Selling swing sets and play sets during the pandemic
Hot tubs aren’t the only products getting swept off showroom floors these days. In the wave of increased demand for all things home living, dealers who sell swing sets and play sets alongside hot tubs have seen an uptick in sales.
Josh Michels, senior wellness consultant at Backyard Leisure in Terre Haute, Indiana, says that, like most other hot tub dealers, he saw incredible demand and not enough supply during the height of the pandemic. “This was certainly true for swing sets as well,” he says. “For most of last year, a parent couldn’t even take their kids to the park, so they were definitely looking for things to keep their kids active and entertained.”
Michels notes that supply had been an issue, and while his play set manufacturer never shut down, keeping in compliance with government regulations affected the manufacturing process.
“They eventually stopped taking orders for a few months in 2020,” Michels says. “In anticipation of a similar supply and demand situation in 2021, we placed a large swing set order early in February.”
Hearthside Fireplace and Patio in Warwick, Rhode Island, was sold out of swing and play sets by July 2020. “Huge demand, limited supply,” recalls Sean Rosser, owner and CEO, who has been selling play sets and swing sets for four years. “Older couples were more interested in hot tubs, younger families in play sets.”
Family Leisure in San Antonio, Texas, has sold many recreational products, including swing sets and play sets alongside hot tubs since 2007. Sales began increasing last year for most products they carry, says general manager Austin Lampkin. “Anything that makes your home more enjoyable, people were looking to buy,” he says. “Swing sets and hot tubs may feel like they wouldn’t be sold at the same store, but the correlation is surprisingly closer than most would think.”
He says that, while most customers purchase hot tubs later in life, it’s important to remember the connection grandparents have with their grandchildren. “We’ve installed as many [play sets] in grandparents’ [homes] as we have parents, it feels like,” he adds.
Dealers looking to expand their product offerings with swing sets and play sets have a few points to consider before making the jump. Lampkin acknowledges that adding more products during this boom is worth doing. But he also advises dealers to understand the current market and how their companies can fit into it by keeping a close eye on family trends and evaluating whether they want to offer custom-made or ready-made products. “[Ask yourself] ‘Should we be more custom, higher quality and better service or a stack them deep, sell them cheap retailer?’ ” Lampkin says. Dealers should also examine how they can stand out from competitors, whether that’s buying for less to make a bigger margin or offering better products, he adds.
From a customer-demand perspective, Michels says it makes sense to be in this business right now, but based on the past year, it may also be a challenging time to start something new. Michels says it’s possible that other long-time dealers have also placed large orders in anticipation of high sales, so supply could be an issue. Dealers should check with manufacturers about fulfillment timelines before placing orders.
While limited supply is a looming challenge, dealers must also consider spacing and storage. “Swing sets are a good complementary product to hot tubs because they shouldn’t cannibalize sales from one another,” Michels says. “However, they do both demand warehouse space, equipment and labor, so it’s important that you analyze your company’s ability to do both things well.”
Spacing in the showroom or outside the store needs to be considered. Michels recommends having a minimum of three sets on display and suggests representing all price ranges.
To be a true player, Lampkin believes dealers need displays, and that merely showing a catalog isn’t going to bring success. “Functional units in store for children to play on is ideal,” he says. “When you’re actually selling a play system, the parents watching their children go down the slide for the first time and the smile that appears on their face is priceless.”
Swing set displays not only foster an opportunity for parents to see their children enjoy the product, but they can also keep children busy while parents browse. “Imagine not having the children distract the parents when they’re shopping for a hot tub because the children are having fun on the play gyms,” Lampkin says. “That alone justifies a display unit.”
Lampkin, Michels and Rosser recommend offering delivery and installation and say that the right tools and training are a must. Rosser’s company offers installation for everything sold and says good carpentry skills are important for those who will be installing the product.
Dealers who start offering play sets now will have a product that continues to sell when the pandemic is over. “Our opinion has always been that swing sets are easy to sell,” Michels says. “Parents and grandparents are often willing to spend money on something for the kids.”
Play sets will give dealers a way to expand business and also help them meet needs they weren’t before. “The best way to sell play gyms is to talk about the growth and development of the children,” Lampkin says. “Engage the children throughout the entire process; they’ll help you sell it.”