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Hearth & Home November 2018

Working Together in Baton Rouge

By Tom Lassiter

PhotoS: ©2018 Chad Chenier Photography. www.ChadChenierPhotography.com.

A photo album tracks the 25-year progress of Casual Creations and the Bucy family.

The photo album stays behind the counter at Casual Creations, tucked on a shelf alongside the current catalogs from casual furniture manufacturers. Some of the colors in the photographs, now almost 25 years old, have faded. But the memories they prompt are vivid.

A snapshot of an umbrella display causes Rick Bucy to chuckle. “That was our first umbrella rack,” he says, shaking his head. “Five umbrellas.”

Another photo shows boxes of gas logs, maybe enough to almost cover the bed of a pickup truck. It was the first shipment of hearth products destined for Casual Creations.

“I told my dad, ‘How are we going to install that many logs?’ Yesterday, I ordered 100 sets from Blount. Early buy.”

A picture of a stack of replacement cushions reminds Bucy of his duties from his younger days. “My dad used to make me rotate these cushions every two weeks. What was on the bottom had to go to the top,” he says.

The photo album chronicles the evolution of Casual Creations from its earliest days to a recent interior remodeling project that included new ceilings, new flooring, and slatwall paneling. Every available square inch of space, vertical and horizontal, is used to display outdoor living products at Casual Creations.

Wind chimes hang from the ceiling just behind the storefront windows. Grills line the left side of the store, accompanied by a potpourri of sauces, rubs, and accessories. Built-in hearth displays provide a backdrop for the main showroom’s casual furniture. It’s old-school merchandising – a little of this, a lot of that, and the occasional what-the-heck-is-that-doing-here?

A rack near the counter holds colorful birdbath basins. His wife, Beth, and his mother, Nancy, outvoted Bucy and introduced the birdbaths to the store. Tucked between the towering rack of products bearing the colors of LSU and the New Orleans Saints, and another displaying YETI gear, the birdbaths weren’t moving fast enough to suit Bucy. He thought they were a waste of space. Debate ensued.

“The weekend we were having this big argument, we must have sold six or seven of the things,” he says, a hint of resignation in his voice.

The birdbaths stayed.

That’s the way things work in a close-knit, (mostly) family-owned business. There’s give, there’s take, and everyone acknowledges that the customers’ votes count most.

Colorful birdbath basins from Evergreen.

Pillow Talk

Take, for instance, throw pillows.

“We’ve got a ridiculous amount of ’em,” Bucy says. “Everybody has been on me to quit buying throw pillows. They say, ‘Don’t buy any more of ’em!’ It’s just an on-going battle with space.”

Throw pillows from Elaine Smith, Hatteras Hammocks, and Peak Season accent just about every seat. Bucy is considering adding the new Wendy Jane line, from Gabby.

Throw pillows threaten to spill from the cushion room and flow throughout the store like molten lava from a volcano.

Why so many throw pillows, with even more in the off-site warehouse waiting their turn? They sell.

“I can’t get over it,” Bucy says. “It’s not uncommon for a woman to come in here and spend $500 to $1,000 just on throw pillows.”

The store’s Sunbrella kiosk stands in the cushion room, which doubles as a get-away for staff to meet with customers and spread out swatch books and catalogs to work on custom orders.

The vast assortment of ready-made throw pillows wasn’t satisfactory for a recent customer, a designer. “He bought $3,000 worth of fabric just to sew his own throw pillows,” Bucy says. “We sell a lot of fabric for throws.”

Bucy has a physique of a former collegiate lineman and the booming voice of a football coach. Don’t let that throw you. He can hold his own talking color, design, style, and fabric.

“I don’t have a college degree in it,” he explains, “but we’ve got a good idea of what people are looking for.”

He admits that the choices available at Casual Creations, as at most casual furniture stores, can be overwhelming to customers. That’s why he and his colleagues tend to listen more than talk.

They’ll visit a customer’s home to get a sense of the existing décor and the Outdoor Room possibilities. They guide customers through the decision process with informed suggestions. It’s a process of elimination to find the fabrics and frames and colors that are just right.

“We start weeding through all of it to narrow it down for them,” he says.

“You say you want a hammock?”

Bucy looks over the display of replacement cushions, stuffed on shelves covering an entire wall. Nearby is “the largest selection of hammocks in the Baton Rouge area.” In the main showroom, under the recently raised ceiling, is a towering Treasure Garden cantilever umbrella. Market umbrellas, ribs and canopies folded, stand in a rack like soldiers at attention.

