Outdoor living has become a distinct, growing business closely aligned to home fashion and function that has opened merchandising opportunities being pursued enthusiastically by retailers.
Today, outdoor living may be influencing indoor lifestyles almost as much as the inside styling influences outdoor living, as attested by the indoor gardens consumers are creating and the electric indoor countertop grills they’ve purchased.
The first annual HomePage News Consumer Outlook Survey, commissioned by the International Housewares Association, revealed purchase intent findings in core home and housewares categories from a national online survey by Morning Consult of some 4,000 prospective U.S. home product shoppers heading into 2022. According to the survey, about 38% of consumers are very likely or likely to purchase an outdoor living product in the months ahead, and another quarter might make such a purchase. They aren’t necessarily looking for lower-end products either: 20% of study participants said they were willing to spend $100 to $199.99 on an outdoor living item and 15% said they were willing to spend more than $200.
Why they are buying is notable, too. While a third of the HomePage News 2022 Consumer Outlook Survey respondents said that they were replacing a broken or old product, 13% of respondents said they would be first-time buyers; and 10% said they were ready to be swept up by an impulse buy in a product category where key products aren’t priced in the casual purchase range. Further, 9% were concerned with aesthetics as they wanted to match their home décor; 8% wanted to try fresh cooking ventures; and 22% had an eye on updated items with new features. The numbers demonstrate that many outdoor living shoppers are on the lookout for products that suit their lifestyle priorities.
A view on retailers that are or have become dedicated to serving the outdoor living consumer comprehensively can provide some direction as to how the market for backyard, patio deck and balcony products is advancing. Most mass-market retailers and suppliers may never offer $1,000-plus grills. However, they have a fair chance of providing the accessories that support the amenities associated with an enhanced approach to outdoor living from cooking tools to tableware to blenders. What’s important to consider is that many consumers today are investing in their outdoor spaces and creating opportunities.
BBQ Guys is among the retailers investing to make the most of those opportunities. The retailer offers shoppers barbecue grills and related items, including grilling tools and some cookware items. It also increasingly works with contractors and even home builders on the development of outdoor kitchens.
Among other recent moves, BBQ Guys hired Justin Petersen as chief merchandising officer. Petersen had been Wayfair’s general manager of accent, entertainment and office furniture and, prior to that, he had a role in the retailer’s fireplaces and grills and outdoor décor operations.
Petersen is leading the development and execution of a comprehensive category management structure at BBQ Guys. The goal is to place BBQ Guys in a position to serve as the premier destination for consumers and contractors to outfit outdoor kitchen and outdoor living spaces.
For BBQ Guys, as with other such purveyors, the outdoor kitchen is central to their outdoor living conceptions, and the company wants to give consumers all they need to build them by providing design services and products including outdoor furniture, lighting, fire pits and heaters so they can build spaces to their preferences and use them if not year-around in some geographies, then for as much of the year as possible.
BBQ Guys, which started as a brick-and-mortar store in Baton Rouge, LA, has evolved with retail and through the pandemic as a national online operation. The company also has evolved with the outdoor living sector to put greater emphasis on outdoor kitchen sales. That doesn’t mean they no longer sell grills and related items individually. However, the company has seen the shift to more comprehensive approaches to outdoor living among consumers and has enhanced its ability to satisfy consumers who want end-to-end execution of their plans.
Petersen pointed to the increase in customer demand for full outdoor kitchens at BBQ Guys as evidence of the shift in how consumers approach outdoor living. Ge observed the general shift to home-centric lifestyles, often including a considerable component of work time, is a change in habits observed back to the Great Recession and gaining vastly through the COVID-19 pandemic.
A consequence of consumers being pressed into a more home-concentered existence whether by economics or pandemic is that many consumers skipped the starter home stage of home ownership. Many didn’t purchase until they were older than had been typical among earlier generations, and they did so to put themselves where they wanted to raise new families. They purchased homes intending to remain in them for 20 or 30 years, and, so, they are investing in their households for the long term, Petersen observed. Consumers also tend to purchase smaller, both for social and financial reasons, so they want to make the most out of space where they intend to spend more time than did earlier generations. So, investing in outdoor living is consistent with their long-term plans.
“What we’ve really seen happen is that people aren’t just buying a stand-alone, few-hundred-dollar charcoal or gas grill like they have in the past,” Petersen told HomePage News. “The outdoor kitchen is becoming the center of the space on the outside. That’s where BBQ Guys has really specialized their business in terms of smokers, pizza ovens, the built-in grills, refrigeration, vent hoods, and then expanding into patio furniture, lighting, patio heaters.”
