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Cinde W. Ingram

Today's Pool & Patio: Taking on competitive challenges

 Hanamint

 Above, Hanamint's San Moritz dining table attracts attention in the newly expanded showroom. Below, exterior of the Scottsdale store, strategically located near other businesses that serve custom homebuilders.
 exterior of the Scottsdale store, strategically located near other businesses that serve custom homebuilders.

When he graduated from college in 2002, Chad Scheinerman wasn't willing to return to his father's patio furniture business unless it expanded.

"I'm more of an entrepreneurial person, I always have been ever since I was a little kid," Scheinerman said. "I wanted something I could take and grow as far as I could get it. If I fall, it's my own fault."

Growth within Arizona's competitive outdoor furnishings retail market was a challenge he wanted and is what he got.

Scheinerman's father was working in New York on the corporate financial side of Revlon and Estee Lauder cosmetics in 1978 when he opened Today's Pool & Patio in Scottsdale. Other locations opened quickly, but were sold or closed when the economy took a hit in the 1980s and early '90s. The main Paradise Valley location continued to prove profitable and kept operating.

"I always took a big interest in the company, in retail and just in the industry overall," the younger Scheinerman said. So, as his five siblings followed careers in different directions and his father didn't want to pursue expansion, Scheinerman decided he did.

A Web site launched about 10 years ago showed success with its mix of outdoor furniture, lighting, above ground pools, pool products and toys. "That was another element we added without having another actual retail store because we were able to put these people who handled our Internet operation in a small office within the store," he said.

Upon graduation, Scheinerman and his father searched out a location within Glendale's growing Arrowhead community. "There's a lot more millionaires out there than there are even in Scottsdale, but the customers spend their money a little differently," he said. In March 2004, they opened that store in a high-end shopping center near Chico's and Talbot's fashion stores.

About the same time, they reacted to the draw of the north Scottsdale "furniture row" area near their warehouse, where they attracted customers on weekends by pulling products to the parking lot for scratch-and-dent clearance sales. "Over those years, people knew about us by word of mouth," he said. "People would come and literally come back so we knew we had a following. We decided we would open this 12,000-sq.-ft. location" in Scottsdale Airpark because it contains other businesses that serve custom homebuilders by supplying cabinetry, tile, lighting, appliances, etc.

"When we opened this store in January of last year, it was 3,800 square feet of retail and 8,200 of warehouse," Scheinerman said. "Pretty much right away, we were doing more business out of that 3,800 square feet than I was doing out of 12,000 square feet in Glendale. Our growth was very good and we were also outgrowing our warehouse."

Last October, they signed a lease for a 45,000-sq.-ft. warehouse facility, which includes a 4,000-sq.-ft. clearance center. They then were able to knock down walls within their north Scottsdale store to increase its size quickly to 12,000 square feet of retail. "It was challenging to try to stay open during construction," he said.

Cast aluminum and cast mixed with other materials is the strongest selling category, he said. Top vendors are Mallin, Tropitone, Woodard Landgrave, O.W. Lee, Summer Classics and Hanamint.

"Deep seating is huge for us and the cantilever umbrella category has really taken off his year," Scheinerman said, referring to Treasure Gardens' shade products. Glass tabletops are fading in favor of alternative tops from vendors Ancient Mosaics and Innovative Surfaces. Barstool sales continue to be strong because of built-in outdoor kitchens.

Consumers initially "hear wicker and run because the heat is so intense here, they think it won't hold up," he said. "That isn't necessarily true. We have to educate them." After learning more about outdoor wicker/woven, customers tend to choose those products by Ebel, Lloyd/Flanders and Summer Classics.

The casual furniture season takes off strong in March, April and May in the Scottsdale area, slows from June to August and picks up again for a second season in September through November.

"We do a very large Christmas presentation in all our locations," Scheinerman said. A separate department takes care of that, usually buying in Dallas or Atlanta. Trees are bought directly from manufacturers.

Today's Patio has three designers who visit homes to take measurements and offer advice about outdoor design. Employees may spend an hour and a half on the phone explaining products to consumers. Scheinerman gives credit to the woman who merchandises his stores. "Because of that, our accessory business has increased tremendously," he said.

Scheinerman and his father, who still provides financial guidance, surround themselves with reliable, knowledgeable people. "I think my employees will even tell you, we try to base the company around the employees," he said. "It's not about the owner of the company getting rich; it's about everybody being successful. Most of our people have been with us a long time; we have very little turnover.

"One thing my father always preaches is he wants us to be known as the Nordstrom's of the patio business," Scheinerman said. "We're known to go the extra mile for the consumer, whether it's taking stuff back that's been out there for three weeks, if it means you're going to make them happy. You can't risk having all those upset people. The best advertising is word of mouth. We have a ton of repeat business."

In addition to its scratch-and-dent sales, Today's Patio uses direct mail plus advertises on TV, in newspapers and regional magazines like Phoenix Home & Garden 10 months a year to attract business.

"Arizona is a very competitive market," he said. "I love competition as long as it's a level playing ground." With four stores and an outlet center, Scheinerman plans to add two more but doesn't want one store pulling customers from another so he says he'll slow down enough to walk before he runs.

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