The recent economic downturn has brought about changes in the way we as Americans do things – where we go, what we buy, how much we spend or save. We’re thinking twice, maybe even three times, about spending our money on what we now might consider to be frivolous luxuries.
For instance, more people are foregoing long, expensive vacations, opting instead to stay closer to home. Others are spending their disposable income (what little of it there might be) on safer bets like home improvements that will add equity to their property in the long run.
With “staycations” being all the rage these days, kitchen and bath dealers have renewed opportunities to help homeowners reinvest their hard earned money in home remodels and home additions.
Similarly, at least one dealer has capitalized on a newer niche market, the trend toward outdoor living areas. Could this idea have an impact as an add-on service in your showroom? You might be convinced after reading Marlene Boucher’s story.
Boucher, president and owner of Outdoor Dreamscapes of North Olmsted, OH, sells full working kitchens that can be used and enjoyed outdoors. Like many great ideas, this one was born of necessity. Eight years ago, she decided to build an outdoor kitchen on her patio. At that time, the only designs she could find for outdoor kitchens were bricks or pavers built into an island design, built around a grill and sometimes a refrigerator. So, Boucher built her outdoor kitchen from scratch, which was very time consuming.
When her project was finished, Boucher knew there had to be a better way, so she put all her research into formulating a business plan. It was a risk, but Boucher was so certain the outdoor kitchens trend was on the rise, she chose to forge ahead. Partnering with a company that manufactures restaurant-grade stainless steel cabinets, she helped design cabinets built with galvanized steel frames and a special board that retains less than three percent moisture. The result is a patented product for permanent outdoor installation that can endure rain, sun, snow and heat, making it perfect for the outdoor kitchens Outdoor Dreamscapes now sells and installs.
All the Conveniences
As unlikely as it may seem, anything you have inside the house can be used outside in the kitchen, too. Sinks, warming drawers, ice makers, dishwashers, refrigerators…you name it, it can be done. Other amenities specific to the outdoors include barbecue grills, wood-burning pizza ovens, fire pits, patio heaters and, of course, weather-proof stainless steel cabinets.
While it might be easy to assume that such kitchens are extravagances reserved for more wealthy homeowners, Boucher says they are becoming more popular with middle-class families. “A lot of people with children at home are choosing outdoor kitchens,” she said. “Rather than spending that money on a vacation, they want to enjoy their outdoor living area.”
This is because an outdoor kitchen has so many possibilities. It can include a dizzying array of amenities, take any number of shapes, be as large or small as one wants (Boucher has designed outdoor kitchens ranging from as small as eight linear feet to as large as 45 linear feet), and span any size income. For example, a 10-ft. kitchen can cost $10,000-$14,000, while a 15-ft. kitchen with a fireplace and pergola ranges from $40,000-$60,000. Options such as a fireplace ($10,000-$20,000) and a pergola ($5,000) add to the ambience and “wow” factor.
Options for finish materials include brick, stone, stucco, porcelain tile – most homeowners choose whatever matches their house, Boucher says. The same is true for outdoor countertops; granite, tile and stone are popular choices.
Inside the Showroom
Being the firm’s specialty and sole focus, outdoor kitchen displays take center stage in Outdoor Dreamscapes’ 4,000-sq.-ft. showroom. The glass storefront provides a good view of the offerings inside. Upon entering the front door, you encounter two distinctly different kitchens. To the left is a 10-ft. kitchen placed on patio pavers, which also features comfortable, deep-seated furniture, planters, trees and a working water fountain. To the right, guests are greeted by a 27-ft kitchen, complete with a raised bar around the back that seats 16, a pergola with seating, a gas fireplace, a fire pit and a Kegerator draft beer refrigerator and dispenser.
“There is not one person who doesn’t walk in the showroom and say, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know it was this nice,’” says Boucher. “So many people ask, ‘This is for the house, right?’ But no, it really is for outside. Nothing can hurt it – rain, snow, sun – and it can be finished to match your house.”
While she would love to display her wares outside in their intended environment, Boucher did not have access to a property with a suitable outdoor area. But it could be done, she says, with proper security and utilities. Inside, she says 10-ft. ceiling heights are a must for displaying items such as patio umbrellas, and she recommends a minimum 20’x30’ of floor space to display one kitchen in a small patio setting.
Being a dealer for several brands of better outdoor furniture, barbecue grills and many of the products she sells, Boucher must manage a variety of samples and materials in-house. Furniture is easiest, she says, because she keeps fabric swatch books, finish samples and pictures for these special-order products. For other items such as building materials, Boucher utilizes her suppliers’ showrooms when customers prefer to pick out these items themselves.
As a full-service dealer, Outdoor Dreamscapes also sells the installation of its products. The firm has an electrician on staff, but hires outside contractors for other job aspects like plumbing and masonry.
Entertaining - Networking
Because they are made for entertaining, outdoor kitchens provide a great setting for business events. On average, Outdoor Dreamscapes hosts one event each month. Most are after-hours parties from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., for a specific group, such as homebuilders association members. While many are business mixers, some are open to the public as consumer events. For such occasions, Boucher offers a buffet of hot and cold food and appetizers, along with soft drinks, wine and beer served from the showroom Kegerator.
She recommends keeping a list of visitors to your booth at Home and Garden Show events. This way, it’s easy to send an impromptu e-mail invitation when you’re hosting an event or open house.
Boucher has defied the odds by carving her own niche as an outdoor kitchen expert. She has built a successful business by selling spaces that can be used just eight or nine months of the year in her region and many others.
Even if you don’t consider it a good risk as your only business, outdoor kitchens might be successful as an additional service in your area. To find out, do your homework: Is anyone else selling this trend? If not, you could be missing a lucrative opportunity.