Casual furniture, mostly cast aluminum and all-weather wicker, spreads over a covered deck off the rear of the store. Other sets greet customers entering the main showroom. Altogether, Casual Creations has about 5,000 sq. ft. of retail space.

“We stock enough furniture to fill a 20,000 sq. ft. showroom,” Bucy says. Much of it is in an off-site warehouse, waiting to replenish sets sold off the floor, or it goes directly to purchasers’ homes.

Bucy’s wife, Beth, says he always seems to know exactly what’s on hand, right down to individual sets, colors, and styles.

“I don’t know how he does it,” she marvels, “but somehow he does.”

A couple recently drove from New Orleans, more than an hour to the southeast, to shop Casual Creations for a specific brand of high-end furniture. When it turned out to be more expensive than anticipated, Bucy suggested another line’s group. They loved the photos in the manufacturer’s catalog. But the product wasn’t on the floor or in the warehouse. They waffled. If the couple just could see the furniture, touch and sit in it, the sale was almost certain.

Bucy picked up the phone and called clients who had that very set in their Outdoor Room. Could he bring some prospects over to see their furniture? Of course, they said. Result: done deal.

That sale, Brown Jordan, totaled about $15,000.

Bucy showed his gratitude to the owners of that Outdoor Room by returning and cleaning all of their casual furniture.

“It’s insane, the number of out-of-town people that we get,” Beth Bucy says.

Customers find their way to Casual Creations from all over Louisiana, and some travel great distances for unusual reasons.

A customer recently made the trek from Shreveport, about 250 miles to the northwest, with a load of casual furniture to be reconditioned. Making well-loved, well-worn furniture like new again is something else that sets Casual Creations apart.

“I’m always joking with people that I’m not a very good salesman,” Bucy says. “Because I’m supposed to be selling you new furniture, not redoing your old furniture.”

Back Row (L to R): Rick and Beth Bucy; Danny Brown, partner. Front: Nancy Bucy.

Casual Creations has repaired furniture since it opened as a PVC-only store in 1994. Rick’s late father, Bob Bucy, started the business with his wife, Nancy, after retiring from commercial and contract furniture sales. Nancy Bucy, now 82, still comes to the office every day.

The refurbishment business grew in importance in 2016. A flood caused by a tropical depression struck Baton Rouge and inundated much of the area around Casual Creations.

The flood put a damper on the local economy for a good while after the waters receded. Sales of new furniture slowed. The opportunity to save money by replacing cushions and slings, and give their furniture a fresh powder-coat finish, appealed to lots of homeowners. Casual Creations uses a nearby paint shop to refurbish frames and performs other reconditioning operations in-house.

The flood also ruined fireplaces, gas logs, and fireboxes, leading to a slew of hearth-related repair and replace projects. “That helped keep us going,” Bucy recalls.

Refurbishment remains a popular option.

A customer this spring was interested in replacing a set of Homecrest at least two decades old. An updated set came to about $3,200. Bucy showed the customer another option, also American-made, by Woodard. It was slightly less. But the customer still found the prices off-putting.

Bucy told the fellow, “I can’t, in good conscious, let you leave without telling you that I can strip the furniture, paint it, and put new slings on it for under $2,000. And it’s going to be like new.”

The customer chose the latter.

Deep-seating chairs are positioned for customers right in front of a roaring fire.

In the Pink

A hot pink market umbrella shades a cast-aluminum table and chairs positioned near the street in front of Casual Creations. That umbrella also appears in the company’s logo. Even people who don’t know the name of the store, Bucy says, know exactly where that pink umbrella is.

The pink umbrella goes back to the store’s earliest days. Rick’s father had seen a similar umbrella on a trip to Florida and liked how it stood out. The umbrella’s status as a local landmark is one thing that keeps Casual Creations rooted in its original location, Bucy says. The other is the high cost of real estate. An acre of land in the same general vicinity commands at least $1 million. So Casual Creations makes the most of its current location.

Family members own the business, along with Dan Brown, a childhood friend of Rick’s who joined the company in 2000. He became a junior partner in 2007.

Andy Hamilton, a sales rep and president of Dallas-based Dennis Sales Associates, has called on Casual Creations since 1998. His lines include Ebel, Hanamint, Treasure Garden, Elaine Smith, and Breezesta.

He describes Casual Creations as “a quintessential Mom-and-Pop store. They can do anything and everything. They have that eye for design. They even know lines they don’t sell.”

