Patio & Hearth Blog

from Patio and Hearth Products Report

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Electric Fireplace Sales Heat Up

Electric fireplaces and electric fireplace inserts are becoming increasingly popular as people seek ways to reduce their heat bill and conserve more energy.  Fireplace manufacturers are also realizing that being able to offer a variety of fireplace types is important as well.

According to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, consumers purchased around 1,400,000 electric hearth appliances in 2010. A large number of units bought were electric fireplace inserts.

Twin-Star's Baxter

Two popular electric fireplaces are Twin Star’s Baxter fireplace and Dimplex’s newly launched Wickford. Both are more than just fireplaces–they are also media consoles.  Along with the fireplaces, they come with storage areas and space for flat screen televisions. The Baxter features a beautiful empire cherry finish along with a matchbook pattern crowning the cabinet and a sturdy box-style base.  The Wickford features a rich burnished walnut finish along with convenient framed glass cabinet doors and sturdy shelves.

Wickford from Dimplex

These media console fireplaces are especially popular for people who are short on space, but want to have the luxury of a nice fireplace.  Electric fireplaces also tend to be cheaper than traditional wood-burning fireplaces and they leave a smaller carbon footprint for those who want to be environmental conscious.

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The Value of Customer Service

In retail, customer service is just as important as advertising. Some may even say that customer service plays an even bigger role than advertising.  Once you get the customer into your store, you want to make sure that they stay and make purchases. You also want to turn your first-time customers into repeat customers. Your best means of achieving this is to provide stellar customer service.  In a weak economy, customer service becomes even more important. Reinforcing your business’ values about customer service with employees on a regular basis will help them interact better with shoppers and will eventually strengthen your bottom line.

Here are some rules to follow:

  • Greet customers with an upbeat manner, even on the telephone.
  • Whenever possible, address the customer by name.
  • Keep your store clean and neat, especially the bathrooms.
  • Try to say “yes” to any reasonable request.
  • Handle difficult customers with professionalism and class.


Arlene Eastwood, assistant manager, and Tom Tapken, CEO of California Backyard

In a tough economy, outstanding customer service will help retain your existing customers.  This becomes particularly important for any after-sale service or repairs. California Backyard, a retailer based in Sacramento, California, has noticed that by selling high quality products and having exceptional after-the-sale service, they have been able to stay competitive in an area that was hit particularly hard by falling house prices. In fact, three of California Backyard’s full-time employees are dedicated to customer service alone.

Customer service should be a top priority for any retailer. After all, without customers, stores would be nonentities.

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Adding Color to Your Backyard

Phifer International’s GeoBella line of fabrics.

Bold and bright colors can help breathe new life into any outdoor space.  From flowers to umbrellas, there are endless ways to pop some blues, purples, and even pinks into one’s backyard.  But before adding every color in the rainbow, there are a few guidelines for customers attempting to design Technicolor backyards.

  • Stick to three colors or hues.  Pick one to be the primary color and repeat the others sparingly.
  • Incorporate some earthy neutrals along with the bright colors to add texture.
  • Don’t forget about the flowers!  Along with fun outdoor fabrics, flowers can be an inexpensive way to bring some color into one’s outdoor space.
  • Pick a focal point.  For example, if one has a unique fireplace or firepit they want to emphasize, arrange the colors and plants to draw attention to that piece.

Just as accessories are important for interior design, accessories for the backyard can also help make it more visually stimulating.  Adding a one-of- a-kind bench or fun planter (as well as appealing and colorful accessories) will personalize a space and transform it into a dreamy retreat.

Umbrella by Summerset Outdoor Living

The last thing to keep in mind is that the outdoor look should complement one’s interior space.  Having a cohesive look that flows seamlessly from space to space is the ultimate goal.  And adding color will bring you one step closer.

