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Hearth & Home February 2014

Richard Wright
Hearth & Home Magazine

Oh, What a Year!

We’ve made the point before: Specialty hearth retailers were hit hardest, and for the longest time, by a downturn that began almost six years ago. The patio and barbecue industries both bounced back more rapidly than hearth, manufacturers more rapidly than retailers.

For many hearth dealers, the downturn became a test of their resolve, which was rewarded mightily in 2013. Take a look at the chart below; it’s from our monthly “Business Climate” surveys. In every single month of 2013, hearth product sales were up over the prior year, and not by just a small amount.

In 10 of those months sales were up in the double-digits. It’s one thing to have two or three great months, and quite another to string together 12 in a row.

For most hearth dealers the past year wasn’t just a good year, it was a great year, and a much-deserved reward for such perseverance.

Mad as Hell

We all like to complain, about the weather, the high cost of consumer products, our kids, fellow workers and political leaders. We could go on. In the case of specialty retailers, however, their complaints regarding the manufacturers’ reps serving them have reached a different level – these folks are just flat-out angry with the way they’re being treated.

We decided to conduct a survey of hearth, patio and barbecue specialty retailers, asking them a series of questions concerning what they expect from their reps, and how those reps measure up. At the end of the survey we allowed ample room for respondents to tell us more about how they felt.

And, boy, did they ever! There were so many words written that, even with a three-part series, we will be able to publish only a small number of comments that we received.

We begin this series with “Patio Reps: A Report Card,” and will follow in March with “Hearth Reps” and in April with “Barbecue Reps.”

Our purpose in doing so is to allow retailers an opportunity to release some of the pressure building up, to allow reps to see where they are falling short, and to allow manufacturers to better understand what’s happening in the field.

We hope that manufacturers, in particular, treat these complaints seriously, because they are the ones that can mandate change. The buck stops at the manufacturer’s desk.

The Hearth Industry’s Only Foundry

In 1979 Murray Howell and Duncan Syme, owners of Vermont Castings, constructed their own cast-iron foundry with which they manufactured wood stoves. To date, Vermont Castings is still the only hearth manufacturer with its own foundry; others must roam far afield for their castings – to Europe, China and even Siberia.

There are many hearth-industry members who have never seen the inside of a cast-iron foundry. In this issue, you’ll find a photo-essay on the Vermont plant, and an interview with the man who runs it, Bob Wright, who has been there since its inception.

HPBExpo in Utah

The HPBExpo is in Salt Lake City this year, from March 5-8. Do yourself and your business a favor by taking a few days to see what’s new, attend a seminar, go to the Vesta Awards Ceremony and actually rejuvenate yourself after a profitable, but strenuous, year.

More Stories in this Issue

Signs of Strength

By Bill Sendelback

Sales of gas fireplaces, the most important category in the hearth industry, rebounded a bit in 2012, and even more in 2013.

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Kamado Fever

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Interest in kamados remains high, as accessories proliferate and Big Box stores enter the field.

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Inside the VC Foundry

By Richard Wright

Built by Murray Howell and Duncan Syme in 1979, the Vermont Castings foundry has been managed and cared for all of those 35 years by Bob Wright.

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2013 December Business Climate

In early January, Hearth & Home faxed a survey to 2,133 specialty retailers of hearth, barbecue and patio products, asking them to compare December 2013 sales to December 2012. The accompanying charts and selected comments are from the 192 useable returns.

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