Slip Sliding Away
For decades, the incidence of fireplaces in new construction (both tract and custom homes) hovered around 60%. Six out of every 10 new homes were equipped with a fireplace. The majority of those fireplaces were the cheapest products being manufactured.
That 60% number remained fairly steady for years, but the Great Recession and resulting downturn changed the game. By 2017 – the most recent numbers available – the incidence of fireplaces in new construction had dropped to 45% (that’s a 25% drop from the steady 60% number of years past).
The company with the most to lose from that decline is certainly Hearth & Home Technologies. With its brands of Heatilator, Majestic, Monessen, and Heat & Glo, the company has, by far, the largest share of the new home construction market for fireplaces.
To confront the situation, it recently created a small committee, headed by Roger Oxford, to study the problem and find a solution. His title is now senior vice president – Strategic Growth – New Home Market. Oxford has worked new construction for decades, and if there is a solution, he is most likely the one who will find it.
The rapidly increasing cost of a new home certainly is a factor. Most budgets are being stretched these days when younger generations go shopping for a home.
Another factor could be that the chickens are coming home to roost. As Nick Bauer, president of Empire Comfort Systems, put it: “For years and years this industry sold its cheapest products to builders of new homes. Now, those cheap ‘builder boxes’ are what tens of millions of people think of when a fireplace is mentioned.”
Round it off at an average of 1 million builder boxes a year, and that’s 46 million homes from 1973 (when the new hearth industry began) to today. That’s not counting all the family members in that home, all the relatives who visited, the neighbors, etc. As an industry, we’ve done a great job at putting our worse foot forward.
Make no mistake, the trend we’re discussing here will affect everyone in the hearth industry. (See “Heart Attack?”.)
A Life of Design
The year was 1989; we were at the Casual Market for the first time. When we entered the Brown Jordan showroom, we saw collections that were just flat-out beautiful – unique and gorgeous. It was our first encounter with the work of Richard Frinier. From that day forward, the Brown Jordan showroom, and the artistry of Richard Frinier, became our first stop at market – every year, and for a few decades.
There was something intangible about Frinier’s stunning collections. Certainly they were pleasurable and exciting to view. But there also was thought, intelligence, and attention to detail that seeped through his designs.
Nowhere is that seen more readily than in the collections he created for Century Furniture. Based on travels he experienced, Frinier used memories of places and cultures to create outdoor furniture designed to stimulate similar emotions in those who eventually would place those products in their backyard.
Through the years, Frinier has also partnered with Dedon, Sunbrella, and most notably, Brown Jordan. It was with Brown Jordan that he created his first outdoor product – Quantum – in 1982. Thirty-six years later it’s still in production. Impressive. It’s time for a retrospective. (See “A Life of Design”.)