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from Patio and Hearth Products Report

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“The Best Gas Grill in the World” That “Does Everything Better”

Hybrid grilling drawer.

Hybrid grilling drawer.

“The best gas grill in the world,” and “it does everything better.” Bold statements drafted by a Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet™ catalog writer? Actually, they are words based on independent tests of the triple-fuel Hybrid Fire Grill by some of the grilling industry’s most respected experts.

Versatility and cooking power are the hallmarks of the Kalamazoo Hybrid Fire Grill™, the only collection of grills that gives outdoor cooks the freedom to combine wood, charcoal and gas fires for the ultimate in heat, flavor and convenience.

The key to grilling-fuel freedom is the Hybrid Grilling Drawer™. Located below the cooking surfaces and above the grill’s Dragon Burners™, the drawer can be loaded with splits or chunks of wood or any kind of charcoal, and its perforations easily discard ash.

A real wood fire creates flavors unattainable with a standard gas grill, and the intense, dry heat of charcoal is the grill master’s key to a perfect steak. The Dragon Burners (25,000 BTUs each) start the cooking fire and can be left on for a boost of heat as the charcoal or wood burns down. “The advantage of cooking with charcoal is that charcoal fire is a very dry heat, which creates the perfect heat for steak,” says Russ Faulk, vice president of Dand grill master for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. “A dry heat also is preferable for building up the crust on steaks or burgers.”

Versatility and cooking power are the hallmarks of the Kalamazoo Hybrid Fire Grill.

Versatility and cooking power are the hallmarks of the Kalamazoo Hybrid Fire Grill.

If a gas fire is called for, leave the Hybrid Grilling Drawer empty. The H-shaped Dragon Burners sit farther below the grill grates than other grills, delivering a dramatically more even heat, virtually eliminating flare-ups and preventing cold spots. The burners cook at a low-and-slow 250° F or crank up to a searing 750° F. When using charcoal or wood, the grill’s temperatures extends from 150° F all the way up to 1,200° F – that’s grill-gloves-to-the-elbow heat.

All that heat travels through the Hybrid Grill’s three-foot-tall cooking chamber in a convection-like current that bathes foods in even heat, making the grill excel at indirectly cooking turkeys, roasts, briskets and more. Even steaks and burgers benefit from indirect cooking.

Hybrid_Grilling_Drawer_2014_Oblique_Burned_Kalamazoo_Outdoor_ Gourmet“The hybrid concept was first introduced by Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet in the late 1990s,” says Faulk. “This is the third generation of hybrid grills from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. One of the improvements with this third generation is the aesthetic improvements.

“As an example of the hybrid technology, the hybrid grill allows apple or cherry tree limbs to cook with gas burners working in conjunction with wood,” continues Faulk. “The combination of the convenience of gas with the flavor of wood and the intense heat of charcoal makes the hybrid the best gas grill you can buy.”

The Kalamazoo, Michigan-made Hybrid Fire Grills feature a sleek exterior inspired by minimalist architecture. They come in three sizes and nine models, include built-in and freestanding options and range in price from $10,495 to $21,195:

• K500: two burners, 506 square inches of primary cooking surface, 50,000 main burner BTUs

• K750: three burners, 726 square inches of primary cooking surface, 75,000 main burner  BTUs

• K1000: four burners, 1,012 square inches of primary cooking surface, 100,000 main burner BTUs

“Our Hybrid Fire Grills are all about cooking performance,” said Russ Faulk, vice president of design and grill master for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. “Nowhere else can you combine the convenience of a gas grill with the superior heat characteristics of a charcoal grill and the flavor of a wood grill or smoker.”

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by Tony Ramos

Word-of-mouth advertising can either help or hurt your business. With the advent and growth of social media, word-of-mouth advertising is now much more than two neighbors talking across a shared fence in their backyards.

With social-media services such as Yelp, business reviews not only are readily at hand via smartphone, but the number of reviews takes traditional word-of-mouth advertising to the 10th power. As of 2014, Yelp had 132 million monthly visitors and 57 million reviews.

