Outdoor Retailers Paint the Whole Picture

Backyard product success hinges on customers seeing their own backyard as the ideal staycation, retailers say

Elegant Outdoor Living
Website: elegantoutdoors.com
Location: Florida
In 2010, Elegant Outdoor Living opened its flagship store in southwest Florida. The original owners, Tom and Debbie Stegman, relocated from Ohio, where they had successfully run another outdoor retail store — the Patio & Hearth Shoppe chain — for more than 30 years.

They opened their first store in Bonita Springs, Florida, and a year later, with the help of their son Nate and his wife Stephanie Stegman, they opened two more stores. A fourth location opened in fall 2017.

“They saw a great opportunity for year-round business [in Florida], whereas in Ohio it’s seasonal,” Stephanie Stegman explains.

For Stegman, a former Frontgate buyer, being in the showroom with customers has been the best hands-on learning experience. She also says it’s the only way to discover what customers need and what’s popular — like Barlow Tyrie table tops for condos with small patios.

“You get to see what customers really want and let them play with fabrics and materials,” she says.

About 75 percent of Elegant Outdoor Living’s business is custom orders. Having a store sample on hand is helpful, she adds, because it lets customers touch and feel the quality of the product they’re ordering.

Find several lines of products and display them in an organized fashion for the best effect — all the while reminding customers they can custom order, Stegman advises.

She urges retailers not to crowd showroom floors: Playful, open vignettes offer the greatest showcase opportunities. Moving beyond the typical browns and beiges also allows retailers to highlight bestsellers, Stegman says.

“We love color. We’re not afraid to show color,” Stegman says. “It makes people want to come in, and it’s a really relaxing shopping experience.”

For a spa retailer expanding into outdoor living, Stegman says overlooking upselling opportunities can be an easy thing to fix.

“If you could sell a spa or a pool, how much better would it be if you could show the customer the whole thing?” she says. “Look at this complete package. There’s so much more that you can accessorize, whether you’re building a pool or a spa. You could show how it would be laid out.”

Stepping into the customer’s shoes and asking the right questions can help salespeople get into the mindset as well. Displaying outdoor furniture with lanterns and tabletop beside the spa with a nice cantilever umbrella is one of way to paint the whole picture. When stepping out of the spa, she says, “What is the next natural step for a customer?”

Final thoughts: “If you can show somebody the whole package, that’s just so much better.”

All Seasons Pools, Spas & Outdoor Living
Website: aspools.com
Location: Illinois
Dan Lenz knew the 2008 housing crash was coming.

As vice president of All Seasons Pools, Spas & Outdoor Living, Lenz knew the pool company wouldn’t survive if he didn’t get creative.

Lenz saw an opportunity to sell outdoor living products — an especially new endeavor for a company focused on pools since 1954.

In the offseason, staff placed outdoor kitchens and hardscape fire pits on display to show customers new ways to enjoy their backyards. The company also started selling prefabricated outdoor kitchens that a crew could quickly assemble on site.

Other projects — like the $400,000 complete backyard remodel the company completed in 2009 — are more involved. “It did help us through those tough years in 2008 and 2009 to keep our crews as busy as possible,” Lenz says of expanding into outdoor retail products.

It also opened the door to sell customized backyard visions. By 2012, the company’s outdoor living sales nearly matched its pool-construction revenue stream.

For spa retailers, Lenz says the opportunity to upsell backyard entertaining is endless. It starts, he says, in the showroom.

Lenz isn’t a fan of displaying portable spas solely as they come from the manufacturer. Instead, he advises wrapping it with a hardscape and placing it beneath a pergola. Incorporating mood lighting, outdoor televisions and audio all add to the showcase, and it allows the customers to dream bigger, he says.

“Create that resort-feel beyond the pool [or spa],” he says. “Now people from the get-go, they are planning on it being the ultimate picture.”

Televisions in particular are a nice addition to the spa experience, and prices have significantly decreased over the years, he says.

“It takes that otherwise $10,000 spa and turns into a $20,000 to $25,000 project that’s so much more than a hot box of water,” he says of showing customers the options. “When people see how they can get the benefit of a portable spa — but lose the boxy look — by doing it in a customized way in conjunction with their pool, they really gravitate toward doing that.”

Lenz says he believes customer service — above even a fancy showroom — is what will keep customers coming back, even in the age of online ordering.

“None of us are Amazon,” he says. “Get the people to want to come into your store and have that relationship with you. In the years to come, that’s going to be the key to the retailers that survive.”

In the future, Lenz expects retailers will have more opportunities to market the idea of vacationing in your own backyard.

Final thoughts: “I think the bigger aspect of things is really think about your client. It’s a perpetual investment. Think about the relationship you’re building, so when they decide to add something else, they come back to you.”

The Recreational Warehouse
Website: therecreationalwarehouse.com
Location: Florida
The Recreational Warehouse of Southwest Florida sells a whole lot of spas.

But the sales teams love selling outdoor living products just as much, says president and owner Craig Ecelbarger. Selling an outdoor kitchen is fun, he says: “This is not like buying tires for your car. It’s a happy thing,” he says. “These folks shopping for an outdoor kitchen, they’re happy people.”

Among the company’s three Florida locations, customers can experience more than 50 outdoor kitchens in person, along with 90 hot tubs — another well-loved part of the business.

Ecelbarger says his spas cover price points from $2,000 to $15,000. “We are set up to be a one-stop shop,” he says. And while spa sales generate 45 percent of his business, outdoor kitchens — which cost as much as spas in some cases — are quickly becoming the fastest growing part of the business.

“It has made us better at other things we do,” Ecelbarger says. “Our showrooms look far better than they did before. Our stores look more high-end.”

Ecelbarger advises spa retailers go all in when adding outdoor products. While there’s hard work and expense involved, it will result in a revenue increase.

“Seeing is believing [for customers],” he says. “This is not the kind of product you sell out of a catalog or website. If you’re making the commitment to be in the business, you have to make the commitment to display in the business.”

That doesn’t always mean going huge, either, he says: Offering fire pits, pergolas or built-in grills creates upsell opportunities without dismantling showrooms. Just as easily, though, a 10-foot-by-10-foot space can display a beautiful outdoor kitchen, Ecelbarger says.

Having recently added a 22,000-square-foot store to Port Charlotte Town Center, Ecelbarger sees the spa and outdoor living industries growing by leaps and bounds. He says it wouldn’t surprise him if backyard living sales soar past his spa sales soon.

Final thoughts: “When you add outdoor living products, it’s not going to look worse than it does today. It’s going to look better. It’s a beautiful tie-in to our industry.”

Outdoor Retailer Tips

  • Interact with customers in the showroom so you can discover what they need and what is popular.
  • Have samples on hand so customers can see, touch and feel the product before ordering.
  • Offer a variety of products from a variety of manufacturers and display as much as possible — this is not a catalog or website market — customers need to visualize through an in-person experience.
  • Don’t crowd the showroom floor, but paint a picture of what the customer’s backyard could look like with “whole picture” displays.
  • Work toward creating a resort feel with your showroom.
  • Prioritize customer service to keep them coming back; build a relationship.
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