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Comments from Specialty Retailers
Regarding April Retail Sales

Monday, May 18, 2020

In early May, Hearth & Home faxed a survey to 2,500 specialty retailers of hearth, patio, and barbecue products, asking them to compare April 2020 sales to April 2019. The accompanying charts and selected comments are from the 234 useable returns.

Northeast

Connecticut: (Hearth, BBQ) “We never shut down completely and, as a result, our company continued to do business while many others didn't. We answered the phones five days a week and wrote sales and future service for when the ban is lifted. I expect that our company will remain busy leading up to and continuing through our next busy season in the fall and winter.“As far as I know, our industry has always been considered essential to our customers, our business, and our families, I was not going to watch that heritage get wiped out by staying home and closing our doors, even temporarily.”

Connecticut: (Hearth) “Closed for month of April.”

Maine: (Hearth, Patio, BBQ) “Showroom is closed and only selling essential products.”

New Jersey: (Patio, BBQ, Spas) “May is going to be huge.”

New Jersey: (Hearth, BBQ) “Our sale declines can be summed up in one word – coronavirus.”

New Jersey: (Hearth, BBQ) “Showrooms closed!”

New York: (Hearth, BBQ) “No foot traffic as the showroom was closed, except by appointment. Did very little service and some LP tank filling.”

New York: (Hearth, Spas) “Hopefully this virus will move people to more home improvement projects so that they are more comfortable at home when the next pandemic comes around. I personally think it is terribly overblown and I do not like the government telling me I have to close my business, stop my construction, wear masks and gloves, and stay home in my small, rural county with no COVID-19 cases. Eight weeks with absolutely no income, but still overhead costs to pay. I wonder how many of us will go belly up after it all washes out?”

Pennsylvania: (Hearth, Patio, BBQ) “In the midst of chaos there is opportunity.” – Sun Tzu.
“In the span of less than 20 years our country has gone through 9-11, 2008 Recession, and now Pandemic 2020. Each time our company has reinvested in the future, this time is no different. During the closure of our business, we have maintained our responsibilities and obligations to our employees, customers, and business partners. We also took the opportunity for maintenance and renovation projects on our facility.
“Lastly, we are continuing the planning of our capital project, including a new warehouse and renovation of our existing building, expanding more showroom and office space.
“Control your own destiny or someone else will.” – Jack Welch.

Pennsylvania: (Hearth) “Our stores were closed for the entire month. We were able to finish a few jobs we had started. Even with the loss of half of March and all of April our fiscal year (July 1, 2019 to April 30, 2020) is only down 5% from last year, which was our best year ever.”

Pennsylvania: (Hearth, Patio, BBQ) “We were closed all of April.”

Pennsylvania: (Patio) “Forced to close.”

Pennsylvania: (Patio, Spas) “The COVID-19 has taken its toll on all businesses, not only ours in patio and pools. It cost a lot and never will be able to catch up in sales. About six weeks and then it will be time to have sales discounts. Fall market may be very slim this year. Not good, how do we pay our manufacturers - hope they can work with us. Thanks and keep movin...”

Pennsylvania: (Hearth) “Business climate was good prior to pandemic stay-at-home orders. We have re-opened but lost staff to Big Box stores and Amazon warehouse that were hiring with bonuses. Plus, buyer behavior has been shifted toward online which does not favor the hearth industries. I have learned from selling online that consumers need hearth showrooms with hearth experts to make informed choices. The flame and details do matter.”

South

Alabama: (Hearth, Patio, BBQ) “Due to the coronavirus, we were forced to be closed from March 20 until May 1, 2020.”

Arkansas: (Hearth) “Just set a new monthly retail sales record this month: lowest sales in 24 years of business! Pretty sad month - four customers and $40 in total sales over five weeks of business. Afraid to think about May business.”

Florida: (BBQ) “People are sheltering at home and need new grills.”

Florida: (Patio) “Closed (like all other retail stores) the entire month of April. We were able to move our poly inventory (C.R. Plastic Products and Berlin Gardens) to a large landscape nursery that was deemed necessary.  We gained several thousand feet of display area and this worked well.
“We posted Live Facebook videos three times a week; offered Happy Store gift bags with assorted merchandise according to hobbies (beer, wine, cats, dogs, flowers, birds, brands, etc.) $35-$125 with local 'no touch front door delivery' for $5. Shipped the bags as well. Our website became an e-commerce site. Ran CRP at an additional percentage off. Did not have to furlough any employees.”

Georgia: (Patio) “We do sell playsets at our outdoor furniture store and our sales have been astronomical with playsets. We are out of stock and nationwide stores are also out of stock.”

