Survey says: Respondents identified all the outdoor products they plan to purchase this year.
Survey says: Respondents identified all the outdoor products they plan to purchase this year.

The emphasis on the whole backyard has become more and more prevalent in the pool and spa industry since the Great Recession.

This can be seen even at industry trade shows, which have sprouted backyard living pavilions and areas dedicated to landscaping, outdoor kitchens, fire pits and heaters. Business for pool professionals is about more than the build, more than the chemicals.

The products that complement a customer’s spa purchase and lead to greater enjoyment are becoming a more important part of the business mix for virtually every pool and spa business. In this early part of 2015, the industry is seeing quantitative and qualitative evidence of this trend.

Recently, the American Home Furnishings Alliance conducted a national telephone survey of 1,000 consumers, asking them about their outdoor space and planned purchases this summer.

“Eighty-four percent of the respondents indicated that they either hoped to add or planned to purchase outdoor furniture or accessories for their homes this year,” said Jackie Hirschhaut, executive director of the International Casual Furnishings Association, a wholly owned subsidiary of the AHFA. “What’s exciting about that is that it’s up from 62 percent last year.”

Many retailers have noticed this trend firsthand. In fact, the increasing demand for outdoor furnishings and accessories was one of the driving forces behind Frank May’s recent decision to redefine his chain of pool supply stores in the South.

“I’m looking at how to grow the business,” said the president/CEO. “There are two ways to do it — open up shop in an untapped marketplace with our brand and gather market share … [or] expand our product offering within our stores. I chose to do both.”

So what had stood as The Pool Place since the 1980s now moves forward with the moniker The Great Backyard Place, to reflect the full range of offerings in its showrooms. With the new name comes new merchandise: grills and fire products, and an emphasis on being a backyard superstore.

Also as part of the expansion, May opened a new location in Asheville, N.C., in February. This joined four existing stores in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Maryville and Cleveland, Tenn.

With this greater emphasis on casual outdoor furnishings in the store came the desire for unique offerings. So May also launched The Hanging Bed Co., a manufacturer of hanging beds and swings, in January.

To Hirschhaut, the product-segment expansion in pool stores is appropriate given the trend.

“I think it’s very smart of them to not send their customers away to another location when they can be very successful,” she said. “After they’ve engaged a customer and learned about the design of their pool and what their needs are … then it makes perfect sense because they would continue on and augment that with furnishings.”

It’s also reflective in the growth May has seen in his stores. While patio furniture still is a smaller fraction of his overall sales, more and more sets are being bought each year.

“The growth over the past three years has been 300 percent,” he added.
Demand that used to be latent is coming to the surface, with increases that are reflected in AHFA’s survey.

As staycations remain an attractive alternative for families, Hirschhaut sees the trend continuing.

“I think after talking about outdoor space over and over and over again, it’s continuing to filter down still to more homes,” she said. “I don’t think that we took care of all the homes over the last two or three summers.”

But the pool supply side remains a large focus for The Great Backyard Place. “We do a tremendous amount in chemicals and pool supplies — I’m talking millions,” May said. “That’s still very core to us.”