The store’s emphasis on customer service, Hamilton says, enables the owners to make the most of their relatively modest space. The volume generated, he says, is “amazing. Every year, I look at what my dealers do. In dollars per square foot, they’re always there at the top.”

Casual Creations carries 10 brands of grills.

Show Business

Everyone knows the casual furniture industry is weather dependent. Bucy notes that, in Baton Rouge, the casual furniture business is also mood dependent.

Baton Rouge, home of Louisiana State University, is a football town through and through. When the LSU Tigers are doing well, Bucy says, business seems to follow the trend. Optimism abounds and sales keep the staff of seven at Casual Creations jumping.

The fortunes of the New Orleans Saints also have an affect on sales. After football season comes Mardis Gras, a perfectly timed, mood-elevating prelude to spring.

“We’re so party-oriented,” he explains. “If people aren’t happy, they’re not spending money. Anytime we have something out of the ordinary, or something that’s not good for the area, it affects (sales).”

The shop has felt the effects of other trends, altered its strategy, and capitalized on fresh marketing opportunities.

Casual Creations once regularly took part in home and garden trade shows. But attendance in recent years waned, Bucy says, and the shows didn’t generate the on-going buzz and after-show sales that they once did. The shows “turned into a waste of time and energy.”

In 2017, Bucy sold casual furniture to a promoter who runs the Louisiana Sportsman show, a “deer, duck, and fishing expo.” He convinced Bucy to give the spring show, held in nearby Gonzales in March, a try.

“We were caught completely off-guard” by the crowds, Bucy says. Upwards of 50,000 people attended over the show’s four-day run, “and there was nothing like us there. I was just completely blown away.”

Hunting and fishing are a way of life in Louisiana. A grill (or two or three) is as necessary as a bass boat and duck decoys.

Bucy displayed furniture, four fire pits, sauces, and rubs. He cooked on a Holland grill, a Memphis grill, and two Big Green Eggs. Over the course of the show he cooked five turkeys, four Boston butts, six racks of ribs, 36 bratwursts, numerous chickens, and countless wings.

The aromas coming off the grills guaranteed a constant stream of people entering the booth to sample the fare and see something besides fishing tackle and camouflage gear.

Women fish and hunt, too, and some simply accompanied their sportsman mates to the show. Casual Creations’ unique product lines stood out, attracting TV cameras to the smoking grills and burning fire pits.

“It was really exciting and refreshing, talking to people,” Bucy says. “We ran out of business cards. We ran out of everything.”

Show sales included Breezesta furniture, one of the demo Eggs (to a show vendor from Dallas), and some $1,500 in seasonings. Spot sales paid for the cost of the exhibition, Bucy says, and he expects residual sales to continue for months.

“Since the show, we’ve had people come in and buy Breezesta,” he says. “I know more are going to be coming.”

After that came fall football season, and Bucy and crew were rooting for the LSU Tigers to win and keep people in a buying mood.

Casual Creations, which marks its 24th anniversary in November, will be ready for anything and will take things as they come.

As they say in Cajun country, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!

SNAPSHOT

Store Name: Casual Creations Patio & Fireplace

Location: 13203 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70810

Owners: Nancy Bucy, Richard Bucy, and Dan Brown

Key Executives: (see above)

Year Established: 1994

Web Site: www.casualcreationsbr.com

E-mail: info@casualcreationsbr.com

Phone: (225) 766-0101

Sq. Ft. of Building Space:
Showroom: 4,000
Warehouse: 5,000
Outside Area: 1,000

Number of Stores: 1

Number of Employees:
Full-time: 7
Part-time: 1

Gross Annual Sales: $1.5 million

Lines Carried:
Patio: Summer Classics, Hanamint, Ebel, Breezesta, Treasure Garden, Woodard, Brown Jordan, Tropitone, Homecrest, Gloster, Sunvilla, Peak Season, Indosoul, Sunbrella, Outdura, Ratana, Hatteras, Pawleys Island, Telescope, Elaine Smith
Barbecue Big Green Egg, Holland, MHP, Delta Heat, Twin Eagles, Del Sol, Napoleon, Fire Magic, American Outdoor Grill, Memphis Grills
Hearth: Stoll, Golden Blount, Dagan, Uniflame, RH Peterson Co, Rasmussen, Pilgrim, Napoleon, Astria, Superior, Hearth Products Controls

Advertising % of Gross Revenues: 4%

Advertising: Social Media 2%; Radio 5%; Newspapers .5 %; Magazines 1.5%; TV 1%; Direct Mail 0%; Print 1%

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