Louisiana: (Hearth) “The numbers in the survey do not reflect our service business. When I factor that in, our April is only down 12% and our YTD is only down 3.7%. While our showroom is closed, it has hurt our hearth product sales; however, our service business is gladly pulling the weight. The service I’m referring to are installations, chimney sweeping, and repair. In talking with customers during these routine services we have gladly picked up other masonry work, power washing, and house painting. We are grateful for this work.”

North Carolina: (Hearth, Patio) “Closed March 26 to May 8 by government order.”

Oklahoma: (Hearth, BBQ) “April was surprisingly better, with shortened hours and all due to the pandemic. But since January and February were so soft, April felt like a rally in sales. March was slowed by weather, then by pandemic. We are easing out of the hearth business and mostly do custom stuff so may do nothing at all then sell some expensive fire pit or Eiklor custom set.”
 
Oklahoma: (Hearth) “Started slow and then exploded - best April ever - beat last year’s totals three-fold.”

Texas: (Hearth, Patio, BBQ) “Gas grills and ceramics slow. Pellet grills are selling.”

Virginia: (Hearth, BBQ) “Thanks COVID-19 for everything! God bless everyone! The only thing helping me is my builder sales! My regular customers are doing very little.”

Virginia: (Hearth) “Except for some new home construction, everything came to a screeching halt sales-wise. Some service work. But we are being very careful entering homes due to the pandemic. Have filed for a small business loan. But, as yet have not received a yea or nay on it. Here in Virginia, the governor sees hope for loosening things up a bit by mid-May. That’s if the number of positive cases of the flu and the death rate level out. Although I'm saddened by what's been happening, I'm not angry about it. Being a   volunteer medical first responder, I understand the situation completely.”

Virginia: (Hearth) “We were having a banner year until the virus hit. We closed the shop down on March 20 and employees went on unemployment. We didn't because we applied for PPP loan; that never came through. We tried to file for unemployment, their system has a glitch and that won't go through. The $1,200 stimulus hasn't come through. We had money in the bank before the virus hit, but that started getting scary last week. We came up with a promotion, contacted some customers that had been on the fence, told them we're having a sale and we warned them (after confirming in talks with manufacturers) that since fireplaces use components made worldwide, and they're already having problems getting these components to build out fireplaces, that getting any fireplace once fall comes may not be possible.”
“We explained, this is like being told on January 15 that you should go buy a lot of extra toilet paper and that if they've sat there looking at a fireplace that needs a re-do then they really must decide to act pretty quickly. In the last four days of the month we sold nearly as much as we did in all of April last year. Still hoping we'll get that PPP check, but feeling pretty confident that we can keep the business going. I expect there will be a fair number of fireplace stores with owners deciding to retire now, or being forced to close down based on the looming depression. We see a good possibility of the virus coming back in the fall/winter and more shutdowns happening, so we're treating this as the only time we may really have to make our money for the year. Beyond that, my powers of prediction are hazy.”

Midwest

Illinois: (Patio) “We have been closed since March 13. We continue to follow-up on leads and quotes. I have to say we are doing better than I would have predicted going into April. We have closed many of those quotes going back to the fall. We have really bumped up our Social Media and have garnered lots of leads from that. Fortunately, we have been able to convert a good amount of those. Amazing how our staff has been able to pivot into doing FaceTime and Virtual Showroom tours. We don't open the state until June so we will be continuing what we have done for the last couple months now. Or is it six months? It's all a blur.”

Indiana: (Patio, BBQ, Spas) “I'm sure people are in the process of starting the staycation for this year because of the COVID-19 virus, and this has started the buying process it appears in the spa and pool side of our business. Our stores have been closed to regular foot traffic but we are scheduling appointments for the big ticket items and offering curbside service for chemicals, pellets, charcoal, and water samples. That is going much better than we had anticipated now that it’s warm. We also offer delivery on all purchases over $250 in our normal delivery range, and that is also doing well.”

Indiana:  (Hearth) “We were closed the month of April because of COVID-19. Sales were by phone call and previous estimates, and store showing by appointment only. Hearth sales were terrible in March but up actually 10% in April.”

Iowa: (Hearth, BBQ) “Sales were clearly down in April despite the great difference from 2019. This can be attributed to our company using a cash basis and completing, thus receiving payment for, jobs begun in February and March 2020.”

Michigan: (Hearth) “We have been closed due to COVID-19 pandemic, with myself doing phone messages and emails. We do have a lot of installs, service, and home reviews to do once we can open. Waiting on our Michigan governor’s orders.”

Michigan: (Hearth, BBQ) “The business climate is just fine. Most of my customers are ready to buy. But it's the total over-reach of the government that has arbitrarily shut down small businesses, picking winners and losers. The saddest part is that my children and grandchildren will be paying for this for the rest of their lives.”

Michigan: (Patio, BBQ) “Our business was not allowed to open as we are considered non-essential in accordance with our governor's shelter-at-home order. We plan to offer curbside-only business May 1.