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Fun Heats Up: Firepits & Fire Tables

El Paseo Firepit by California Outdoor Concepts

Being able to enjoy a crackling fire outdoors should not be limited to camping trips. Perfect for the summer and fall months, firepits and fire tables can create a relaxing and fun atmosphere in any outdoor space. Most designers consider fire pits or fire tables to be must-haves because they serve as focal points and provide a sense of luxury.  There are now a variety of firepits and fire tables to choose from since manufacturers have been introducing many new models during the past couple of years to meet increasing consumer demand.

Firepits are can either be built into the ground or above ground.  With so many styles now available, it’s not hard to find one that complements the rest of one’s outdoor space.

Fire tables are perfect for entertainers who want to impress their guests with their outdoor space. Having a meal or drinks around a fire table can add an element of fun and also serves as a good conversation piece.

Kiribati Firepit by Bradford Lifestyles

Although firepits and fire tables are fun, it’s important to remind customers to pay attention to fire safety when using these products.  If they are not used properly, they can be dangerous to the people involved and can damage structures near the firepit or table.

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Go Green Before Tax Credits Expire

Advanced Convection Morsø 5660 Fireplace Insert

Earlier this year, the U.S. federal government announced a tax credit for those consumers who purchase a 75% efficient biomass (wood or pellet) burning stove, fireplace or insert during 2011.  Many stoves and fireplaces sold in your stores qualify for this tax credit for 10% of the product’s cost, or up to $300.

Harman P35i Pellet Insert by Hearth & Home Technololgies

With the weak economy, it is uncertain if this tax credit will continue into the next year.  At Patio & Hearth Blog, we encourage retailers to remind customers of this tax credit, especially with fall approaching and as consumers seek energy-efficient replacements for their current fireplaces or stoves, or if they’re adding these for the first time to their homes.

Pictured here are two products that qualify for the tax credit.

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Showstopping Hearth Vignettes

Thousand Oaks Fireside in Thousand Oaks, California, is known for its impressive fireplace vignettes.

Many people shopping for fireplaces and stoves are also redesigning existing rooms, so they are making decisions about new flooring, paint, furniture, and even something as simple as new decorative accessories.  With busy work and home schedules, accomplishing all of this can be difficult.  That’s why in-store vignettes can be extremely helpful to customers.

Fireside Hearth & Home, the national retail brand of Hearth & Home Technologies Inc., helps its retailers throughout the United States by showing them how to develop in-store vignettes that spotlight the entire room setting, from furniture and case goods to home décor–not just the fireplace and mantel.  Not only have their in-store vignettes helped customers with their remodels, they have also increased sales for individual stores because customers are motivated to buy something when they can visualize it.

A fireplace vignette by Fireside Hearth & Home.

Creative vignettes can help inspire customer who may not have a clear vision of how they want their new hearth room, bathroom, or kitchen to look. For example, one vignette could depict the fireplace in the bedroom.  In addition to the fireplace, the display would include the fireplace, bed, nightstand and any other accessory to help make it look like a realistic bedroom.

Another example would be a fireplace vignette of a contemporary room for customers wanting to redesign a room with a more modern motif.  A modern fireplace or stove combined with sleek leather sofas and chairs, mirrors, and contemporary lighting would wow customers into making a purchase.

If vignettes are done right, not only will you end up with happy customers, you’ll watch your sales soar.

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Patio Essentials for Small Spaces

It’s easy to forget apartment or condo dwellers who don’t have enough space for large patio bars and grills, or chaises and umbrellas.  But we need to keep these consumers in mind, which is why Patio & Hearth Blog wants to draw your attention to products that owners of smaller outdoor spaces can enjoy.

The first thing to keep in mind is that condo and apartment buildings vary regarding what they allow on balconies or deck space.   Knowing the limitations right away will ensure that customers get the most out of their space and not waste time with returning items.

Understanding customers’ budgets and their primary use for the space will help determine which products will transform their balconies or decks into comfortable and usable outdoor spaces.