BBQ Guys has evolved with a growing consumer preference to approach outdoor spaces as they would those indoors. Consumers have become more adept in and confident about designing their own household spaces, raised as they have been on shelter magazines, home-oriented cable TV programming, and, increasingly, online video that can offer multiple approaches to just about any home project imaginable. As they’ve become more eager to tackle major indoor projects, it’s hardly surprising that consumers might approach outdoor spaces in a less incidental and more all-dedicated manner.
What we’ve really seen happen is that people aren’t just buying a stand-alone, few-hundred-dollar charcoal or gas grill like they have in the past. The outdoor kitchen is becoming the center of the space on the outside. That’s where BBQ Guys has really specialized their business in terms of smokers, pizza ovens, the built-in grills, refrigeration, vent hoods, and then expanding into patio furniture, lighting, patio heaters.
– Justin Petersen, Chief Merchandising Officer, BBQ Guys
At the same time, many consumers including those who are more comfortable arranging their own living spaces may need help with the specific steps taken to put together their outdoor environments.
“We’re focused at BBQ Guys on taking the complexity out of project planning in terms of our value-added service,” Petersen said. “We have a dedicated phone sales team and chatbot on-site to make sure people don’t get intimidated by the potential complexity of creating an outdoor space that they love.”
With high housing costs, their expressed preference for living smaller and the need to make more out of spaces that incorporate more professional and leisure-time activities, new Millennial homeowners often want households that use space more efficiently and effectively.
“This is a generational shift,” Petersen said. “The pandemic and the Great Recession left marks on the generation and will impact how they go forward and live their lives. While there is some sense of return to normalcy, the reality is how people live and work on a day in day out basis is going to be fundamentally shifting. Maybe it’s not 100% remote, but even the folks who are going back to the office, the majority of them are not going in five days a week.
“In turn the need for some of the space for the expansion from indoor to outdoor and maximizing all of the living space they have to the fullest extent is going to continue to stay with us,” Petersen continued. “The reality is, it’s taken longer for a lot of these folks to have the ability to purchase a home and once they are in the home, they’re going to make the most of what that house is. There has been a lot written around people maybe skipping what the first starter home was and jumping into what is more of a generational home.”
BBQ Guys has experienced more interest in more comprehensive builds and developed a dedicated team to work with contractors in providing solutions including design services. Contractors establish the plan and BBQ Guys deliver the appliances and related products.
“We’ve seen significant growth in that business, so we’ve oriented ourselves by creating pro division dedicated sales teams and members who can answer questions for those folks,” Petersen said. “We see that as a big opportunity for growth in our business. Still, certainly there is a click-and-buy business and an item-based business but a more holistic project view is certainly where the trends have gone over the past couple of years.”
It’s not just a grill anymore, you’ve got a fridge, you have potentially multiple types of grills, power burners, vent hoods and additional accessories to make sure that depending on the occasion, they’re prepared to meet their needs and host a party and have that space be flexible.
– Justin Petersen, Chief Merchandising Officer, BBQ Guys
BBQ Guys is positioned to serve the emerging needs of homeowners as they are expressed today, he said, including their evolving product preferences.
“You’ve seen share losses from gas and charcoal into not just fuel changes, like pellet, but also into the types of products people are interested in — pizza ovens, the Kamado grills,” Petersen said.
Products such as pizza ovens and griddles weren’t a big deal a few years ago, he noted, but now they’re important growth categories.
In the course of changing trends on major outdoor living appliances, consumers are acquiring specific tools that suit new outdoor ventures. Whether through a contractor or on their own, consumers are outfitting their outdoor kitchens and ancillary spaces with the appropriate appliances and extensions, including bars, refrigerators and fire pits, among other pieces, so they can cook and entertain outdoors as they have indoors.
“It’s not just a grill anymore, you’ve got a fridge, you have potentially multiple types of grills, power burners, vent hoods and additional accessories to make sure that depending on the occasion, they’re prepared to meet their needs and host a party and have that space be flexible,” Peterson said.
The foundation of BBQ Guys’ business is upper-end and premium grills and outdoor kitchen products. Now, though, BBQ Guys is evaluating how to finish out outdoor spaces and become a more rounded lifestyle retailer. The company has begun expanding outdoor furnishings such as lighting and heating products, with cookware and cooking tools already part of its product offering. BBQ Guys will review various housewares categories, which could encompass tabletop, glassware, serveware, small appliances and related products, to see if and where they might fit.
“We’re in early stages of evaluating what are the relevant categories around that space we can expand into, and you’ll see a lot more of that as we go into 2023,” Petersen said. “But I think the trend in terms of treating their space similarly to the indoor spaces is consistent in terms of… How are you going to decorate the room? What are the right accents? We’re focused in the near term on providing the absolute best services to customers in the barbecue space. We see a tremendous opportunity in people adding lights and patio heaters and outdoor TVs, and we’re in early stages of what that can look like relative to BBQ Guys.”