Missouri: (Hearth, BBQ) “It has been a year like none other. Hearth products have been soft all year with the mild winter, then followed by the dreaded COVID-19. Late winter and early spring produced a lot of wet, soggy weekends that are notoriously bad for barbecue sales. However, April has had some good weather yielding some excellent sales in barbecue grills. Many people are choosing to cook at home outside. We are optimistic for the future as long as America can get back to work soon.”

Ohio: (Hearth, BBQ) “Being able to qualify as essential by our state helped us remain open. Our staff was offered unemployment but all chose to keep working. This allowed us to keep our stores open and go after whatever sales and service we could. I couldn't be more proud of our staff. We're really hoping we can get the economy in full recovery mode before the heating season hits.”

Ohio: (Hearth, Patio, BBQ) “April sales have been booming! Many clients and homeowners are working non-stop around the house and on job sites. People have had so much time at home this month that it has given them a chance to complete and or start that home project.”

Wisconsin: (Hearth) “New construction sales continue to be strong. Surprising number of inquiries about retail sales. Just began soft opening by appointment with limited staff on hand.”

Wisconsin: (Hearth, BBQ) “For the month of April our store was closed."

Wisconsin: (Hearth, Patio, BBQ) “What can I say! COVID-19! Running a sale right now that seems to be bringing people in. Good sign. Lot of face masks, but good spirits overall. We’re open, come on in!”

Wisconsin: (Hearth, BBQ) “January and February sales were crazy. The COVID-19 closed our showroom in mid-March, and we’re still under orders not to open. There’s also a stay-at-home order, but this will end and things will get better.”

Wisconsin: (Hearth, BBQ) “Surprisingly busy in April. Because we're the pellet stove store, we're considered essential. At our four Wisconsin locations we have plexiglass barriers at counters and we sanitize constantly; our customers seemed to appreciate our efforts.”

West

California: (Hearth, BBQ, Spas) “It’s a strange time for all in the industry. We are lucky that our crews can still work and we are doing repairs. Taking caution in asking the customers if they have left the area, or if they are snowbirds, how long they have been in the area. Our doors are open but only getting around 10 people a day coming into the store. Not sure how long we can keep doing this, but we are getting up every day and working through it.”

California: (Hearth, Spas) “For the moment we live in a ghost town! Our staff has gone from 10 to two employees and we are only open on a limited basis. So far we have not been forced to shut down. Sales are off at least 60% and we consider ourselves lucky/blessed. Fight your way through it; it will pass!”

California: (Hearth, Patio, BBQ) “We are open by appointment only and doing curb-side pick-up.”

California: (Hearth, Patio, BBQ, Spas) “April invoiced activity was not as bad as we thought it would be; it was only down 11% total. While invoiced activity was down, orders were actually up 25% with spas being up 500%.”

California: (Hearth, Spas) “Closed due to COVID-19.

Oregon: (Patio) “The fear-mongering by the media and politicians did more harm than the virus.”

Colorado: (Hearth) “Showroom is closed but we are doing very well working with customers via phone, text, and email.”

Washington: (Hearth, BBQ) “Hearth is down and barbecue is up, which is to be expected with COVID-19 and customers in lock down.”

Canada

British Columbia: (Hearth, BBQ) “COVID-19 has forced us to close our showroom. We are here taking calls but customers are not calling our store very much for hearth or barbecue. They are either shopping online or not spending at all. We hope this doesn’t spill into the fall heating season.”

British Columbia: (Hearth) “Pellet fuel sales are steady, but little interest in other hearth products.”

British Columbia: (Hearth, BBQ) “Sales are holding steady.”

Ontario: (BBQ) “As a result of COVID-19 we have scraped our original advertising and revised everything to promote the following: Dining in is now IN, and dinner choices are endless on a barbecue. Sales presentations are now by appointment only and every unit is set up, washed, and delivered.”

Ontario: (Hearth) “Our store has been closed since March 18, 2020. Hopefully we will open by May 19, 2020. We are in eastern Ontario Canada.”

Ontario: (Hearth, BBQ) “COVID-19 has all four of my showrooms closed and only essential projects continue. Curbside and delivery of barbecue is helping but not like a regular spring.”

Ontario: (Hearth, Patio, BBQ) “Service and pellet fuel sales (essential services) were nearly even, though a little scary to do. Appliance sales dropped due to the virus shutdown order here. Good thing this happened in March/April not October/November, that would have been a disaster! Seems as though if this industry doesn't kick your butt Mother Nature will, get used to it and roll with the punches, we've seen worse.”

Ontario: (Patio, BBQ) “We need to get better at online sales!”

Quebec: (Hearth, Patio) “Patio sales are down all due to closing for COVID-19.”


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.

Send it to:
Editor, Richard Wright
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