Fire pits gain ground as focal points of backyard atmosphere
By Sarah Protzman Howlett
Americans are now investing in the look and feel of their backyards as they would any other room of the home, with fire pits increasingly acting as the centerpiece of many so-called outdoor great rooms. A 2018 report from Houzz.com (image below) saw a whopping 88 percent of respondents say they were working on improvements such as landscaping, furniture, ceiling fans, rugs and lighting for their outdoor spaces, and nearly 40 percent of the 750 people surveyed said those upgrades included a fire pit.
As these heat sources make it possible to enjoy outside space more months of the year, hot tub retailers may find them well worth adding to their backyard living offerings.
Jon Chapman is CEO of Rich’s for the Home, which has five stores in the Seattle area that have been selling fire pits for a decade — but “we’ve had huge growth in the past five years,” he says. The fire pit category started as part of his patio furniture business, “but it’s gotten so big we consider it its own category now.”
Chapman carries six brands of fire pits and displays up to 30 on a sales floor at any given time. (“You’ve got to show it to sell it,” he explains.) Chapman’s offerings include fire pits from O.W. Lee, Ebel, Tropitone and Prism Hardscapes. While there are several fire pit companies, most of Chapman’s are made by the companies that make the patio furniture he carries. “Any store that’s really in the business of patio furniture is selling fire pits now,” he says. About 90 percent of the fire pits he sells are in the $1,800 to $2,800 range.
Many families seek out fire pits for the same reasons they like hot tubs, Chapman says: They both foster an atmosphere of conversation and relaxation — sans technology. “People can stare at a fire for hours,” he says. “There’s no television, no computers. We are just talking — kinda like [what happens in] a hot tub.”
Ed Joseph, a sales rep for Ontario, Canada–based O.W. Lee who won the company’s Sales Rep of the Year award in 2017, says the warmth from fire pits is a big part of their appeal for people who love being in their backyard.
“No matter where you live, there are always times of the year when the weather is clear, but the temperature is cool in the evening,” Joseph says, adding that the company has been consistently improving its fire pits’ performance and ease of use since it began making them in 2002.
Most pits are burned either on natural gas or propane, and a knob turns them off and on. Customers get comfortable with it right away because “you light it much like a barbecue,” Chapman says.
Chapman says a somewhat new marketing term to describe backyard furniture sets is partially to thank for fire pits’ rising popularity: the Chat Group, typically a low-profile sofa, loveseat and chair around a fire pit. “Instead of inside on the sofa, you’re outside with your feet up on a fire pit,” he says. More people are buying Chat Groups than the old four-chairs and a coffee table, he says.
Sarah Lograsso, director of marketing for Eldorado Stone, a California-based maker of fire bowls in four colors that use either liquid propane or natural gas, says fire bowls transform ordinary backyards into memorable spaces. “Fire pits…fuse together the desire for creating warm and luxurious atmospheres that command attention, with the capability to entertain large groups of people,” she says.
Eldorado Stone’s fire pit prices range from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on size and material, with most homeowners sticking at $2,000 to $3,000, Lograsso says.
Chapman recommends that any spa retailer looking to add fire pits to its floor focus on quality above all else. “We are dealing with fire here,” he says. “We don’t want to sell cheap stuff. You want to offer the customer something that’s safe and reliable and that’s not going to be a hassle for them.”