCH Through All Four Seasons

Unique garden terraces, lively music spilling into the streets, exceptional cuisine centered around open-flame cooking... New Orleans is the city that celebrates the very indoor-outdoor lifestyle that our industry creates.

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2019 August Business Climate

In early August, Hearth & Home faxed a survey to 2,500 specialty retailers of hearth, patio, and barbecue products, asking them to compare August 2019 sales to August 2018. The accompanying charts and selected comments are from the 182 usable returns.

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Parting Shot: Diamond on Fire

The MONROE see-thru suspended fireplace is part of the VITA Collection that is handcrafted by craftsmen in southern Ontario. It is available in two fuel options – Vapor-Fire, using water as a fuel source, or gas (natural gas or propane).

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