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Cinde W. Ingram

Outdoor recreation market grows up

Outdoor recreation sales these days are driven by grown-up desires but also include fun for children, retailers say.

 A Big Green Egg display at Georgia Backyard


 A Big Green Egg display at Georgia Backyard's Mall of Georgia store suggests leisure pursuits.

 Sales of spas dominate at Spas Southwest, above, while upper-end grills and outdoor kitchens are among the best-sellers at Georgia Backyard locations.


 Sales of spas dominate at Spas Southwest

"People with children are probably 80% of our business," said Tom Chavez, general manager of Spas Southwest in Albuquerque, N.M. His most rewarding moments at work come from "seeing the customer's eyes light up when they get their spas, especially the kids because they get so excited."

Spas Southwest, which until recently was called Sunrooms & Spas, started in 1989 by selling sunrooms and added spas in 2000. Since 2002, the retailer has consistently been named among Cal Spas' Top 40 dealers. At the end of this month, its two stores will be recognized at a banquet hosted by Albuquerque magazine after being voted as the area's favorite hot tub dealership.

"We've almost doubled our business in the past year," Chavez said. "Every year we've had at least 20% to 30% increases. Our city is really growing. We're getting a lot of California transplants."

Sales of Cal Flame's grill islands, which Spas Southwest added this year, started well. "We have gazebos for the spas and we also carry outdoor fire pits," Chavez said. "Occasionally we install saunas, but primarily we sell spas, barbecues and gazebos. Spas dominate, and I think they always will."

Spas Southwest participates in home shows, the state fair and advertises via radio, newspaper and local magazines.

"We have a really good referral customer base because we have great service; we don't contract out any of our spa service at all, it's all done in house and it makes a difference," Chavez said. "Another thing that really helps is the region we're in. We can be outdoors 12 months a year with our products. Since 9/11, a lot of people don't travel as much and they are investing in their back yard; they are making it a home resort for the whole family."

Dean Luckino, who recently won the casual furniture industry's prestigious Apollo Award in the multistore category, also reported healthy sales of Sundance Spas in his Georgia Backyard and American Backyard stores. Last month, his staff participated in the Texas state fair to kick-off the cyclical spa season, which runs from September to April in his stores.

"Traffic seems to be very good in the spa market right now," Luckino said. "When it comes to grills, the Big Green Egg has been a tremendous unit for us. It has been successful since we've sold it but it seems to be gaining speed. We also continue to see, like everybody else, the sales of upper-end grills expand — especially outdoor kitchens. The bigger the kitchens, the more the built-ins, the more we did."

Despite high temperatures during the season, sales of outdoor furniture also were strong in Luckino's stores this year, especially in outdoor woven and cast aluminum styles. "We've seen a rejuvenation toward cushions, which increases someone's fashion statement and comfort," Luckino said. "With the types of fabrics we're getting, obviously they'll be more durable and better able to withstand weather conditions so cushions become a viable option for somebody — and we're definitely seeing that."

Those high temperatures benefited the sales of shade products, Luckino said. "The shade products did fantastic for us," he said. "I'm sure everybody will tell you, the cantilever umbrella was a big movement — almost as big as the first year the market umbrellas came out and took over for conventional umbrellas. People are coming in and asking for cantilever umbrellas."

 Backyard Living CFO Carol Kayser added casual furniture to the store

 Upper-end grills and outdoor kitchens are among the best-sellers at Georgia Backyard locations


 Backyard Living CFO Carol Kayser added casual furniture to the store's mix of spas, barbecues, gazebos and hearth products to balance offerings.

 Upper-end grills and outdoor kitchens are among the best-sellers at Georgia Backyard locations.  


Treasure Garden is the specialty retail chain's biggest umbrella supplier, but umbrellas by Sun Garden, Carter Grandle and Basta Sole share space on its showroom floors. "Each company that we sell tends to have a little different twist on how they do shade," Luckino said. "The bulk of it is Treasure Garden, but everybody plays a very important role. In Southern markets — in the Georgia, Texas and soon-to-be Florida markets — shade is crucial to people. So we have to make sure we address all aspects of wants the customers have regarding that."

Luckino said the stores' accessory business has been steadily climbing for the past five years "and this year has been no different."

Patio furniture and hearth products are currently the best-selling categories at Backyard Living in Chico, Calif., about 90 miles north of Sacremento. The 3,200-sq.-ft. store operates in a building known as a spa retail outlet for about 25 years. When CFO Carol Kayser and her husband bought the business in February 2001, they added barbecue grills and islands, outdoor kitchens, gazebos, hearth products and outdoor furniture.

Kayser described her husband as a "technician at heart," who once worked for the spa outlet and later gained experience in retail and wholesale management. "I was able to bring the patio furniture into the mix, and it really balances our store well," she said. "We had three good years of steady growth. This year it's just leveling out; we've had a really different housing season from last year. Our area grew rapidly and I think people aren't pulling the equity out that they did. They are spending more money on gasoline and less on the luxuries like spas."

Backyard Living participated in a new fall home and garden show at the end of last month, adding the effort to the spring home and garden event they've been part of for five years. "We get a booth, put a tent up and stock it with spas that are full and running, bring patio furniture out and have a couple of stoves out there that are up and running," Kayser said. "We also bring some barbecue islands — basically it's a little sampling of everything we carry."

Among the categories of outdoor furniture Backyard Living sells are aluminum, cast aluminum, wrought iron and woven. Extruded aluminum collections, particularly from Winston, sold best this season, Kayser said.

"We've had consistent growth, even with the funny year that we've had this year," she said. "And our season started late because of the weather."

To attract consumers, Backyard Living advertises on television, in newspapers and in local do-it-yourself magazines. Kayser's past experience making bedding, pillows and window treatments for model home projects contributes to the current success of Backyard Living. "I brought the designers in, too," she said. "So now when they're working with people on their interiors, they're including exteriors."

 

 The M6 spa by MAAX Spas is highlighted by Thermalock IV, a closed energy system that protects against heat loss while insulating against unwanted operation noise.

 From Cal Spas, the Cal Heat Extreme Outdoor Sauna seats up to five and features two floor-to-ceiling vista acrylic windows and an acrylic door, exterior and interior vapor-proof light and stainless steel heater.

 


The M6 spa by MAAX Spas is highlighted by Thermalock IV, a closed energy system that protects against heat loss while insulating against unwanted operation noise.

 From Cal Spas, the Cal Heat Extreme Outdoor Sauna seats up to five and features two floor-to-ceiling vista acrylic windows and an acrylic door, exterior and interior vapor-proof light and stainless steel heater.

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