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% 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.
Retailers should have several lines of products and display them in an organized fashion for the best effect so customers know all of their options.
“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.”
Hot tub shoppers should look for retailers that also showcase all of the available accessories – the complete package and demonstrations of how it can be laid out in your backyard.
Final thoughts from Stegman: “If you can show somebody the whole package, that’s just so much better.”
All Seasons Pools, Spas & Outdoor Living aspools.com 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.
Lenz says backyard entertaining products options endless for customers. 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 wraps 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 spa and turns into 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.
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.
“We are set up to be a one-stop shop,” Ecelbarger says. And outdoor kitchens 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 recognizes that seeing is believing for his customers, which is why he choses to display everything he offers so the customer can experience it first hand, an option not available with online shopping.
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.”