Something Old, Some Things New
This year, as we pull down the old and tack up the new calendars in our offices and homes, we should do so with a smile and a sigh of relief. The economic downturn that began in December 2007 and altered our lives is finally over – after six long years.
Generally speaking, manufacturers fared much better than specialty retailers during this period. These larger companies had more room to maneuver, more areas in which to cut and more channels to pursue; they also were able to remain profitable at much reduced levels of revenue.
Patio and barbecue manufacturers did much better than their counterparts on the hearth side; their plunge into the abyss was short, if not sweet, and then, for many, sales soared to unprecedented levels.
For the much smaller hearth retail companies, their room for maneuvering was slight, if any. Once staff was pared to a minimum (meaning, at times, just Mom and Pop), inventory cut to near nothing and even a small marketing budget discontinued, there was nothing left to slice and nowhere else to go.
It was simply a matter of waiting out the days, months and years.
It wasn’t until September of 2013 that the perseverance of hearth dealers was rewarded. The long wait ended and customers returned to hearth shops in droves. As we write this, many (the majority?) hearth retailers are still trying to catch up with installations; some we know are backlogged over six weeks.
Hearth dealers are now just about out of the woods, and likely will remain so. There should be a sufficient amount of pent-up demand – for housing and remodeling – to vibrantly sustain that channel for a few years to come.
Hearth-only retailers may have learned a lesson – something about putting every egg in one basket. Many now understand that a complementary product line such as patio furniture and/or barbecues is needed – for stability and protection.
NEW: A new word has entered the patio industry – distributor. There has never been a distributor in the patio business, at least to our knowledge. Now there is. Mike Rupp of Empire Distributing in New York has signed a deal with Agio to distribute that company’s patio furniture and firepits.
NEW: Hearth dealers are finally beginning to embrace the industry’s largest selling product – electric fireplaces.
OLD: It seems the Maya were using clay balls a thousand years ago to increase and prolong the heat for their cooking fires.
The barbecue business should reap the benefits of increased business at hearth shops, for hearth shops are by far the dominant channel for specialty barbecue sales.
Specialty patio dealers are in a very different position.
Like their hearth cousins, they suffered mightily over the past six years. But they face competition that is much bigger, much stronger and growing much faster than anything faced by their peers in the hearth industry.
Most patio manufacturers are now firmly entrenched in selling through the hospitality channel, interior furniture stores, designers, catalogs and their websites, and Internet sellers. Don’t look for that to change.
The challenge for patio dealers is great, but not insurmountable. Although every business is different, patio dealers should look hard at selling all products for the Outdoor Room. That’s a trend with legs that can remove you from the gun sights of the competition while increasing revenues.
Also, embrace events and promotions. Re-read the article entitled “Drive Traffic to Your Store,” (Hearth & Home, December 2013), then act on it.
NOTE: Nominations for the Vesta Award – Hearth Retailer of the Year and Outdoor Room Retailer of the Year are now being accepted. Go to hearthandhome.com.
Entries for the Vesta Awards – Honoring Product Innovation in Design and/or Technology are also being accepted. Go to hearthandhome.com.