Living The Outdoor Life

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Living The Outdoor Life

Trends in outdoor entertaining continue exploding in growth. That’s according to Homestead Gardens’ Marketing Director Tim Hamilton. “A significant segment of upper-income consumers are motivated to build up equity in their homes. Enhancing their outdoor space is a sure way to help accomplish that objective.”

He sees multiple ways homeowners are upgrading their properties:
    •  Container plantings, which typically are changed four to five times during the season. The planting alternatives are many – including a heavy use of tropicals in mid-summer.
    •  All-weather outdoor furniture continues to climb in popularity as consumers extend the outdoor living period. There is evidence that consumers who are accustomed to classy interiors are looking to have the same high level style and construction in their outdoor furniture. Understandably, at Homestead the high-end lines are prominent.
    •  Those people who love fresh air are now staying outside later into the evening and longer into the season. That fact helps explain the ongoing upsurge in sales of firepits and other heating devices. Hamilton sees more of that coming on.
    •  Outdoor cooking is on the rise. Outdoor kitchens are beginning to be a part of the outside home scene.

The Fresh Air Frenzy

In an outlying area east of Portland, Ore., a garden center owner takes a hard look at opportunities and makes a decision to open a second unit. But not without continuing the upgrading process at the original site. This special woman, Lynn Snodgrass, has done wonders with her Drake’s 7 Dees garden center – with help from Home and Garden Showplace.

The good things happening include the affiliated landscape business of her husband, Drake. Both existing enterprises are benefiting from what Lynn chooses to call “the fresh air frenzy.” Her retail complex is dominated by the outdoor living movement. This season will see some new directions that can make a meaningful increase in the bottom line.

However, one of the areas of increase will not be outdoor furniture. She explains: “We’ve found that to do well in that category requires much more storage space than we can find on these premises. As a consequence, we concentrate on other aspects of backyard living.”

“A couple of years ago we noted an upswing in demand for high-class cooking equipment,” Snodgrass says. “We had no desire to go head-to-head with the volume retailers so we sought out a brand that helped make us distinctive. We settled on the Traeger line of barbecue equipment and are glad we did.

“Separate from the retail store, we have a covered outdoor area of 1,400 square feet. That’s one of the two places where the outdoor living goods are highlighted – along with 1,500 square feet in the retail store.”

This firm got into water gardening early and has stayed with it. They consider it to be a key part of the overall outdoor scene. In the most prominent part of the nursery yard, a large waterscape dominates the scene. It incorporates three waterfalls. On one side there is a natural look. On another side, contemporary styling.

“We do well with water features,” reports Snodgrass, “because we treat them as an integral part of outdoor living.”

More Interest In Accents

Tom Hebel of Bucks Country Gardens has a top-class operation north of Philadelphia in Doylestown that is forever refining and upgrading its outdoor living sections.

He and his management team have positioned this sprawling garden center as the place where “we customize your outdoor living space.”

Rick Dentner, general manager, looks ahead to the 2007 season: “We see more interest in lamps and other outdoor lighting – simply because our customers are keeping late hours in the outdoors.”
“The same applies to really deluxe firepits,” Dentner adds. “They’re outside earlier in the spring and later in the fall. We think outdoor kitchens are certain to become a factor, just like outdoor storage has become of greater interest.”

“We’re always a destination for outdoor furniture and related accessories. However, a real standout this year is certain to be fountains,” Dentner states, adding, “most anything with flowing water and good looks will do well. Water gardening looks to increase again this coming season – it has given us a nice, steady growth.”

Outdoor Living Is In “The Flow”

“The year 2007 is already a year of change for us in the outdoor living sector of our two store operation, here in central Ohio,” according to DeHaven Home & Garden Showplace owner and president Tim DeHaven.

“In both Lima (pop. 47,000) and Findlay (pop. 38,000), we’re going with the flow, and the flow is in outdoor living, particularly furniture. In 2006 we saw an increase close to 30 percent in that category,” DeHaven indicates.

It has been moving in that direction for a couple of years at DeHaven. As they foresee continued growth ahead for the category, they are making adjustments elsewhere.

“Both our volume and our margins are greater here than we find for gift goods,” he says. “For 2007 we have reduced the space for those goods. For several years we did well with spas. Now that the turns have slowed, and we need the space, spas are gone.”

Space-wise, the Lima store now gives 5,000 square feet to outdoor furniture, with a bit less in Findlay.

A key to success at DeHaven with furniture lies with its vendor relationships. He tells it this way: “We get year-round wicker sales because we focus on the all-weather product of Chicago Wicker. How well do we like it? In 2006 we brought in four container loads. There’s a bit of twist here – we don’t bring in cushions. We get them made for us in the USA. Doing that gives us quicker delivery and lets us customize orders. Telescope and Meadowcraft do a great job for us. As a category, we like the dollar value of the sales and the very decent mark-up.”

DeHaven ends with a word of advice: “If a garden center is going to do as we do, they have no choice but to get into delivering and setting up.”

Bob LaRue is owner of LaRue Marketing Consultants in Pompano Beach, Fla. He specializes in the marketing and merchandising of lawn and garden and DIY products.

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