SR Panel: Outdoor Products

Which ancillary offerings have panelists found to be successful in their stores?

Michael Nekahi, co-owner
Black Pine Spas & Leisure Products
Seattle, Washington

Black Pine Spas has traditionally been a hot tub store that has carried mostly complementary products. Over our 35 years in business, we have supplemented our primary hot tub business with tanning beds, gun safes, wood stoves, billiard and game tables, and saunas. Not all of them were successful, but they were all worthwhile experiments. Furthermore, some of these are completely unrelated other than the fact that they are niche leisure products — and in most cases are counterseasonal to hot tubs. In winter when hot tubs sales are slow, we’ve found billiard and game tables spike. This has helped smooth out sales volatility and kept our staff busy year-round. Not to mention it’s all plus business, which improves the bottom line.

Most recently, our decision to bring in grills has been well rewarded. Hot tubs are a backyard and patio item. They are also lifestyle, health and family driven. For us, it was a no brainer because a hot tub customer is highly likely to be a grill customer. We’ve seen steady growth, and it is easily our most packaged-up item with a hot tub. We are always looking at ways of cross-promoting products, and grills and hot tubs seem to be an excellent fit. In some cases, we’ve had grills sell hot tubs. We’ve always believed the diversification of our company’s product offerings not only insulates us from weakness in one category but also increases awareness about our overall offerings.

Jeff Kaufer, Spa Manager
Concord Pools & Spas
Latham And Saratoga, New York

As a company, Concord Pools and Spas has found it better to concentrate on what we do best: pools and spas. It becomes harder to specialize and have experts on staff when you spread yourself too thin. However, finding products that don’t need service or a ton of parts support makes it easy to carry them as a side line, such as Big Green Egg. Customers love them, and they are virtually trouble free. The Egg is easy to learn; we barbecue on them a few times a summer to promote them, serving delicious food to customers and staff.

To be successful, a company must devote itself to a new product line, sharing the retail space with the products it already has and training personnel to handle it properly. The Egg doesn’t take up much room, and the manufacturer supports it with a whole line of branded accessories. We have a small but attractive display to promote it that adds to our bottom line instead of stealing from other items.

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Spas and gazebos tend to go hand in hand, but to sell them effectively, you have to turn service people into contractors. We found gazebos to be a pain, especially when they fade or leak. It’s disheartening when a manufacturer tells you its outdoor shelter is not warranted against weather. But The Covana automated roof system has proven to be a steady seller and an excellent gazebo, with a solid roof that doesn’t leak when it rains. The all-weather materials don’t need upkeep like wood products do. We originally brought them in as an accessibility item for people who couldn’t handle a standard cover, even with a lifter. They have proven to be super reliable, which is always an important feature for our customers and us.

Larry Berczyk, co-owner
Valley Pools & Spas
Burnsville, Minnesota

Backyard living products are a tough category for us. Over the years, we have tried outdoor furniture, grills, grill islands, fire pits and gazebos. We have had some success with gazebos and grills, and little or no success with grill islands and outdoor furniture.

Our success with gazebos is directly related to hot tub sales as it’s an add-on product. We very seldom sell a gazebo to a person who just wants a gazebo for their backyard. We’ve had success with grills because we found a unique grill. Selling it takes effort as it is priced on the high end, so it’s not a popular brand for the big-box stores.

It is nearly impossible to compete in outdoor furniture in our market because every big-box store, furniture store, garden center — not to mention the outdoor furniture specialty stores — have outdoor furniture. We need to find a line of furniture no other local store sells, but even then, you have to be willing to commit the resources to market, inventory and display a wide range of styles and color choice. You also need the space to display enough to make it look like you’re in the business of selling furniture.

We are thinking about outdoor fireplaces. We sell in-ground pools, and outdoor fireplaces are becoming very popular. They would be a good fit, and we could tie it in with the pool presentation.