Creating one-stop shops for outdoor living
Four HPBExpo vendors push beyond their core toward steady growth
Chris Gigley -- Casual Living, 3/17/2011 5:00:24 AM
When Mark Nureddine founded Bull Outdoor Products 18 years ago, his philosophy was simple. Do one thing - in his case, making portable outdoor kitchens - and do it better than anyone else in the marketplace. But like three other exhibitors at this month's HPB Expo, he realized keeping his business on a growth track is anything but simple.
Bull, Napoleon Gourmet Grills, Cal Spas and The Outdoor Greatroom Company have kept growing because their decision makers had the fortitude to expand beyond the core product categories they knew best.
"In addition to our dealers, we also sell equipment to contractors and pay attention to the kind of projects they work on," said Frank Mello of Bull Outdoor Products. "We saw an increasing demand for fire features, so we started doing fire tables, firepits and a fire water wall."
Mello said the company also noticed a demand for more elaborate outdoor kitchens and responded by adding refrigerators, storage areas and even connections for MP3 players to its units. This year, the company is venturing even further beyond basic outdoor kitchens by debuting a line of kitchen accessories ranging from woks to jalapeño pepper corers.
"We want people to have the full experience," Mello said. The strategy has worked well so far. Amid the economic malaise of the past two years, Bull has experienced the largest sales increases in the history of the company, he said.
Ingrid Schroeter is hoping to see a similar pattern at Napoleon Gourmet Grills. Napoleon expanded beyond its core grill business last year when it introduced a new line of outdoor furniture. In addition to showing a few furniture products at the HPBExpo in Orlando, Fla., the Canadian manufacturer exhibited at the 2010 Casual Market in Chicago.
"[Selling furniture] is definitely different," admitted Schroeter, executive vice president of Wolf Steel Ltd., the parent company of Napoleon Gourmet Grills. "Our grills are really appliances sold on their technical merit. Furniture is sold on comfort and design. But both are about enjoying outdoor living."
The move is a big step toward changing the company's perception within the industry. Schroeter said the aim is to be known among dealers as a one-stop shop for outdoor living dealers. The furniture category isn't entirely new to Napoleon. The company sold a line of wrought iron furniture in the very beginning, before it even made grills.
"It didn't go very far," Schroeter said of the earlier furniture line. "We were pretty green back then."
This time, the company is better positioned to succeed. It has built a great reputation with its grills, patio heaters and patio flames, which gives it instant credibility with its new furniture line. Napoleon also has a well-established dealer network -a built-in customer base for the furniture.
"The fact is we were already catering to the outdoor room dealer," Schroeter said. "Furniture is just another element. Why wouldn't we try it? It complements all of our other lines."
That is exactly what Dan Shimek, president and CEO of The Outdoor Greatroom Company, was thinking when he and his brother, Ron, branched off from the family business, Heat-N-Glo, back in 2000. They produced three grills engineered to take a lot of the guesswork out of grilling, and their success led them to a grand vision.
The Shimeks decided to offer dealers the chance to buy a complete outdoor room from a single vendor. Like Bull's Nureddine, they started with outdoor kitchens. Then they recognized an opportunity supplying pergolas that shelter the kitchens. Momentum from that success prompted them to add firepits and furniture.
"The idea was to offer a complete outdoor package," Shimek said. "It provided our dealers with an affordable outdoor package without having to carry significant inventory."
Convenience was, and still is, a huge selling point for Outdoor Greatroom customers.
"They don't have to go to one company that might do firepits, another that does pergolas and a third that makes furniture," said Ross Johnson, sales and marketing manager, The Outdoor Greatroom. "Retailers like to minimize the number of vendors they deal with to simplify their business."
Outdoor Greatroom dealers often placed orders by choosing an entire room collection, not cherry picking different categories. Johnson said the economy changed that. Firepits and furniture, however, kept growing and sustained the company in 2009 and 2010. Now, pergola and outdoor kitchen sales are beginning to creep back to pre-2008 levels, Johnson said.
He said new furniture collections will be added when it makes sense, when new products in other categories are developed and need a coordinating line of furniture. Because of its focus on outdoor kitchens, Johnson said The Outdoor Greatroom is already interested in expanding into dining sets.
Cal Spas President Casey Loyd is also campaigning for retailers to embrace the comprehensive room buy.
"If you have a fixed-cost operation, and you're limited in what you offer, you're limiting your growth," Loyd said. "Once you get dealers to see that, even the pessimists understand that it's worth trying.
Cal Spas was almost strictly a spa manufacturer when his family bought it in 1995, Loyd said. Almost immediately, he added gazebos to the line. The company expanded again, this time into the entertainment environment with kitchens, fireplaces and firepits.
"Then, we thought about what people did outside when they weren't cooking on the grill or hanging out in the spa, so we added furniture," Loyd said. "Each year, we introduce a new product category and add more depth to each category."
Cal Spas also continuously works with its dealers on the art of up-selling. The company offers good, better and best options in each category and teaches dealers how to convince their customers that what they really want is the next most expensive product.
"You get three groups of [dealers] when you present this philosophy to them," Loyd said. "You get those who love it, those who aren't sure and the people who say ‘it will never work.' We knew that going in and prepared for all three."
His approach with the doubters is simple. Loyd asks, why not? Variety, after all, has kept his business growing when many others in the casual industry have not. It's an argument that's hard to dispute.
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