Also keep in mind that the products they purchase now could be used later if moving to a larger home in their future.  And finally make sure that their outdoor style complements their indoor style.

Here are some products we recommend:

CGG-180T Cuisinart Petit Gourmet Tabletop Gas Grill from The Fulham Group

Cuisinart (manufactured and distributed by the Fulham Group) makes electric and gas tabletop grills that are perfect for balconies.  These grills are great for vacations and tailgating and can still be used if the customer moves into a home with a larger outdoor space.

Margarita Bistro Collection by Alfresco Home

Alfresco Home recently introduced their Margarita Bistro Collection.  These small, retro-styled dining sets would work well with any balcony or deck.

Little Q Island by Bull Outdoor Products

For those who want a bigger grill for their small space, Bull Outdoor’s Little Q Island would satisfy hardcore entertainers and grillers.

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Early Bird Special: Fireplaces

With scorching heat waves striking most of the country, it may feel like fall is a long way off. But that’s not the case. Just look at all the stores promoting back-to-school sales, which is a tell-tale sign that cooler weather is just around the corner. In no time, customers will start inquiring about some of the newest fireplaces on the marketplace.  Here are some that we think are particularly worth noting:

Napoleon® BGD40G Modern Multi-View Gas Fireplace

Napoleon recently launched its new gas fireplace, the Napoleon BGD40G, which is a modern multi-view gas fireplace that features a Topaz CRYSTALINE™ ember bed. The fireplace also comes with many optional accessories and ornamental insets that the customer can choose from. The raised linear burner creates a perfect display of YELLOW DANCING FLAMES ® that glitter throughout the glass crystals and the Porcelain Reflective Radiant Panel(s) that come standard with the unit.

Optifire by Wittus

Wittus’ Optifire, from Bodart & Gonay, is a zero-clearance fireplace that offers versatility and elegance. Some of its impressive design features include invisible hinges, a locking system integrated into the façade, and a large curved or flat glass window for an unobstructed view of the fire.  With an over 70% fuel efficiency rating, the Optifire is an environmentally friendly addition to one’s home.

Loft direct-vent gas insert by Empire Comfort Systems

Empire Comfort Systems’ new Loft direct-vent gas insert turns inefficient wood-burning fireplaces into clean-burning contemporary fireplaces. With its linear burner, porcelain lining, variable-speed automatic blower, and “louverless” surround, the Loft insert’s clean lines update hearths for a more modern design. The Loft is available in a stylish matte black or in a bold stainless steel and black.

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Kid-Friendly Patios

KidBrella by ZipJack Custom Umbrellas

For many young families, a patio or backyard allows kids to roam free while still being under their parents’ watchful eyes.  Making one’s outdoor space kid-friendly and kid-safe can be relatively easy and will encourage children to get fresh air and exercise instead of being underfoot indoors. The backyard is also the perfect place for kids who spend too much time indoors playing video and computer games.

More and more manufacturers are developing products that are designed for children. ZipJack Custom Umbrellas (Elmsford, New York) makes special outdoor umbrellas, called “kidbrellas,” that are designed for young children.  They come in a variety of designs and colors, and are a great way to keep kids in the shade while playing in the sandbox or in a play area. They easily convert from table umbrella to other spots in the backyard.

Customers with large yards may also want to consider swing sets or play structures, which all children love. Eastern Jungle Gym (Carmel, New York) manufactures a wide range of high-quality, innovative play structures, including their attractive cedar swing sets that blend in nicely with outdoor spaces.

Supreme Model by Eastern Jungle Gym

Along with outdoor play structures and playful umbrellas, there are many other products that help kids get the most of the patio or outdoor space.  Ping-pong tables, sandboxes, clubhouses, tree swings, hammocks, tetherballs, fire pits, pools, and trampolines can all provide many hours of enjoyment. With a backyard filled with kid-friendly products, you can even forgo the family trip this year!