For specialty retailers, reviews from traditional word-of-mouth advertising and social media can focus on location, price, the quality (or lack thereof) of products or services, and customer service. More often than not, positive or negative reviews based on customer service are found toward the top of the list.

There is disagreement over whether customer service has gotten worse over the past few years or whether, instead, shopper’s expectations are too high and unrealistic. Regardless, a negative customer-service review can keep consumers from stepping into your store, while a positive customer-service review will drive and increase store traffic.

Attitude Is Everything

If you haven’t already seen it, be sure to check out Lauren Mickler’s September 19 postgame interview with high-school running back Apollos Hester of the Georgetown, Texas, East View Patriots on “High School Blitz” (‪ Even though he isn’t old enough to vote, Hester has already figured out the importance of having a good, positive, never-give-up attitude.

Working with your employees to ensure that they have (and maintain) top-level customer-service attitudes is paramount in the success of specialty retailers. That’s not just true of your sales force, either. A rude, inconsiderate designer or delivery person can negate—very quickly—all the goodwill that a professional, customer-oriented salesperson has diligently developed with a customer.

Three things that every employee should be doing seem so simple, but are rapidly going by the wayside: establishing eye contact, saying please, and saying thank you. These start at the top, too.

As a business owner, do you take the time to talk with your employees in an unrushed way and to engage them in a sincere manner? When asking something of your employees, whether you’re speaking or using an email or text message, do you say please and thank you? It’s a lot easier to get your employees to incorporate sound customer-service skills when they are being treated, by their supervisors and managers, in the way that they are expected to treat customers.

Field Trip

While it’s certainly important to work with and train your employees to use sound customer-service skills, sometimes it’s easier for people to digest what you’re saying when they see it in action. Take a field trip with your employees.

Identify a business—any business, regardless of size or industry—in your local area that exemplifies superior customer service. Go there to be a secret shopper.

Take no more than two employees at a time. Visit the store or business as if you were a potential customer.

Be considerate. Don’t take up too much of the time of the salesperson you interact with, but give the experiment enough time for your employees to see what good customer service looks, sounds, and feels like.

It’s one thing to read about it in a book, to watch a video, or to listen to a speaker. It really illuminates what you’re trying to accomplish with your customer-service program, though, when your employees see what exemplary customer service is all about—firsthand.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When it comes to social-media reviews, be sure to share the good, the bad, and the ugly with your employees. While some social-media reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt, many reviews provide you and your employees with an insightful report card on how customers view your business.

Many manufacturers post, in their manufacturing areas, a count of days without an accident or injury. In the same way, chart and track your social-media reviews and share them with your employees.

You can learn a lot from what customers are saying about your business. Just as football coaches watch game footage to help them improve players’ skills, you can make the necessary adjustments to improve your employees’ customer-service skills (which will contribute, in turn, to an increase in sales).

There’s an old saying that people do business with people they know, like, and trust. Elevate customer-service skills in your business, and watch your business grow.

Tony Ramos is publisher of Patio & Hearth Products Report. He can be reached at

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Venerable So Cal Businessman Opts to Sell After Almost Three Decades in the Business

Steinberg's Culver City fixture is getting a new owner.

Venerable Armand’s is getting a new owner.

CULVER CITY, CA – After almost 35 years owning and operating Armand’s in Culver City, Calif, Howard Steinberg is in the final stages of selling his beloved business. The establishment on Venice Blvd. has long been one of the best specialty grill and hearth dealers in Southern California, but Steinberg and his wife, Simone, thought the time was right for personal and professional reasons.

The new owner of Armand’s is Dillion Clark, an employee of Amand’s who will now take a “leap of faith” into ownership. Steinberg’s advice for Clark and others in the business is simple, yet timeless. “Give the absolute best service to your customers,” he says. “Stand out from the online companies. It’s all about service. I believe that the brick-and-mortar model is absolutely the future of the business. A lot of people are making mistakes with fireplaces and barbecues when they work with online companies. They are getting the wrong thing and are not satisfied.”

