By Bill Sendelback
While most manufacturers are constantly expanding their product lines and factories, and employing scores, if not hundreds, of workers, Wayne Holsapple of Specialty Fireplaces may have the most perfect business plan in the hearth industry. He has no employees, no factory, no inventory, no sales force, and no debt, yet he has sold hundreds of unique, absolutely custom, fireplaces with suggested list prices of as much as $40,000.
Wayne Holsapple, photo taken at the Tempe Center of the Arts, Tempe, Arizona.
Most of his custom fireplaces are sold in his adopted state of Arizona, but as his reputation has grown among designers, custom homebuilders, and architects, he has placed his fireplaces as far from Arizona as Virginia, and even Saudi Arabia.
Holsapple was a masonry contractor in Quincy, Illinois, when in 1979 his friends in Phoenix enticed him to Arizona. “They told me they were working in shirt sleeves, so I was only too glad to trade the zero-degree weather and two feet of snow in Illinois for sunny Phoenix.” He went to work for a Phoenix-area fireplace dealer building that company’s masonry fireplaces.
He soon fell in love with fireplaces, so when that retailer failed, he opened his own store, Fireplace Specialties; that was in 1981. He eventually opened a second store and had two crews building and installing fireplaces.
“In my spare time, I would get a couple of hours of sleep, but when you are 30, you can do anything.” However, even youth runs out of steam, so in 1991 Holsapple closed his stores and embarked on his new business plan, Specialty Fireplaces, designing and selling custom, one-of-a-kind fireplaces.
One of many sculptural art elements with a heat reflector that Holsapple designs-builds.
It was a decision that seems to have worked well for him. Each of the last four years have been record-breaking sales years, averaging 10% to 20% sales growth each of those years.
Unlike most fireplace manufacturers, Holsapple doesn’t deal in mass production or in large quantities of the same models. He estimates that he has designed and had built about a thousand custom fireplaces since starting on this path in 1991.
“But I’ve been involved with probably 20,000 fireplaces throughout my years in the fireplace business. Now I simply ask the architects and designers to dream, and then allow me to bring their vision to reality. These are all one-off, one-of-a-kind creations for each individual project. I’ve never done the same thing twice.”
Using his Dezertfire brand, Holsapple designs all of his creations and then uses one major, local fabricator to produce his visions. Almost all are gas fireplaces, and all are constructed of one-quarter inch plate steel. Wayne’s son, Justin, through Justin’s installation contracting firm, Fireplace Specialist, then handles installations. After the installation, each unit is tested in the field by Underwriters Laboratories. “I don’t take myself seriously, but I take my work extremely seriously since it involves the safety of my customers,” he says.
Holsapple gets his business through referrals from designers and architects. “They see my work or ask another architect about me. It’s all word-of-mouth.” He points out that word-of-mouth among architects recently resulted in 10 of his custom fireplaces being designed, built, and installed in a “big monster” home in Saudi Arabia. This job included outdoor models, all vertical with spiraling flames not enclosed in glass tubes.
He currently is working on three fireplaces for a home in Texas, 6 ft., 8 ft., and 19 ft. wide. In this instance, architects called him in to rectify a “very dangerous mess left by another fireplace builder.”
Art and Fire: This piece captures the eye of the beholder – and holds it.
Photo: ©2020 Thompson Photographic.
A 3 x 6-ft. fixed hood, 52 inches above the fire in a luxury lakeside home near Roanoke, Virginia.
Photo: ©2020 Kip Dawkins Photography.
Another of Holsapple’s recent creations included a retractable exhaust hood with two 14-inch B-vent systems that would automatically drop down toward the fire. His largest project is one he has been working on for a year, a job that includes 12 big fireplaces with hoods to be installed in one home on a 264-acre lot. “If it’s never been done before, that’s really what I specialize in. If it’s not a little different and unique, it actually gets a little boring to me.”
He also gets his share of custom commercial jobs. “One of my most recent projects is in the very expensive Ocean 44 restaurant in Scottsdale. It’s a 6-ft. wide by 4-ft. tall, see-through model right in the middle of the restaurant.”
He soon may be taking his creativity with fireplaces more mainstream. He and another Arizona company, currently building semi-custom fireplaces, have an agreement to team up to design, engineer, and build a line of fireplaces sold under the Dezertfire brand. All will be UL-Listed and will include semi-stock models as wide as 10 ft. and as tall as 3 ft. Plans are to have these Dezertfire models on the market by late spring or early summer. “Most of our current clients live in multi-million dollar second homes,” he says. “This new line of fireplaces probably will go into million-dollar-plus homes.”
Holsapple may have been doing his own thing for many years, but as a volunteer he has invested time and energy into the hearth products industry. He served seven years on the board of directors of the former Arizona Wood Energy Institute, and continues to be actively involved in the Arizona affiliate of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association.