Go outside and play: Those were the four words I heard every day growing up on Long Island, New York. The outside was my playground and filled with adventures. Today, it is rare to see a child playing outside unsupervised. In fact, a parent could be perceived as irresponsible and neglectful for saying those four words. Yet I grew up to be resourceful, connected to nature, independent and aware of my surroundings. Many Boomers and Generation Xers — ages 50 to 70, or 82 million Americans — went outside to play as part of growing up.
The outdoors are an extension of our home lives, so it’s understandable these two generations, as well as younger people who are becoming more comfortably independent, are looking just outside their homes for relaxation, a nature experience and a fresh place to entertain.
The outdoor living experience is an enormous trend and an excellent opportunity to add to your merchandise assortment as well as your customer base. So, how do you actually fit this stuff into your store?
Determine which outdoor living products you want to carry. You may decide furniture is too large for your showroom, or there may be too much local competition in that category to make it viable. Shop around and see what types of outdoor living merchandise is being sold locally. Find the gaps in the selection, and you may find your niche.
Umbrellas, for instance, work equally well with spas and furniture. The marketplace now has a wide variety of fun, fabulous and practical umbrellas. They fold down and don’t take up much space. You can open some of the colorful ones and keep the solid colors and stripes closed. I’ve seen umbrellas stacked upright against a wall as well as hanging on the walls around the store perimeter. Depending on how many styles you carry, you may want to open four or five inside the store. Add some warm white LED string lights on the frames so as not to create dark areas under each. If possible, open colorful umbrellas outside your store on nonwindy days to attract attention.
Barbecues are another excellent category. Find lines that aren’t carried in big-box stores, but be prepared to deliver the grills fully assembled at customers’ request. How many times have you been grilling, and as it gets dark outside you’re trying to figure out if the meat is cooked by the light of your phone or a flashlight? The addition of lighting is a new trend in barbecues. This isn’t found on many grills yet, but as the technology becomes more common, it will appeal to tech-appreciative people of all generations.
In your store’s prime focal area, set up a grill, a table and chairs and a display of signed and priced salt rubs and salt blocks on the tabletop. FYI: The more merchandise you put on top of a table, the less “saleable” the table will be to customers. Tables become perceived as fixtures when they are filled with merchandise. Add some good-quality fake bushes around part of the display to set it apart from the rest of the store. A fake tree on one side will give the display importance, color, texture and height. It will also create an imaginary triangle that is excellent for display. Triangles create dynamic and compelling angles.
Barbecue tool sets, cleaners, covers, pizza stones and griddles for bacon and eggs can also be shelved near your grill selection. With the fascination for TV cooking shows, people have woken up to the possibilities of creating gourmet meals at home. My favorite for an outdoor grill accessory is a popcorn popper and gourmet popcorn next to it. I recommend Wabash Valley Farms Tender & White Popcorn. (Trust me, I’m a popcorn maven!) This is a good sampling product as well.
The more you show how the grill works seamlessly with your hot tubs and furniture, the better the chance of multiple sales. Also, in the spirit of sensory merchandising, have a grill set up outside your store with someone offering samples of freshly grilled veggies, chicken and hot dogs. Consider having vendors with small tables nearby to sell the food products you’re grilling. Sampling works to sell food but also to sell grills. Have napkins and garbage cans nearby.
Fire pits are also hot right now. They look best when combined with appropriate seating. If you plan to carry fire pits, look at cement or natural rock benches as well as high-quality fiberglass replicas. When you set up the fire pits in your store, add chairs or benches around at least two of them. Add accessories such as a circular-designed safety screen with the ones for sale stacked close by. Fire glass comes in many colors and offers a fresh, exciting new look for fire pits. A 24-inch fire pit needs about 70 pounds of fire glass, while a 30-inch diameter one will take approximately 110 pounds. With a 10-pound bag averaging $25 to $50, these can be a great add-on sale. Plus, they add color, which inspires people to buy more. Whenever possible, have a fire pit burning with red or blue glass. Those are the two most popular colors in the world and will attract attention.
Alternatively, attractive patio heaters don’t take up much floor space. They also sell better when sampled: If you’re grilling outside, add a patio heater or two during the cooler days and evenings. Set up a few chairs for people to sit on while munching or waiting for the samples to be served up.
Last, only because they take up a lot of space, are outdoor kitchens. In the Portland, Oregon, area we have a Street of Dreams. The homes on display are in the $2 million to $6 million range — and you name, it, they have it. Each home has some type of outdoor kitchen or living area. Spa units, fire pits and built-in barbecues are outside of every one of these homes. Full outdoor kitchens are becoming the new normal. If you have a corner of your store where you can build one, add overhead lights for a daylight look or festival warm white LED lights looped back and forth over the area for a romantic night look. Make sure the fluorescents are turned off in that area, and only LED spot and floodlights are used to shine on the products, not the floor. Add a floor-to-ceiling mural of a beautiful backyard or a few trees that match the trees in the photomural, and set it up as if it’s a home — not a store. This area is for show, not for stocking merchandise.
Now, tell your customers to go outside and play!