Steinberg bought the business from his Dad, Stanley Steinberg, who was focused on the sewing machine and vacuum cleaner sector for many years.

Steinberg remembers how the industry looked in 1979 when only a few brands dominated the premium “permanent mold aluminum” segment of the grill business. Most people were still asking, “What’s a Gas Grill?” Eventually, the outdoor sage dealt with many well-known brands and many huge sales. “I have had several purchases in the mid $40K range, and that was for the full outdoor kitchens,” remembers Steinberg. “Lynx was my biggest brand. I also did a lot with FireMagic and Twin Eagles. From a quality standpoint, they are two of the best, and they offer a wide array of accessories.

“The best thing I liked was dealing with customers,” he adds. “I spent time in my customers’ homes doing assessments for fireplaces and barbecues. There were hundreds of great sales.”

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Celebrate the Season with an Outdoor Holiday BBQ Cookout

The FPT-2500 Firepit.

The FPT-2500 Firepit.

The FPT-H401 Firepit.

The FPT-H401 Firepit.

CalFlame Grill (2)

The Cal Flame Grill.

The A La Cart Series Grill.

The A La Cart Series Grill.

by Angel Beltran

Whether we’re ready for it or not, the holiday season is rapidly approaching. That, of course, means family, friends and food!

Due to the dip in temperature during the fall and winter seasons, holiday dinners are typically hosted within the home. However, a non-traditional form of holiday fare can take place in the backyard or patio.

Entertaining guests in the backyard or patio encourages a more laid back atmosphere. Combine that with good food and company, and you’ve got the recipe for a successful holiday dinner party! Most outdoor/patio gatherings occur during the daylight to prevent extreme cold from ensuing on your guests. If the party continues into the night, a bonfire or fire pit provides heat and visibility for your guests, as well as an excuse to make s’mores!

Decorating amongst natural foliage can enhance the look and feel of your outdoor holiday get together. Hanging twinkling lights from your patio will have a dramatic effect at dusk. You can also make your own garland by attaching cut outs onto a string: bat shapes for Halloween, leaf-shaped cutouts for Thanksgiving and snowflakes for Christmas. Simplicity is key!

Outdoor umbrellas don’t only provide shade during the day, but also help define your outdoor dining room space. If wind is an issue, you can weight dishes by placing a treat on your guest’s plates as a welcome gift, try a candied apple for a Halloween party!

Setting up tables in different locations throughout your patio or backyard with food on one table, and drinks on another, will encourage guests to roam and be more convivial. Simplicity will make your holiday dinner a success and take the stress out of hosting a formal dinner.

The best part about hosting an outdoor holiday fare is the ability to grill your meal on an authentic grill. Several traditional holiday recipes have been given the rustic treatment and translated into barbecue. Favorites such as corn on the cob, sweet potatoes and even whole turkeys can be prepared on an outdoor grill.

Cooking on an outdoor grill will give you more versatility than cooking on a traditional stovetop oven, which is essential while preparing a holiday dinner. The direct heat and indirect heat an outdoor grill produces allows for a variety of cooking styles to occur at once. Direct heat is identified with cooking meats, while indirect heat provides the ability to steam or even bake some of your favorite side dishes. Imagine cutting down your holiday cooking time in half! That means more time to spend with family and friends!

Whether you enjoy a succulent steak fresh off the grill, or seek comfort next to a cozy bonfire, Cal Flame can help you host your next gathering. Cal Flame has the ability to customize its wide range of hearth and barbecue products depending on the need of each customer. Ranging from barbecues, to fire pits, and fireplaces, Cal Flame offers products that will entertain guests and turn your backyard or patio into a “Home Resort.”

Since outdoor entertaining means simplicity, once guests have gone home or moved the party indoors, your patio or backyard will be a breeze to pack up. Pre-made desserts and holiday-themed cocktails drinks can be shared once the party moves inside.

Spending quality time with family and friends in a unique setting and Cal Flame products can create a whole new entertaining holiday experience!

