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Building from hearth start to outdoor living

Courtney Mueller -- Casual Living, May 15, 2006

Fireplace & Verandah was born 35 years ago as a fireplace business that, about eight years ago, grew into a hearth and patio store with a sprinkling of grills.


 Casual furniture and a variety of interior accessories are smartly displayed in stylish vignettes at Fireplace & Verandah.

"Here, you can't live on hearth alone," said Patricia Jenkins, secretary and treasurer of the store.

The retailer carries mid- to high-end lines, from Summer Classics, Brown Jordan, Lloyd/Flanders, Hanamint, Riverwood Casual, Olympia Lighting and Galtech to Heat & Glo, RH Peterson and Dimplex.

Currently remodeling its second location in a Longwood, Fla., a smaller city right outside of Orlando, Patricia, along with her husband Robert, who serves as president, also are currently scouting a third location.

With a heavy concentration on conversational groupings and merchandising, the Jenkins' take pride in "juicing things up" with lots of color, visiting home accents showrooms like Interlude, Pacific Rim and Three Hands in Atlanta and High Point.

"I love the accessories. I think the buying and the flooring is the fun part," Patricia said. "You just have to make some money in the meantime."

According to Casual Living's Powerhouse Specialists listing (September 2005), the two locations made between $2 and $2.9 million in 2004.

Shoppers at Fireplace & Verandah are typically women, but Patricia added many bring their husbands or boyfriends in because the men like to "test the furniture." Consumers in the area are aware of the outdoor living trend, and many houses in the area are furnishing houses that have many decks and levels outdoors. Customers are still buying traditional looks in casual furniture.

"Orlando still has a ways to go," Patricia said.

Patricia doesn't concern herself too much with the Home Depots, Lowe's and other big box competitors in the Orlando area or with the Internet's impact. "There are still distinctions between stores," she said. "And manufacturers have been good about protecting us from the Internet. We've been lucky."

Fireplace & Verandah has had success in the past with store events, from working with designers to home shows, and with little touches that add to a positive ambience, like playing soft music in the showroom or having juice, wine and cheese on the weekends.

"Events are wonderful, we need to do more," Patricia said.

Great attention also is taken with advertising. In addition to some print ads in newspapers, radio advertising and the store's Web site, the Jenkins design flyers in-house that are sent to specific ZIP codes three to four times a year.

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