We’re in early stages of evaluating what are the relevant categories around that space we can expand into, and you’ll see a lot more of that as we go into 2023. But I think the trend in terms of treating their space similarly to the indoor spaces is consistent in terms of… How are you going to decorate the room? What are the right accents? We’re focused in the near term on providing the absolute best services to customers in the barbecue space.
– Justin Petersen, Chief Merchandising Officer, BBQ Guys
With the growth of the grill and appliance businesses has come growth in barbecue accessories.
“The idea of having the right product to have a specific need, consumers continue to spark to, and it’s a space that’s trend-driven. That’s something everyone needs to stay on top of and we strive to stay on top of,” Petersen said.
The evolution in outdoor living isn’t just about retailers that focus on grills expanding into more comprehensive product presentations. Some retailers, chains or individual stores, that specialize in home and housewares items are moving into outdoor products on a larger scale, Kirkland’s being a case in point. However, Kirkland’s is a work in progress.
Faraday’s Kitchen Store in Austin, Texas, in contrast, already has built a substantial business in grills and outdoor kitchens in a space that shares a wall with the established gourmet housewares business.
Tony Curtis-Wellings, Faraday’s co-owner, told HomePage News that his kitchen store began selling Big Green Egg (pictured below with celebrity chef, David Rose) grills five years ago after a long period of selling just outdoor grill accessories with only fair results. However, the Big Green Egg took off at Faraday’s and, in 2021, Curtis-Wellings made the decision to open an outdoor kitchen appliance showroom next door. The COVID-19 pandemic at the time was encouraging people to figure out ways to make staying at home more enjoyable, and cooking out was one way to do that. Generational differences were emerging at the same time with older consumers going for more charcoal grilling and younger consumers for pellets.
“Now, we have 10 outdoor kitchen lines and brands, the majority built in the United States,” Curtis-Wellings said. “We’re focused on full outdoor kitchen appliance products, built-in rather than something a la carte. It’s been huge. It’s rocked my world since we started in June of last year.”
The space devoted to the outdoor kitchen operation shares a wall with the gourmet housewares store. Kitchen appliance shoppers enter through the kitchen store and can almost immediately enter the outdoor kitchen operation. The two operations don’t just share an entrance. Curtis-Wellings said the more than 16,000 names on the gourmet housewares store’s email distribution list helped jump-start the outdoor kitchen appliance business. By March of this year, the new businesses turned profitable and the success has continued.
“People are focused on the outdoor area and outdoor kitchens just seem to be growing with that,” he said. “I think it’s purely a lifestyle play. Our average demographic is 35 to 40. They want to be outside, in the backyard. A lot of time is spent inside on the computer and working. Once they break away from the business aspect, what they want out of life is to be in the backyard. They create an oasis in the backyard. You look at some backyards now and you almost think you are in a boutique hotel. Some people, in implementing the backyard plan, won’t spend money inside.”
Curtis-Wellings credited the introduction of color in grills, with Heston being a key example, for advancing the idea that outdoor cooking should be considered in a larger, more decorative context. As such, color helped to convince consumers that design in the outdoor space was more than the look of their outdoor furniture. If color is an important part of interior design, so should it create a context and aesthetic in exterior household spaces.
The idea of what an outdoor space ought to include has continued to grow over the past few years, Curtis-Wellings said. Outdoor refrigerators have become more popular, for instance, and that has meant the space under the sky is always ready for use, and safely so. He said more of the outdoor refrigerators he sells have locks to keep alcoholic beverages out of the wrong hands. Outdoor pizza ovens upped the entertainment potential, and outdoor grill tops have expanded the range of what people might want to cook up, including breakfast.
Curtis-Wellings said his outdoor kitchen operation is focused on product. The operation has relationships with service contractors that do build-outs that include hardscapes, the underfoot and landscaped elements of the outside space. He added that innovation as applied to the construction of outdoor living spaces has made outdoor kitchens more attractive and, in some cases, less expensive. Modular aluminum islands, in one example, have helped with the cost of outdoor kitchen builds and can go with homeowners if they move.
As consumers equip their backyards with appliances that allow them to do more kinds of cooking, Faraday’s gourmet store business is right next door to provide whatever tools are needed to complete the job.
With the pandemic winding down, Curtis-Wellings said, the outdoor kitchen operation has the potential to boost sales in the original operation at a time when cooking at home has become less of a priority.
Faraday’s outdoor kitchen business in March surpassed the kitchen store business in sales “with the potential to double or triple,” Curtis-Wellings said. The business already has a 2,500-square-foot warehouse that operates in conjunction with the 5,500 dual-store retail space.
