Play it Again

Taking backyard fun to the next level

During the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, many consumers began looking for an excuse to get fresh air, see the sunset and have a much-needed break from the stresses of Zoom meetings and remote learning. For these consumers, the backyard became not just an oasis but also an opportunity to bring the fun they were missing from the outside into their homes. 

Hot tubs and pools weren’t the only products to see a huge spike in sales. According to market research company NPD Group, sales of outdoor and sports toys saw a 53% increase in 2020, and while that spike may have died down, the demand seems to still be going strong.

Rolf Zimmermann, vice president of sales and marketing for home improvement retailer Best in Backyards, says the Connecticut-based company’s top selling outdoor recreation product are its home putting greens.

Home putting greens can add a realistic, natural, low-maintenance and long-lasting element to a backyard, and may be suitable for both the casual and avid golfer. Additionally, they can easily be adjusted into a mini-golf course for younger golfers, making an all-encompassing, family-friendly addition to the home.

“It’s a relatively new product line for us,” Zimmermann says, noting that the company has utilized artificial turf around pools and patios, so putting greens were a natural evolution to the company’s offerings.

“A lot of people, when they build an in-ground pool, they like to have a putting green next to it,” he says. “You have other activities which become something else for the adults to do.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Zimmermann says, people focused on their children first. Then, after playgrounds and other outdoor activities were installed, they started thinking about themselves and what they’d enjoy. At that point, hot tubs, outdoor kitchens, barbeque grills and predominately adult items, like putting greens or pool tables, came into play.

“If you’re an avid golfer, it’s a necessity,” Zimmermann says. “They want to have a putting green at home that will replicate what they’re playing at the golf course.” Zimmermann likens the desire for golfers to have their own course to that of a collegiate basketball system for near college-aged players to replicate what they’ll experience in the school’s gym.

“Golfers are no different: They want a putting green that’s the same quality and same turf that they will find on their local golf course but with the convenience of having it at home,” Zimmerman says, “which is where we come in.”

Best in Backyards offers both custom and standard putting greens, allowing golfers of all levels, with all sizes of backyards, to have their own personal golf course.

Having a putting green in your backyard has a “cool factor” and can serve as a maintenance-free display of affluence, however, a ping pong or billiards table will take up less space and can offer more fast-paced entertainment. 

Ryan Johnson, marketing and advertising manager at Take A Break Spas and Billiards, based in Springville, Utah, is an advocate of the company’s outdoor ping pong tables.

According to Johnson, playing outdoors offers fewer restrictions and allows for a better range of motion.

Additionally, outdoor ping pong tables are made of metal rather than wood, which increases the price but also makes the tables more durable. Metal tables can handle heat, humidity and even spilled drinks.

“I love the robustness that the outdoor ping pong tables have to have in order to be outdoors,” he says. “It makes it so you can get more competitive play because of the wide-open spaces.”

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Typically, the retailer hadn’t seen much demand for outdoor products, but during COVID there was a notable increase in interest.

“That’s why we now stock several outdoor pool and ping pong tables,” Johnson says. 

Johnson advises retailers to pay attention to the market; if there’s a large ping pong presence, he says, they’re going to want to offer the option of an outdoor table.

For the more adventurous, the in-ground trampoline can’t be beat. According to Andrew Bracanovich, owner of In-Ground Trampolines in Phoenix, the unique product offers endless hours of fun for children of all ages and are much safer than traditional above-ground trampolines.

The company’s most popular in-ground trampoline, says Bracanovich, is the 15-foot round.

“It’s the largest round one,” he says. “With a round trampoline, you get the highest bounce in the center, and kids tend to jump around in a circle.”

The company also has an 11-by-17-foot rectangle trampoline and has plans to release a 10-by-14 version soon.

One of Bracanovich’s oldest customers is a 92-year-old who purchased a trampoline to do light rebounding, while some of his youngest, by parent proxy, are toddlers and small children.

“It greatly improves their balance and coordination,” he says. “They can’t really jump that high, but they love to just run from the ground and jump onto it.”

The ability to just go outside and start jumping makes a trampoline a great outdoor activity, and Bracanovich has found some kids will use a trampoline more than a pool.

“It is probably one of the most used items in the backyard,” he says. “And it’s great because it wears out your kids and they sleep better at night.”

Joey Staton, who has run Jumpy Joey Trampolines & Turf out of Rockwell, Texas, since 2011, has been installing trampolines for Bracanovich for nearly a decade. 

“Andrew’s product makes it very easy and convenient because you’re not taking a full-size backyard trampoline and slapping it into the ground,” he says. “Rather, you’re taking a trampoline that’s purposed to go in the ground, so it requires less of a retaining wall.”

Staton notes that in-ground trampolines also have the benefit of not blowing away in a storm. Adults are also more inclined to use an in-ground trampoline, Staton says, because then they don’t have to climb a ladder, like with a traditional trampoline, or go through an enclosure cage.

Overall, it seems like outdoor activity sales have returned to what they were prior to 2020, however, with new innovations in backyard fun always on the horizon, it should remain a thriving industry to keep an eye on.