Down to the Basics
By Bill Sendelback
Photos: 2014© Jeffery White Photography. www.jwhitephoto.com.
Some retailers count on fancy showrooms and complicated marketing to be successful. Others use common sense and, in the case of Tom LiCausi, Italian Old World values to grow and thrive in today’s hearth and grill markets. What started in 1984 with the purchase of a troubled hardware store has evolved into two successful Forest Glade Fireplaces stores in Windsor and Leamington, Ontario, now topping $3 million in annual sales.
“For me, doing business is very, very simple,” says LiCausi. “Treat people like you would like to be treated. It’s good old business common sense. If people need something, you give them what they want and treat them fairly and they will come back. It really works. I’m not very good with things like marketing analysis, but 30 years after we opened, people from those days still come in to see us.”
|L to R: Tom, son John and Susie LiCausi.|
LiCausi certainly never expected to be in the hearth business and had no previous experience for it. After coming to Canada from Italy in 1967, he entered the food industry, servicing restaurants and grocery stores. But while delivering to a client, the customer mentioned a local hardware store where the two partners were always fighting, and he suggested that Tom purchase the store. The idea appealed to LiCausi because, unlike food, hardware never spoils!
The partners apparently were tired of fighting each other, so in 1984 they agreed to sell. Forest Glade Hardware continued in business; it’s now owned by LiCausi. “Maybe it was me; maybe it was my wife, Susie. Or maybe it was just the timing, but in our first year we tripled the sales of the store,” he says.
“The first thing I did when we purchased the hardware store was to print and distribute leaflets throughout our community introducing myself as the new owner,” says LiCausi. “The response was phenomenal. Now people knew what our business was and who was running it. Just by talking to people, opening a dialogue, we had customers the next day coming in and saying, ‘Hello, Tom.’ It took us a few years because we were just a general hardware store. We opened a post office, tried Italian housewares, offered equipment rentals, did small equipment repairs, and we turned that hardware store into something really unique.”
Although the hardware store had a few wood stoves on its floor, store sales were almost totally in hardware. Although overall sales were up dramatically, the store struggled through the winter as just a hardware store. As luck would have it, LiCausi was introduced to Napoleon Fireplaces and added that company’s products to his hardware offerings.
Hearth products helped overall winter sales, and continued to grow each year until, in 2000, LiCausi gave up hardware; the Windsor store became Forest Glade Fireplaces and today 95 percent of its sales are in Napoleon products, in particular gas fireplaces.
|Keeping things simple, a mantra of Tom LiCausi, obviously extends to the simple, clean lines of his displays.|
In 1997 LiCausi purchased an existing hearth, barbecue and patio furniture dealer in Leamington, Ontario, a community just 30 miles southeast of Windsor. That larger store, now managed by Jess Trudell, offers a broader range of products and brand names. However, in both stores almost all products offered are Canadian made.
“Basically the only brands we handle are Canadian,” says LiCausi, “except I started importing pizza ovens from Italy.” The Heatilator and Telescope brands are other exceptions to the
Canadian-only directive – both brands are sold only in the Leamington store.
LiCausi’s wife Susie, a native Canadian, is co-owner, and their 33-year-old son, John, is vice president. After first gaining an engineering degree, and working with an automobile engineering firm, John, “Changed his mind three years ago,” LiCausi says, “and our plans for him are very, very big. Because he’s young, he will be the savior of our business.”
While wife Susie handles the office chores – “everything that has to be done but no one ever sees,” she says – John is the company’s computer guru, overseeing a computer system Forest Glade did not even have until he came on board three years ago. John is in the process of creating huge new showrooms for both stores.
“I’m not really an office person,” LiCausi says. “I’m more hands-on. If you give me a piece of paper, I’m going to start sweating before I even look at it. But if you give me something to fix, I feel like I’m in my glory.” He does much of the service and installation work for both stores, all of which is done with in-house staff.
|At present, the Windsor showroom is only 2,500 sq. ft., but a “huge” expansion is in the planning stage.|
Forest Glade Fireplaces, of course, has showrooms, but LiCausi “still doesn’t believe in all this fancy, imaginative display stuff. I’m kind of down to earth. We have nicer showrooms now because my son is involved, but we used to sell fireplaces without even a showroom. Even today, there is nothing fancy about our showrooms. We tell people, ‘This is a good product for you. If you don’t like it, we’ll take it back,’ and they trust us.”
Competition? What competition? “I don’t even want to know what they do,” says LiCausi. “I know what we want to do, and we do it. I really don’t care what competitors are doing.” LiCausi offers only higher-end fireplaces and grills, and when price becomes an issue, he simply says he cannot lower the price. “We have people who consider going elsewhere, but they always seem to come back.”
Advertising and promotion also seem simple to LiCausi. Ads in the local newspaper two or three times a week and promotions on a local radio station seem to do the trick. The local ice hockey team, the Spitfires, gets advertising from Forest Glade Fireplaces, accompanied by a few TV spots during the hockey season.
How much does LiCausi spend on advertising brings a simple reply. “Whatever we can get from our co-op funds,” he says. Due to son John’s youthful influence, Forest Glade Fireplaces is now on Facebook and Twitter in addition to its website.
LiCausi may be the poster child for keeping things simple to succeed, but times may be getting more complicated for him. He’s planning on a new, whopping 35,000 sq. ft. showroom in his Leamington store, increasing from the current 8,000 sq. ft. size, and adding a “huge” showroom to the Windsor operation, replacing the current 2,500 sq. ft. showroom.
“We have a lot on our plate that we would like to do,” says LiCausi, but the smart money is that he still keeps it simple.