The Fire Outside
By Bill Sendelback
There’s little argument that Outdoor Rooms are a rapidly growing trend in today’s homes; consumers are actively seeking to spend more time outdoors. Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits have become coveted amenities as consumers seek to extend the use of that Outdoor Room into the shoulder months, even in colder climates.
Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits also have captured the attention of homebuilders as they seek ways to sell more homes. Commercial and hospitality sales opportunities are prime areas for growth of this product category.
Sales of outdoor fireplaces certainly are increasing, but sales of fire pits are skyrocketing, according to most manufacturers. They appeal to a larger number of consumers, not only because they are less expensive, but they fit more easily into the smaller, limited backyard spaces of many consumers. They are available in a wide range of sizes, shapes, finishes, styles, and even heights, to promote conversation around the fire.
|Lake House collection.|
“Our 30 gas fire pits have been our perennial best selling series,” says Mike Gaylord, vice president of Sales for Agio. “We’re seeing a trend toward more sizes. We used to sell chat-height sets in square and round, but now we’re seeing more interest in rectangular styles and bar-height models.”
Agio offers stand-alone fire pits, but also sells fire pits in conjunction with seating groups as “mix and match” sets.
The company has noticed a “complete movement away” from log sets in its fire pits. “Logs are too passé, too traditional,” says Gaylord. “Most units we sell have a cleaner look with glass beads, glass buttons or crushed glass as ember media rather than logs. Plus, logs make it more difficult to fit the fire pit covers, which are included with all our models.”
New from Agio is its Lake House Collection offering large, “super long,” rectangular fire pits and seating in dining, chat and bar heights. A decorative gas fire column also is included in the Lake House Collection.
|Outdoor linear fire pit from the Carol Rose Coastal Collection.|
Empire Comfort Systems
Empire Comfort Systems is selling outdoor fireplaces “like crazy,” according to Nick Bauer, president, and the company will be adding fire pits to its line this year. “We’ve had great sales success with our Carol Rose Coastal Collection of outdoor fireplaces,” he says, “and after introducing our 60-in. linear model, sales have grown 300% over last year.”
Empire’s Carol Rose Coastal Collection is named in honor of an employee who has been with Empire for 57 years. Also in the collection is a 48-in. linear model.
Bauer notes a shift in Empire’s sales of various sizes. Previously, 80% of the company’s fire pit sales were 48-in. models, but recently that has dropped to 60%, with 60-in. models now representing 40%. Empire also is selling a “pretty good amount” of see-through models.
Empire is not introducing new outdoor fireplace models or sizes this year, but it is introducing its first fire pit, also in the Carol Rose Coastal Collection; it features eight color-rotating LED lights. Empire’s new focus on fire pits includes drop-in models meant to be built-in and finished to fit the décor of any Outdoor Room.
|Carmel Square Granite Fire Table by California Outdoor Concepts.|
American Fireglass, a supplier of colored glass ember bed media, recently purchased California Outdoor Concepts, a manufacturer of fire pits, and with this acquisition American Fireglass has introduced a new concept in marketing fire pits. While selling 12 improved fire pits from the California Outdoor Concepts brand, the company also is distributing fire pits produced by other large manufacturers.
The company’s sales concept is to allow retailers to purchase even one item and still receive competitive pricing, while most fire pit manufacturers sell in container load quantities. “This allows our dealers to be competitive with and have the buying power of the big boys,” according to Matt Doll, American Fireglass president.
“Fire pits priced at retail from $900 to $1,200 are flying off our dealers’ showroom floors,” adds Doll. “And we’re finding some consumers willing to spend $4,000 and more. But most want a high-quality fire pit for less than $2,000.” Doll also sees demand for built-in speakers and stereo systems.
American Fireglass plans to have 30 fire pit styles stocked for the season, including the 12 best-selling California Outdoor Concepts models that will be given new designs, better granite and more features.
|Lanai outdoor fireplace from Heat & Glo.|
Heat & Glo
Although outdoor fireplaces are still a small sales category for Hearth & Home Technologies, “sales are definitely growing after a really solid sales year,” according to Jeni Forman, senior vice president of U.S. Sales and Marketing for Dealer and Wholesale Channels. “More consumers are improving their homes with outdoor spaces,” she says.
“People are not skimping on these outdoor spaces. It’s amazing the investments people are making. It’s not uncommon for consumers to spend $50,000 or even $75,000 on an Outdoor Room.” HHT offers a dozen outdoor fireplaces fueled by wood or gas, all under its Outdoor Lifestyle brand.
For HHT, trends in outdoor fireplaces are similar to trends in indoor fireplaces – the growth is in linear and more modern or contemporary styling. “We’re seeing a wide range of purchasers,” says Forman. “Some want fewer whistles and bells, but they mostly want contemporary styling.”
