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Reports from the Field

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The following comments are from Hearth & Home’s monthly sales survey
of retailers.

Connecticut: (Hearth, BBQ) “We're open for limited business, parts, accessories, fuel, service, and expertise. We do not plan on closing our doors completely and we will be answering the phones and helping our customers when necessary. We can hope for a robust condensed season after this nightmare is over.”

Maine: (Hearth, Patio, BBQ, Spas) “March is typically the hardest month for sales in our corner of Maine. The coronavirus has added additional unimaginable stress and strain to nearly every business. We are fortunate that our customers are responding readily to curb-side pick-up and virtual sales, making our March sales slightly above last year. For this we say Thank You!”

New York: (Spas) Our showrooms have been closed for three weeks to walk-in traffic. We have had to reinvent ways to stay in front of potential buyers through virtual showroom tours and screen-to-screen selling. Our web inquiries have tripled, indicating more families at home are interested in hot tubs and saunas for their enjoyment. Looking forward to a new day in this upside down world. To everyone, be well and stay safe.”

Pennsylvania: (Hearth) “Even though our numbers are even with last year - that is misleading as we were tracking ahead until we shut all operations due to the governor's mandate related to COVID-19. All of our revenue channels are dry until we can reopen. We expect this to cause a 15% to 20% decrease in overall sales for the year, if things open prior to the summer. A bigger question is going to be, will this cause issues for the burn season in the fall/winter?”

North Carolina: (Hearth, BBQ) “Buyer confidence disappeared with the stock market shock. Now potential buyers' primary focus is on the pandemic In the long run we expect the consumer to invest more in their home. Who is not making a home improvement To Do list? Travel and destination entertainment are not on anyone's To Do list.

“We need appraisers (and the financial institutions that they guide) to properly recognize the value of the hearth and the Outdoor Room. Their values should naturally increase as consumers demand better home amenities. We need that appraiser recognition of value now, so that financing is available and the spending is justifiable.”

Virginia: (Hearth) “Sales were up for the year until early March when they pretty much stopped. Virtually all money collected in March was from completing installation of February sales. Retail store is closed and we can do online sales provided that suppliers are able to go to work and ship product. Customers are afraid to spend money for the most part, and now they're rescheduling because they don't want us in their houses. Scary times are here.”

Ohio: (Hearth, BBQ) “Needless to say, March was a crazy month! Ohio's governor was very proactive with the closing of non-essential businesses, so we felt the slowdown almost immediately! Foot traffic is down and scheduled service calls are being cancelled. Most remodel/new construction projects are still moving forward, which gives us some hope!

“We have laid off our part-time employees, but our full-time staff continues to work (at least for the time being). We distribute propane (and propane accessories) so we have been deemed an essential business. We intend to keep working as long as we're permitted to, and feel responsible to keep our employees off of the government coffers for as long as we can afford to do so. Really hoping all this results in long-term purchasing decisions being steered away from Chinese goods and back toward products made in the USA!”

California: (Hearth, BBQ, Spas) “We are still open and trying to screen our customers for the COVID-19. We get lots of snowbirds and they have come back sooner than expected, so we are making them wait the 14 days before we will go out to their house to service/repair their stove. Got to keep our employees safe. Store is open and people are buying pellets for heating and cooking, and spa products.”

Colorado: (BBQ) “Refund season. People are holding on to their tax refunds, which equates to a 20% decrease in grill sales. However, barbecue is a great way to combat the boredom of being sequestered, so charcoal, pellets, sauces, and spices are way up.”

Indiana: (Patio, BBQ, Spas) “Wow! How things can change in three weeks; I almost forgot what it was like to eat at home all the time. Good thing my wife is a great cook and I can warm some stuff on the Big Green Egg. Do miss being able to attend church, eating with family, and associating with friends.

“We are lucky at this point and still able to do some work in Indiana, but Michigan has completely shut down for new construction, or basically anything non-essential. We have closed the store except for appointments, water testing, and curbside delivery. We are going to start calling all of our clients and offer our normal spring sale discount. We deliver that product to their house if their order is over a certain amount.

“We have had one of the nicest winters and the start to the spring season that I can ever remember, and clients would normally start opening their pools this month. So we are trying to keep available as much as we can for our clients so that they can keep their pools and spas in working order; it also gives them a reason to stay at home!

“A lot of our clients are in an area where there are a lot of weekend homes, and most of those are full right now as everyone has fled from the larger cities to try and get away from large numbers of people. I'm still getting calls about pools and spas because everyone is at home thinking about the backyard. We just pray everything turns out for the best and this gets over within a couple of more weeks so we can get back to the normal, hectic lives we were leading before the spring of the virus came about.”

Virginia: (Hearth) “With the COVID-19 virus rearing its ugly head (starting in March), sales almost do not exist. It's so bad we have filed for a Small Business Loan. On the upside, the city we're located in has not had a positive test for the virus. Therefore, no deaths, as of this writing.

“We all consider that a real blessing and pray that it continues. Surrounding cities and counties have been hammered. But, amazingly enough, new home construction continues and real-estate sales in my city are booming. Go figure...”

Missouri: (Hearth, BBQ) “Heating product sales are down in the first quarter of the year. In the Midwest, we have had very mild temperatures in December and January. This is a critical time, as we all know, for seasonal demand. Despite that, March sales were propped up by new construction projects. The persistent rain in late winter has delayed barbecue sales.

“Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, foot traffic has all but stopped. Decisions will need to be made to protect our staff from unnecessary exposure to the virus. We are considering store closure to foot traffic and only opening by appointment. This is a moving target that all of us are trying to find the best solutions for.”

We welcome all information related to the coronavirus pandemic.

If you know of someone who is doing something interesting or creative with his/her business, let us know.

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Editor, Richard Wright

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