Launch Slideshow

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On the Outside

On the Outside

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    FIRE STONE HOME PRODUCTS

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Incorporating outdoor products such as gazebos, furniture and barbecues can boost revenue for pool and spa professionals.

However, an exclusive Pool & Spa News survey found that many retailers don’t include these ancillary items within their showrooms.

In fact, of the nearly 500 pool and spa dealers who participated, 55 percent do not sell grills, while more than 70 percent don’t carry saunas, patio furniture or gazebos.

Furthermore, 86 percent of these dealers indicated that they didn’t plan to add these items to their stores.

Respondents cited competition from big-box chains, limited showroom floor space and a lack of consumer demand as chief impediments.

But these dealers could be missing an opportunity. A recent study tracking demand for outdoor furniture and grills indicates the category is expected to increase 4 percent annually to almost $7 billion by 2015.

Backyard “getaways” appear to be a lasting concept, too, according to U.S. News & World Report, which listed the enhancement of outdoor living areas as one of three significant remodeling trends expected to endure through the recession.

Following are the results of the Pool & Spa News survey along with strategies embraced by retailers who have found success selling supplementary products.  

Saunas

When consumer sauna sales went cold at Ocean Spray Hot Tubs & Saunas, president and owner Joseph Musnicki turned up the heat on a new demographic.

“I realized that the sauna business is a category, and someone is designing and building them, and I wanted to be the one,” he says. “The most direct route to make this happen was to call on the architects and builders.”

So Musnicki launched an aggressive campaign for his Westhampton Beach, N.Y.-based business, though it didn’t bear fruit overnight. 

About six years ago, his company began placing cold calls to builders and architects on a regular basis. Then, to help forge relationships, Musnicki became an active member in the Long Island Builders Institute. He also started attending trade shows for builders. 

In fact, to this day he teaches a seminar for area chapters of The American Institute of Architects about what a sauna is and how to incorporate one into a design scheme.

“It’s cumulative and it takes a while,” he says. “You’ve got to call on the builders and call on the architects and stay with them.”

After about four years, he says, the hard work began paying off. Ocean Spray has since established repeat business from multiple builders and architects. And last year, the company designed and built 50 saunas for homes with an average list price of $2 million.

“If [a builder] has a supplier that can design it and install it, and he doesn’t have to do anything except have his electrician wire the heater up, he’s a happy camper,” Musnicki notes.

Already this year, business has increased some 40 percent over the start of 2011, Musnicki adds.“We’ve taken charge of the category in our market,” he says. “We are the go-to people for saunas.” 

Gazebos

Marcel Roles learned the hard way which line of gazebos to carry at Apollo Spas’ seven stores in Washington and Northern Idaho.

“I have tried a few [brands] and have set them up in my parking lot, only to have several collapse because of a wet snow,” he recalls. “All of my locations are in highly concentrated traffic areas. When something like that happens, people point fingers and laugh as they go by. It’s not very good advertising.”

After a few missteps, the company’s general manager discovered a sturdy gazebo manufacturer, which he’s been selling with confidence for the past four years.

Though dealers surveyed by Pool & Spa News indicated little demand for the product, Roles begs to differ, citing protection from the elements and extension of living space as main drivers.

“People want to go from their primary residence out to another ‘house’ to really create a completely different atmosphere, like going on a vacation, which has been a worn-out slogan for years in the spa industry, but is a fact in this regard,” he says.

In addition, Roles says recently he’s seen an uptick in sales of swim spas. These buyers, he notes, are turning to well-constructed gazebos for cover.

“Folks that invest that dearly in a product like that want to be able to use it year-round regardless of weather,” he says. “If you are going to handle gazebos, make sure it’s a good quality that is going to stand up to the conditions that people buy them for.”

Barbecues

Each weekend, Swim ’N Fun fires up the grill at its Central Florida stores, tempting consumers with the sweet smells of barbecue flavored with locally made rubs and sauces.

“We set it up outside and let customers sample the food,” says Paul Starbird, manager of the Winter Springs location. “We’ve pretty much done that since we started selling them about six years ago.”

Weekday shoppers who show interest in Starbird’s best-selling grills are invited to return for the live demonstration. And that usually seals the deal, he says. The company also assembles many of its grills free of charge, and offers low-cost delivery.

Providing samples of pulled pork and chicken has distinguished Swim ’N Fun from others who carry similar products in their region. And it has allowed the stores’ staff to become familiar with the grill. Swim ’N Fun also carries infrared and pellet grills, but charcoal is the store’s top-mover — a trend that held true among our survey respondents. And though sales of Starbird’s No. 1 grill dipped over the past couple of years, business has picked up since the fall. 

“If we can at least match what we did month to month compared to last year, we feel we’re doing pretty well,” Starbird says, adding that he anticipates steady sales in 2012. “It’s not a product we plan to get rid of. We definitely enjoy having it.”

Patio furniture

Respondents cited a lack of showroom floor space as the primary reason for not carrying patio furniture. However, abundant space isn’t necessarily required, according to Steve Lopez.

The sales and marketing manager at Oasis Hot Tub & Sauna in Nashua, N.H., has offered an American-made, eco-friendly line of casual furniture since 2004. Rather than displaying several full sets, he only showcases five chairs throughout the store, as well as eight or so on the front lawn. Plus, he keeps little inventory, so storage isn’t a real concern.

“It’s just enough to get people in here and asking about it,” he says. “We can show various colors and different display models without having to carry any inventory. It’s also not a big up-front cost for us.”

That was made possible when the company selected a manufacturer located in nearby Rhode Island, which allows for one-day shipping.

“That’s what hurts a lot of dealers, Lopez says. “They feel like they have to carry tons of product in their warehouses and showrooms.”

In fact, these days Lopez has little trouble selling patio furniture sets for $2,500 or more. Despite being surrounded by a number of big-box chain stores, Oasis beats the competition by offering a higher-end product as opposed to engaging in price wars.

“Sales in the category have been consistently up for the last four years, so it’s a growing business,” he adds.