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Responding to the lure of outdoor living

Keith Guidry -- Casual Living, March 15, 2006

Keith Guidry, Percy Guidry Hearth & Patio, Lafayette, La. 

 Keith Guidry, Percy Guidry Hearth & Patio, Lafayette, La.

What creates desires for Outdoor Living? Is it wanting what the guy next door has (or one better)? Wanting to duplicate for our children those memories we treasure from our childhood? Is it for establishing a higher appeal for our own pleasures or banking on the favorable resale value of our residence? Or is it simply because Americans realize the best place to invest is in their own back yards?

Outdoor living areas become our personal oasis, where one can retreat from the hectic pace of business, tasks and parental duties.

Case in point, the largest sport spectacle has just taken place — Super Bowl XL. Two of the three parties my wife and I were invited to were held outside with the outdoor fireplace blazing, the aroma of grilled food swirling around where the game was viewed on the television, which was mounted outside.

I recently received a book Barbecue Book by Sunset, written in 1938, that centers on promoting Outdoor Living and has diagrams of outdoor fireplaces/pits of every conceivable design. I felt I had discovered the Holy Grail, but then I had to laugh. We, as an industry, have been promoting this Outdoor Living concept like it was an original thought, when in reality the blueprint for this type of lifestyle was probably derived from the beginning of time.

That Outdoor Living is desirable to so many is why we do what we do. Photos of crude firepits now are replaced with fully functional stainless steel fireplaces while gas and charcoal pits are, performance wise, equal to the most elaborate commercial cooking equipment in the finest restaurants.

But as with any successful category, knock off or lesser quality products in the past were easy to spot. Today, these same products have remarkable visual similarities. Upon close review, evidence can be found why these products cost less and sell for less. You and I can detect these shortcomings, but an average consumer has a more difficult time.

For example, I helped a contractor solve a problem yesterday with an outdoor fireplace, where a customer had purchased an attractive Monster Stainless Steel Grill. From first glance, this product seemed to match up with high-end gas grills. A closer view revealed porcelain and cast iron parts, which will need replacing within five to six years. The ignition system was an older model rotary igniters, not what the industry as a whole uses these days. So it was evident why this grill would sell for less than other high-end gas grills. This is the challenge specialty shops face, and it holds true in all areas of what we sell — furniture, lighting, rugs, fountains, firepits, etc.

As a retail buyer, the challenge is not just in deciphering levels of quality in a product category, but knowing how far down the range to go before you sacrifice reputation for a sale. Then making sure sales staffs can communicate the differences in what competitors sell and what we sell.

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