Outside the lines
Pamela Brill -- Casual Living, April 16, 2011
TWO YEARS IN THE MAKING, THE DREAM BACKYARD AT FRUEHAUF'S PATIO AND GARDEN WILL OFFICIALLY LAUNCH THIS MONTH with a grand opening that will kick off what the Boulder, Colo., specialty dealer expects will be an exciting 2011 season.
"This will be our first full season with the Dream Backyard," said Mary Fruehauf, president and owner. "Even during the beginning stages, we felt that it was going great, so this season will be even more exciting,"
The Dream Backyard comprises a one-of-a-kind permanent home and garden show on about half of Fruehauf's 2-acre location. More than 20 outdoor-living-related industries have displays in the area.
All in all, the advantages abound.
For consumers, the Dream Backyard is a one-stop shop for experiencing an array of outdoor living possibilities at their own pace and on their own schedule. When they are ready to move forward on their own dream backyards, vendors are accessible and responsive.
For the vendor partners, the Dream Backyard showcases their expertise seven days a week within a well-established and highly regarded retail environment with a large and desirable customer base.
And for Fruehauf's, not only does the new destination area draw consumers who are actively interested in stepping up their outdoor space and excited about finding everything they want in one place, the Dream Backyard was also a significant upgrade to its existing facility.
Ward Landscape’s participation in the Dream Backyard has resulted in several referral projects, including a client who was in Fruehauf’s shopping for her home and is now having the company redo the landscape of her business, a large shopping center.
Success in the details
Fruehauf came up with the Dream Backyard concept a few years ago. Believing that it was an idea that would have to be sold, she was delighted to find that vendors jumped at the chance to take part.
It was an opportunity too good to pass up, according to Steve Ward, owner of Ward's Landscape, which has about 2,000 square feet of display area at Fruehauf's and was one of the first partners in the project.
"We knew the store, the clientele and the amount of traffic it got," Ward said. "This gives us a direct approach to people who are really looking for what we are selling."
Doug Lambert, owner of Square Root Construction, agrees. Known as "The Deck Guy" in the Boulder area, Lambert sees the hefty investment he made to create a four-tiered deck display as the best way to leverage his marketing dollars.
"I'm a small business and there is no way that I could afford a storefront in this market," Lambert said. "Just to be able to tell a customer to visit Fruehauf's to see the quality of my work and the materials available is invaluable. The new work it brings in is just icing on the cake."
Fruehauf's enters into a contractual agreement with each Dream Backyard partner. Partners are responsible for the design, installation and maintenance of their display, while Fruehauf's merchandises the areas as appropriate with outdoor furniture, accessories and other product.
Fruehauf's salespeople are not responsible for promoting the partners' products and services, but they do receive a commission or finder's fee when a referral leads to a sale or job for the partner. To that end, the partners are invited to meet with staff to train them on the basics of their products and services.
The partners are also responsible for signage, brochures and other marketing materials following guidelines set by Fruehauf's. For example, there is uniform signage that each is required to have as well as a weatherproof stand for brochures so that customers know where to look for materials. Fruehauf's has also done large signage listing each partner along with their respective logos.
Other than that, the partners can offer marketing materials as they see fit.
"We'd like them to do as much as they can possibly do to catch the attention of people wandering by," said Fruehauf, adding that the store will provide shopping bags so customers can walk through and collect information just as they would at a home and garden show.
While retail marketing is a learning curve for some of the vendors, others such as the outdoor living structure manufacturer MicroStructures have taken a comprehensive approach using contact and informational signage as well as print materials to explain their product line and competitive benefits.
For example, signage highlights its use of salvaged pine beetle kill wood as part of its sustainability philosophy. MicroStructures' 8x10 foot insulated display model was added to the Dream Backyard in October. Featuring transparent floor-to-ceiling wall panels, it is furnished as an outdoor living room with seating, tables, heater and music system, and finished with a custom deck.
The company was already looking for a retail partnership when it learned about Fruehauf's Dream Backyard.
"Our product is something that you really need to experience. An image just doesn't do it justice," said David Jenkins, one of MicroStructures' three co-founders. "In the few months that we've been here, we've already had multiple contacts with people, so we are really looking forward to spring."
MicroStructures’ display model drew positive feedback from consumers as soon as it was installed last fall. The company’s three founders — Cody McAllister, David Jenkins and Darío Menédez — are on hand at their Dream Backyard display area as much as possible this spring to explain the technical aspects of their modular structures.
Deck provides shady spot for consumers to share ideas as they gather around a table, which can be used as a firepit or beverage cooler.
An ongoing evolution
When it became clear that the concept of the Dream Backyard was a good one, Fruehauf worked with Ward's Landscape to create an overall plan for the area by plotting out locations for specific types of partnerships. Although most of the area is now filled in, some of the slots remain open as Fruehauf continues to seek the right partners.
"We are very careful to make sure that the partners' quality and services matched ours as well as making sure that it fit our idea," Fruehauf said. She also made sure that there was some flexibility to accommodate unplanned vendors and is even willing to consider expanding the Backyard should it make sense.
"As more people learn about what we are doing, more will approach us with things to add," she said. "If we have the space and it looks like something that would fit in, then we would consider going even a little bit further with it."
In the meantime, the existing displays will continue to evolve. For example, Lambert is considering expanding to another section of the Backyard.
"My display is 100% composite decking, and I would like to build a smaller area with different types of wood and a roof," he said.
In addition to displaying wood types, Lambert believes being on site while building a smaller project would be an excellent opportunity to interact with consumers.
That interaction is a growing advantage for the partners. Many now hold their client meetings at their displays as well as make sure that they are on hand for Fruehauf's special events and sale days at the very least.
"We were here basically every other weekend last season either hosting barbecues or just walking around meeting people," Ward said.
Ward's Landscape will add a major water feature this spring as the final phase of its current display, which encompasses several areas in different sections of the Dream Backyard including an outdoor kitchen, patio and raised garden.
For Fruehauf, this continual opportunity for adding something new, either to an existing display or as a new partner, creates a dynamic underlying excitement that draws customers again and again.
"We're in the outdoor industry, but I had no idea of the scope and depth of the new things these industries have come out with until we started working with these vendors," she said. "It was fun and exciting for us to see everything, so I think it will be for our customers as well to see all of the great things you can do to create a dream backyard."
Customers are invited to explore the MicroStructures’ display interior, which includes outdoor furnishings.
Square Root Construction’s four-tiered decking display showcases four different types of composite decking in about 900 square feet. A dry storage area under the top tier holds his marketing materials even as it inspires consumers interested in their own deck storage.