Getting on Board
By Bill Sendelback
Electric fireplaces are still relatively new to the hearth industry. Barely a decade old, they have grown rapidly into the largest hearth category by unit sales, far exceeding sales of every other hearth product. Unfortunately, most of those sales have not gone through specialty hearth dealers; a number of manufacturers have found fertile sales ground in other markets, such as furniture stores, commercial developments, mass merchants and even direct to consumers.
A good deal of the responsibility (blame?) for such a hot category going through channels other than hearth dealers lies with the specialty dealers themselves. They simply weren’t interested.
Now that may be changing.
Manufacturers report that hearth dealers are showing more interest in electric models as sales increase and the products evolve with more features, more sizes and better flame technology.
The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) and most manufacturers estimate the total 2012 sales of electric models in the U.S. at 1,500,000, down three percent from the 2011 estimate of 1,550,000. But that 2011 estimate was up 11 percent from 2010.
The HPBA’s actual reported numbers don’t include shipment numbers from the industry’s largest electric fireplace manufacturers, and indicate only a small fraction of the estimated total. But HPBA’s figures do show a 56 percent increase through the first half of 2013, indicating the growing interest among hearth dealers.
More than half – 55 percent – of U.S. hearth dealers sell electric fireplaces, according to Hearth & Home’s latest retailer survey. Electric fireplaces fare better in Canada, where 62 percent of hearth dealers carry the product.
Electric stoves (as opposed to fireplaces), however, have not gained much traction with North American hearth dealers; only 30 percent and 42 percent of U.S. and Canadian hearth dealers, respectively, are selling that product.
“Our sales about tripled last year as we were getting known,” says Brian Richards, president of Amantii. “We made a decision not to go the Big Box route. We’ve seen a huge shift in the last year as hearth dealers are more open to the category as they get more consumer calls for it.”
Richards sees a growing market in rental homes, including ski lodges as well as hotels, restaurants and even auto dealerships.
“We’ve seen an incredible uptick in interest and sales in our Simplifire brand,” says Brian Johnson, electric business manager for Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT). “We introduced a new line this year, and we’ve already outsold our forecast, so we’ll be adding new products next year, too.”
HHT’s main channels for its electric products are hearth dealers and homebuilders, but it sees major sales potential in furniture stores, particularly with media center electric fireplaces.
“There is increased consumer awareness,” says Johnson. “It’s a good market that is getting better.”
“While the Canadian market is OK, the U.S. market is coming back strong,” says David Lackey, vice president of Marketing and Business Development for Dimplex North America. “Wall-mounted models are doing very well. In fact, we’re sold out, even our new 74 in. model, but media units are doing well, too.”
Dimplex is hoping its new Opti-V model, to be introduced at the HPBA show, will appeal to hearth dealers with its unique, advanced technology; it’s already a hit in the UK. “This is a relatively expensive model,” says Lackey, “above $2,000 retail and meant to be installed and hard-wired by dealers.”
“Contemporary linear models continue to be the strongest trend,” says Tom Foy, general manager of Modern Flames. “With hearth dealers, wall- mount models with LED lighting and changeable ember beds lead the way. Builders and commercial customers want a simpler fireplace look with no heat and no complications.”
Unit sizes are also growing, according to Foy. “Last year it was the 60 in. models, but this year 100 in. units are stepping out.”
“The fire needs to be realistic,” stresses Ross Johnson, vice president of Marketing for The Outdoor GreatRoom Company. “Today’s generation of consumers is more receptive to a virtual fire. We see electrics carving out a niche from gas fireplaces since they don’t require venting or a gas line.”
Echoing Foy’s comments on larger sizes, Johnson says his best-selling model is 94 in. wide. “We have sold more than we thought,” he says, “and those sales include residential as well as hotels and office lobbies.”
“Electric fireplaces are a market that is continuing to grow and is hardly tapped,” says Tom Foy. “With new technology, we’re creating new consumer interest, and that is technology you won’t find in the cheap stuff.”
The BI-50 Deep and BI-72 Deep have 12-in. depth and Dual Flame technology for a life-like flame. The flame color is easily switched from yellow to blue to purple. The models have true clean-face installation allowing for drywall or finished material built into the glass. The fireplaces are perfect for locations where running costly gas lines and venting are impossible.
From Amantii Electric Fireplaces; visit www.amantii.com.
Simple Fire Solution
For a simple way to enjoy a beautiful fire, hang the SimpliFire Wall-Mount Electric Fireplace then plug it in and experience warmth and ambiance. Available in 36-, 58-, 70- and 94-in. sizes, the fireplaces are 100 percent efficient, have adjustable heat and standard multi-colored LED backlighting and multiple intensity adjustments.
From Hearth & Home Technologies; visit www.myhht.com.
Stylish and Modern Mantel
The stylish, contemporary media mantel has an integrated sound bar from four main speakers, two tweeters, rear facing passive bass ports and a powered subwoofer concealed by a removable speaker grill. A built-in docking station plays audio and video to TV while also charging any Apple mobile device. High gloss white finish, smoked tempered glass doors and stainless-steel legs surround a 26-in. Class Flame Electric Fireplace Insert with realistic flame effect.
From Twin-Star International; visit www.twinstarhome.com.
Warm to Look At, Cool to Touch
The GE-94 fireplace is 94-in. long and has 13 different backlighting options. It is warm to view but cool to touch and offers four levels of flame intensity. Room warmth comes from the hi/lo heater. Features include a long-lasting LED flame, 5,100 Btu heater with two settings for ambient heat to the room, and wall-mount design that can be flush or recessed.
From The Outdoor GreatRoom Company; visit www.outdoorrooms.com.
Incredible Flame Effect
Using a unique combination of real fire footage displayed on a high definition LCD screen, and an illusory technique, the Opti-V PGF-10 renders scenes of flickering flames dancing on a fuel bed with a three dimensional depth of field. An added audio element offers the sound of crackling logs. Electric consumption is extremely low; remote control offers sound effect volume adjustment. An optional stainless-steel effect frame is available.
From Dimplex; visit www.dimplex.com.
Slim and Convenient
The Electric Slimline Series offers the convenience of simply hanging, plugging and enjoying a warming fire. The fireplace has a realistic flame pattern, a generous glass front with wide black glass framing, contemporary glass ember bed to complement the minimalist design and an LED light strip. All units can be recessed into a wall for reduced protrusion into the room or surface mounted on a wall.
From Napoleon Fireplaces; visit www.napoleonfireplaces.com.
Perfect for intimate living spaces, the 51EF fits well in dining rooms and bedrooms. Its soft glow and supplemental warmth provide soothing ambiance. The fireplace can be wall mounted or built in; the sleek black glass surround panel and perimeter accent lighting add to the drama even in smaller rooms of a home.
From Fireplace Xtrordinair; visit www.fireplacex.com.
Full View Fire
The Landscape FullView Series is a completely built-in, clean-face, linear electric fireplace with an authentic built-in fireplace look. The fireplace has 40 percent viewing width and stretches to 120 in. of edge-to-edge realistic flame with a choice of glass crystals or hand-painted LED driftwood logs.
From Modern Flames; visit www.modernflames.com.