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Not Your Parents’ Mall (or Store)

Carol_Photoby Carol Daus

When I was in the Twin Cities a month ago visiting my daughter, she took me to a shopping mall in Edina, Minnesota, that caught my attention. Opened in 1956, the venerable Southdale Center was the nation’s first indoor shopping mall, and like many aging malls around the country, it recently completed a multi-million-dollar facelift with a fresh array of stores.

It still has the usual anchor stores like Macy’s and J.C. Penney, but the majority of its retailers appeal to Gen X’ers and Millennials, such as H&M, J. Crew, and the Apple Store (which on the day I visited had a long line of mostly young customers waiting to buy the iPhone 6).

This mix of youth-oriented stores makes sense, since consumers between 18 and 34 years old are expected to displace the baby boomers as the nation’s biggest buying group before the next decade. I guess that’s why the piped-in music of the new Southdale Center features Katy Perry songs, not the elevator music that used to play in shopping malls when I was a kid. For techno-savvy customers, Southdale offers the Simon Mobile Shopper Club, a collection of apps featuring coupons, fashion tips, and store alerts.

While out in the parking lot, I noticed that construction workers were putting the finishing touches on an attractive multi-unit apartment complex. It turns out that Simon Malls, owner of the property, had transformed a former parking lot of Southdale Center into this development, built just steps away from the reinvented mall. One Southdale Place was just featured in the Wall Street Journal, October 13, 2014, ( as part of a growing trend throughout the United States to reinvent shopping malls as town centers with homes, parks, and offices all within walking distance of shopping and restaurants.

When I returned home to Orange County, California, it dawned on me that this was happening in my own community. Just a several miles from my house, Huntington Beach’s Bella Terra Shopping Center has pedestrian pathways that are connected to new apartments (targeted to Gen X’ers and Millennials), as well as offices, shops, movie theaters, and restaurants. And several miles down the 405 freeway from Bella Terra, a groundbreaking ceremony recently took place in Irvine for a new mini metropolis of homes, recreational venues, businesses, schools, stores, research and development facilities, and entertainment sites–all within a short distance of each other.

Research has shown that younger consumers prefer multi-functional living spaces and that lot size is less important than the location of the lot. Young people (and even many older people) prefer living near shopping, entertainment, and work. It’s no mystery that housing developments are springing up adjacent to walkable shopping environments.

When young consumers aren’t shopping online and actually venture into malls and free-standing stores, their habits and preferences are worth noting.

Experiential Shopping: This generation, raised with Starbucks and Apple, prefers shopping for big-ticket items that feature a social connection with both store personnel, as well as other customers. Promoting human connections can go a long way in boosting your business. Take for example Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar, California. This outdoor-living retailer brings in popular food trucks on weekends for customers. The store’s owners recognize that customers linger longer (and buy more) when they can munch on Korean-fusion food or tasty tacos in a festive shopping environment.

Speed Shopping: Ironically, even though young consumers crave social connections, they also are multi-taskers who put a premium on convenience. They know that they can receive products quickly on Amazon Prime, so it’s paramount to respond to these customers quickly, whether providing product information or shipping furniture for an upcoming backyard event.

Price-conscious Shopping: For Millennials and Gen X’ers impacted by the Great Recession and hefty college loans, value trumps quality. In addition to preferring modern designs, they don’t view furniture as an investment passed down to generations. They like smaller, more portable pieces, compared to their parents.

Like it or not, Gen X’ers and Millennials are here to start spending, and shrewd mall owners, retailers, product manufacturers, and real estate developers are ramping up to greet them!

Carol Daus is the editor of Patio & Hearth Products Report.

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Visualization Software Helps Customers See the Possibilities

Cylindo’s visualization platform yields hyper realistic 3D renders.

Cylindo yields hyper realistic 3D renders.

Cylindo visualization software provides furniture retailers and consumers with photorealistic 3D visualization of furniture products from any angle, in any color, in any room.

