Brick & Block:
Sitting comfortably with friends or family in the backyard on a cool summer evening, with a warm fire and dinner sizzling on the grill, is pure pleasure. It is also the precise reason why people throughout North America are turning their yards and decks into inviting outdoor living spaces. People are extending the comfort and luxury of their homes into the great outdoors, and the result is the popular trend called the "outdoor room."
In general, the concept encompasses a grilling and eating area, pulled together with a hearth product, such as a fireplace, firepit or chiminea. Some outdoor rooms are similar to indoor kitchens, with expansive counter space and full food preparation areas complete with sinks and plumbing. It's even possible to add a dishwasher and a refrigerator to make trips inside to clean up or grab a cold drink a distant memory. Other outdoor rooms take the concept further with the addition of pizza ovens, cocktail bars, fountains, trellises, patio heaters, spas and pools. Landscaping, lighting and sculptures are additional elements that can help create a cohesive feeling within an outdoor space.
The Growing Trend
Outdoor rooms are a growing trend across the U.S. Pool and spa stores report that about 90% of their customers want an outdoor kitchen facility as part of their new installations. The U.S. Census Bureau advises that consumers now spend upwards of $40 billion annually on upgrading outdoor living areas and garden amenities. Also, Hearth & Home magazine writes that more than two-thirds of the 3,200 hearth, patio and barbecue specialty retail stores now actively promote the outdoor room concept most of them year-round.
The term "outdoor room" is an unbranded phenomenon that ties together all the components of the casual outdoor lifestyle, and as such the concept is larger than the sum of its parts. Consider these other facts:
- In 2002, U.S. consumers spent $172 billion on home remodeling and renovation, a major part of it on outdoor amenities. This was more than double the amount spent for new home construction.
- The number of second homes is projected to double by the year 2010 (to 10 million).
- American consumers spent in excess of $3 billion last year on outdoor furnishings, nearly $3 billion more on barbecue grills, equipment and accessories, and another $20+ billion on new pools and spas.
- Outdoor hearth products, such as chimineas, firepits and portable heaters, are selling at all-time highs.
There is a clear message here for mason contractors, whose skills are integral to upscale outdoor living environments. High-end retailers must bring in a range of artisans, including mason contractors, designers, landscapers and others, to properly produce these showcase outdoor rooms. Markets that demonstrate real demand for elaborate outdoor rooms will support an informal but effective consortium of contractors, where the goal is to feed one another's business while making the customer's life easier in the process.
From Nesting to Connecting
Market researchers have evolved their terminology for spending time at home with family and friends. For instance, "nesting" became "cocooning" after 9/11; since then, we have heard the words "hiving" and now "connecting." Whatever the demographic buzz word, U.S. homeowners, especially in an improving economy, continue to spend money in record amounts to make their homes safer, more attractive and comfortable. They are increasingly paying the same kind of attention to outdoor living space that they once gave only to interior decor.
The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), in its 2003 bi-annual survey of consumer attitudes and lifestyles, reports significant intention to upgrade outdoor cooking areas. Approximately 30% of barbecuing homeowners plan to upgrade and/or expand their barbecuing environment and that can directly translate to bricks, blocks and stone.
In a recent study of the outdoor room by Weber-Stephen Products, 1,000 gas grill owners with household incomes in excess of $75,000 were surveyed. Despite the fact that not all respondents use the term "outdoor room," more than half of those surveyed in fact have one. Nearly half of their "rooms" have an outdoor sound system, 28% have a pool, and 18% a hot tub or spa. Many have equipped their outdoor rooms with elaborate outdoor kitchen components, such as cabinets/storage area, countertops/cooking islands, refrigerators, sinks and running water. And these customized, elaborate installations take a ton of hardscaping. If mason contractors are not involved in outdoor room construction, they are missing a golden opportunity.
The Plan's the Thing
Although there are customers for whom money is no object, most homeowners need to plan and budget carefully. The basic definition of an outdoor room is an area that has facilities and space for cooking and dining outdoors whether on a patio, a deck or porch. Other amenities, such as shade, lighting and heat for cool evenings, upgraded landscaping/gardening, and pools or spas, quickly escalate to a very high ticket.
The barbecue industry position is that an outdoor room or kitchen with quality components is affordable for everyone, regardless of available space or budget. In fact, given the existence of a patio or heat-resistant decking, an effective "room" with a high performance gas grill, good outdoor furniture, umbrellas, lighting and a chiminea or portable heater can be had for approximately $2,500. On the other hand, for homeowners who spend $8,000 on an all stainless steel grill with every conceivable bell and whistle, carrera marble won't cause undue sticker shock.
The key is the plan: If the consumer wants to begin at a certain level and add to it in phases over several years, he or she is a potential masonry customer (this is where the consortium approach is essential).
See it All at EXPO
If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, think of seeing all that the hearth, patio and barbecue industries have to offer at HPBA's EXPO 2004, March 18-20, in Anaheim, Calif. More than 400 companies will introduce or demonstrate thousands of leisure lifestyle products both inside the Anaheim Convention Center, as well as in the Outdoor Burn Area, where fireplaces will blaze and barbecue grills will sizzle.
EXPO will show you the world of outdoor living in settings that generate dollars for you and make sense for your clients. To learn more, visit www.hpba.org and click EXPO.