HHT is introducing its Palazzo high-end outdoor fireplace with an optional glass door that retracts down into the hearth, and an entry level Lanai model that includes LED lighting and a glass wind-guard.
|Metrop fire pit.|
Fire pits continue to be one of OW Lee’s top product categories, according to Leisa McCollister, VP Sales & Marketing. “We offer more than 50 gas fire pits,” she says, “and they also drive up our sales for seating. The fire pit category is a very healthy segment of the outdoor market offering ‘have-to-have’ products. We’re offering substantial upgrades from the cheaper products found at the Big Box stores.”
OW Lee recently introduced fire pits in an “occasional” height, 18 in., that have done very well when matched with modern outdoor furniture, says McCollister. But the company also is seeing a lot of consumer interest in smaller, 36-in. diameter, round fire pits in 38-in. counter height along with models with modern, clean lines.
New from OW Lee are two more modern fire pits, its Metrop and Creighton models including 36-in. round styles in 18-, 24- and 38-in. heights, part of the company’s Santorini collection.
|Riverside 42-in. clean face from Napoleon.|
Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits are selling “remarkably well, continuing to outpace the percentage sales growth of our other products,” says John Czerwonka, vice president of Hearth Sales for Napoleon Fireplaces. “We’re now seeing more demand for an outdoor fireplace than for a second indoor model.”
As a result, Napoleon is updating its four outdoor models, having recognized the higher demand for clean-faced models. In its linear models, Czerwonka sees demand for contemporary ember bed media, “but logs remain very popular.” He adds that outdoor models of less than 50-in. are the “sales sweet spot.”
Napoleon recently has become more aggressive in its sales efforts for fire tables, according to Czerwonka. Now offering nine fire pits plus burner kits, Napoleon will expand this category for 2017. “Fire pits tend to be more permanently installed, but most fire tables can be moved around,” he says.
New from Napoleon are its GSS-42 and GSS-48 clean-faced 42- and 48-in. outdoor fireplaces. In its fire pit line, Napoleon is adding linear burners for built-in installations. The company also offers outdoor torches that have proven popular.
|French Barrel Oak Cosmo square dining firetable.|
American Fyre Designs
The American Fyre Designs brand of outdoor fireplaces and fire pits continues to grow for R H Peterson Co., says Bob Dischner, senior vice president of Marketing. “This is our fifth year with this brand, and we’re seeing steady growth and are adding unique designs each year. Our outdoor fireplaces are an important category, but our largest category is fire pits and fire tables.”
The company’s Contempo line, featuring a contemporary look for fire bowls with rocks and glass-ember media, is very popular, says Dischner. R H Peterson Co. has had great success with its French Barrel Oak fire pits. New from the company is an expanded line of fire tables in that French Barrel Oak style. The company is expanding its contemporary outdoor fireplace offering in its Milan models featuring “simple” lines.
Outdoor furniture may not be every hearth dealer’s cup of tea, but they can take advantage of the growing Outdoor Room trend by adding outdoor fireplaces and fire pits to their offering. Besides added sales, Outdoor Room products tend to be counter-seasonal sales to that of normal hearth products. Wouldn’t it be nice to have something to sell in the slow summer season?
Outdoor fireplaces now represent 50% of sales for Mason-Lite Fireplaces, a manufacturer of modular masonry fireplaces, fire pits and pizza ovens, says Bill Harris, managing partner. Mason-Lite models are wood-burners, but gas logs can be installed.
“Sales of these outdoor models are up 15% for us,” says Harris. “We’re seeing a lot more commercial and hospitality installations, including more restaurants installing them as gas models.”
Mason-Lite is selling many custom models, but linear styling is still its best seller in customs ranging from 8- to 12-ft. The company is offering no new models for the coming year, but it is featuring its Pure Burn model, a wood-burner that uses a gas secondary burn rather than a catalytic combustor to be EPA qualified; it burns 70% cleaner than conventional wood-burners, according to Harris.
|Sedona square fire table.|
Real Flame Fireplaces
With a thick, flagstone top and tempered glass panels, the Sedona collection from Real Flame Fireplaces brings the look of a custom built-in fire pit to any outdoor living area. The square fire table has 65,000 Btus and is made of fiber-cast concrete. It also has push-button ignition, leveling feet, lava rock filler and a PVC cover. The outdoor area is completed with a matching tank cover that conceals an LP tank; the cover doubles as a side table. Call (800) 654-1704 or visit www.realflame.com.
The Outdoor GreatRoom Company
Fire tables are doing “very well” for The Outdoor GreatRoom Company, according to Joe Shimek, Eastern U.S. Sales manager. “This is a main category for us, and we have been concentrating more on fire tables. Sales of these products have now far exceeded sales of our outdoor fireplaces. This outdoor category is huge, and it will continue to grow.”
While offering both wood- and gas-burning models, gas products are more popular with consumers, since many consumers cannot burn wood.
“Millennials want fire tables,” says Shimek. “They cost less and have a smaller footprint than a fireplace. These consumers want more functionality from these products, plus they like their ease of use.”
New from The Outdoor GreatRoom Company are its Cedar Ridge fire tables with a grey colored, cast-wood appearance, and its lower-priced Brooks model. The company’s new Intrigue table top fire pit sits above an existing patio table, mounted in an existing umbrella hole with the LP bottle situated below the patio table.