The San Francisco-based company provides virtual tools to give product presentations on websites and in stores. Providing simple solutions to complex purchase decisions, Cylindo alleviates the guesswork portion of a furniture purchase; making it easier for customers and sales staff to focus on the sale. Cylindo has helped furniture retailers and manufacturers all over the world to increase their sales and lower return rates.

Helping a $430B furniture industry convert 30% better—online and in-store—Cylindo is used by more than 500 offline and online stores, including Fortune 500 Company Steelcase and Peter Thiel backed startup, Oppa. Founded in 2012 by former game industry entrepreneurs Lasse Krügermeier and Janus Jagd, Cylindo is now a team of 21 with headquarters in San Francisco and offices in Copenhagen and Bitola.

“Using the Cylindo’s visualization platform furniture retailers can show hyper realistic 3D renders of all product configurations and display how the products would look like in consumer’s home prior to purchase which makes the more comfortable with transacting online as they can understand every detail of the product before the buy. This is crucial when you’re buying big ticket items like a couch or a dining table. When you show more, you sell more,” says Cylindo CEO Janus Jagd

Cylindo believes shopping should be fun, engaging and ultimately a satisfying experience. No more stressing about furniture and how it will look in your home or office space. Cylindo, brings the joy back in shopping for customers’ renovated space, dream home or office.

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The Elmira Fireview Wood Burning Cookstove Shows Off its Versatility

For a hint of smoke, Elmira’s experts recommend four or five bisquettes.

For a hint of smoke, Elmira’s experts recommend four or five bisquettes.

Where there’s smoke, there’s yummy smoked food coming out of an Elmira Fireview wood burning cookstove.  Who’d have thought you could lightly smoke meats, fish, vegetables and desserts indoors in a wood burning cooker? You can, and it won’t even smoke up the kitchen.

The same technology that creates air circulation and even temperatures in the Fireview’s oven also draws the smoke out of the stove and up the chimney. A gap in the gasket on the oven door allows room air to be drawn into the oven, creating air flow and mild turbulence that helps eliminate hot and cool spots. That air is then drawn out of the oven and up the flue through three small holes in the back of the oven.

“Smoking and southern barbecue have become extremely popular over the past few years,” says Brian Hendrick, Elmira Stove Works’ vice president of Marketing. “For those who are interested in cooking on a wood burning cookstove, or supplementing their traditional range with a wood cooker, this is a real bonus.”

The smoking process in the Fireview is fairly simple, and Elmira will soon provide a smoker kit with each Fireview cookstove it sells. The kit contains a broiling pan, cover, roasting rack, tongs, thermometer, smoke puck or “bisquette” samples, a puck pan, and instructions.

Once the oven is at the desired temperature, you simply set the food to be smoked on the rack in the pan, fully ignite a smoke bisquette in the stove’s firebox, blow it out, set it in the puck pan, and close the oven door. The oven will fill with smoke, and the smoke flavor will slowly permeate the food.

Each bisquette lasts about 10 to 15 minutes. For a hint of smoke, Elmira’s experts recommend four or five bisquettes. For a heavier smoke, double up on the bisquettes in the pan, smoke for longer, use a heavier wood smoke such as hickory or mesquite, close off one or two holes in the back of the oven to hold in more smoke, or a combination of these techniques: the more smoke, the more flavor.

“You might not get a really heavy smoke flavor,” says Hendrick. “If you want heavy smoke through an eight-pound pork butt, you’ll probably need to go back to your outdoor smoker, but the Fireview can definitely achieve a nice light smoky ‘bark’ on smaller cuts of meat.”

So not only will the Fireview heat the home or cabin, cook food, provide a pleasant fire to watch, and provide hot water for the home; it will also let end users enjoy the tasty pleasures of smoking meats and other foods indoors.

Some suggested recipes to search online include: smoked chicken, pork ribs, pulled pork, mahimahi, or beef brisket; smoked corn on the cob, smoke-roasted asparagus, baked beans, smoked apple pie, apple-smoked peaches with ice cream.