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From the floor

Retailers share their views of HPBExpo 2011

AMONG THE 300-PLUS EXHIBITORS WHO SET UP SHOP AT THE HPBEXPO IN SALT LAKE CITY, ONLY ONE CARRIED EXCLUSIVELY OUTDOOR FURNITURE. NEEDLESS TO SAY, THE SHOW WAS MORE ABOUT HEARTH AND BARBECUE THAN PATIO.
     Predictably, the Expo attracted a throng of hearth-oriented retailers - many of whom merely dabble with patio furniture, or don't touch it at all - presenting a ripe opportunity to ask what keeps them from making a commitment to the outdoor category that goes beyond grills.
     There are several barriers that prevent hearth retailers from adding outdoor furniture to their product mix, but one seems to be a more common obstacle than the others - the lack of real estate.
     "I think a lot of (hearth retailers) have small stores, for one," said Bonnie Richins, general manager of Anaheim Patio & Fireside, which has three stores in Orange County, Calif. "They don't have the floor space they need to devote to displays. In a hearth shop, it's easier to line up stoves or accessories in a manner that you don't need as much square footage. I think that's the No. 1 problem."
     Tom Donmoyer, home comfort specialist at OHL Fuel Oil, Lehighton, Pa., described his company focus as primarily hearth products, fuel sales and heating and air conditioning. "We also do barbecue and outdoor furniture, but (outdoor furniture) is probably only 5% because of the lack of showroom space," he said.
     Hearth retailers also cited surrounding competition and cash investment as hurdles prohibiting them from delving deeper into patio furniture.
     "We are primarily hearth; patio just adds to the hot tubs (that we carry)," said Debbie Ewens of Fireside & Patio Shop, La Mesa, Calif. "Especially in San Diego, there are dozens of places that sell outdoor furniture. We are 90% hearth and 10% outdoor furniture, and the competition is the opposite."
     "If there are other people in competition, that would be a detriment," said Richins, who carries a product mix that is approximately 60% patio furniture, 25% hearth and 15% barbecue. "And maybe the investment (would be), too. You need the working capital to get into it. It's more of a fashion industry than hearth."

“Even though there are fewer exhibitors, there are a lot of nice new products.”

Jeff Raymond

Jeff Raymond
Bev and R.D. Schmidt“It’s a small show, but we’ve found some things we have interest in ... I’m happy with what I’ve found.”

Bev and R.D. Schmidt

“We also do barbecue and outdoor furniture, but (outdoor furniture) is probably only 5% because of the lack of showroom space.”

Tom Donmoyer

Tom Donmoyer

     But as casual industry retailers know, being successful with patio furniture is about more than just having the requisite floor space and means of investment. Retailers who consider making a stronger commitment to the outdoor category must cultivate a genuine passion for it.
     "You have to love the category; you have to love going to the shows," said Ajay Gupta, president of Housewarmings, Lexington, Ky. "You have to change your mindset. You have to love talking furniture and colors and the nitty-gritty of design. And if you're not in love and you say, "Oh, it's just furniture," you won't be successful."

Small, but successful

The retailers walking the floor at HPBExpo certainly noticed the show was smaller than in previous years, but the product offering was still diverse enough to keep their attention.
     "It's a small show, but we've found some things we have interest in," said Bev Schmidt of Outdoor Home, Springfield, Mo. "I just wasn't sure (about the show) at first, but I'm happy with what I've found. And we always try to walk the show two times because sometimes you miss something."
     Despite the smaller attendance and the absence of some manufacturers, retailers were satisfied with the show given the leisure market's limitations in recent years.
     "I think it's a good show, considering the economy," said Jeff Raymond, vice president of Leisure Distributors in Evansville, Ind. "Even though there are fewer exhibitors, there are a lot of nice new products."
     Gupta added, "There were a lot of bigger manufacturers at the show, which was good news because it signals that the market is coming back. From a dealer perspective, it is a positive sign, and most people I talked to enjoyed the show."

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