People are focused on the outdoor area and outdoor kitchens just seem to be growing with that. I think it’s purely a lifestyle play. Our average demographic is 35 to 40. They want to be outside, in the backyard. A lot of time is spent inside on the computer and working. Once they break away from the business aspect, what they want out of life is to be in the backyard. They create an oasis in the backyard. You look at some backyards now and you almost think you are in a boutique hotel. Some people, in implementing the backyard plan, won’t spend money inside.
– Tony Curtis-Wellings, Faraday’s Co-Owner
He and Faraday’s staffers have learned over the past couple of years the difference between operating a transactional and a relationship business. With the outdoor kitchen store, Faraday’s staff is going to customer homes, seeing how they want their spaces to work and learning more than ever about their personal dispositions around cooking in the broadest sense, which is knowledge that can translate into better business practices across the operation.
“With that business, customer relationships are the focus,” he said. “It’s one thing to sell something over the Internet, and it’s another thing to develop relationships with customers. I’m a needs-based sales guy, and in the kitchen store, it’s usually a need where I can put something in front of you. Now, we’re in their homes, spending time with them outdoors, accommodating them, getting information. The synergistic value is incredible. This will help us get through the next five or 10 years and grow the brand.”
Outdoor Living Supply
In April, Outdoor Living Supply, a distribution platform for outdoor living products with a focus on hardscapes such as walkways, patios, walls, decks, fire and water features as well as outdoor kitchens, announced that it had acquired Back Yard Living, an independent distributor of decorative hardscape, paving stones, fireplaces, outdoor appliances and outdoor lighting. The acquisition of the Abington, MA, Back Yard Living put OLS further into the Northeast while providing additional expertise in the outdoor living products industry.
BYL has worked with homeowners but also builders, landscape architects and contractors, and its outdoor product showroom incorporates 20,000 square feet of items ranging from fireplaces and outdoor kitchens to fountains, footpaths, steps, statues, stones, pergolas, ponds, pavers and retaining walls, as well as furniture, lighting and speakers. In other words, BYL has been a soup-to-nuts outdoor living operation that enhances OLS capabilities in its comprehensive outdoor operations.
Outdoor Living Supply has a distinct approach to the marketplace, acting as a distribution platform for outdoor living products with a specific, differentiated focus on hardscapes. To fill out the business, OLS seeks to partner with family- and founder-led companies with shared values and local heritage, as it characterizes its approach to business. In that way, it can provide the products, resources, technology, and training to enhance the customer experience and create new opportunities.
Kathy Granger, OLS marketing director, said that, although the company emphasizes hardscapes, it has developed the capability to take on just about any outdoor living challenge through acquisitions and partnerships.
In its work with builders, the focus is generally on hardscapes that allow home purchasers to fashion their outdoor space as they choose furniture and appliances, whether doing so on their own or with contractors. The BYL acquisition is an example of how the company can work with existing businesses to develop its operation in new territories as more consumers look at outdoor living as an important part of domestic life, whether they are purchasing a home or creating a new environment as a lifestyle extension.
BYL has a strong outdoor appliance business that made them attractive to Outdoor Living Supply, Granger said.
“It has become a common trend to see the outdoor living space included as part of a new build or home remodel project,” Granger said. “Since the pandemic, these outdoor living spaces have become places that increase the enjoyment of the home, creating spaces where people can gather outdoors to entertain, to relax or even to work in their outdoor home offices. You’ll see homes where people are running porcelain pavers from their outdoor patio right through to their indoor space. The lines between in- and outdoors have really blurred. The outdoors has become a true extension of the home living space. It’s been an amazing transformation.”
The process has included the expansion of developments that started in parts of the United States where it’s generally comfortable outdoors all year round to those where, at least traditionally, people expected to conduct their activities indoors for several months of the year.
“The outdoor kitchen has been around in warmer climates for a long time,” Granger said, “and now it’s happening all over, even here in Minnesota. It’s really a quality-of-life opportunity for homeowners. There has been a societal change of perspective in how we like to cook and entertain. Elements like fire pits and fireplace products now let us do that outdoors, even in colder climates. Thanks to new technologies and innovations, climate no longer prevents us from maximizing the use of our outdoor living spaces.”
It has become a common trend to see the outdoor living space included as part of a new build or home remodel project. Since the pandemic, these outdoor living spaces have become places that increase the enjoyment of the home, creating spaces where people can gather outdoors to entertain, to relax or even to work in their outdoor home offices. You’ll see homes where people are running porcelain pavers from their outdoor patio right through to their indoor space. The lines between in- and outdoors have really blurred. The outdoors has become a true extension of the home living space. It’s been an amazing transformation.
– Kathy Granger, Marketing Director, Outdoor Living Supply
Products including outdoor fireplaces, fire pits and heaters, developed generally to help people in warmer climates enjoy chill nights, have prompted a change in thinking throughout the U.S. What is true in the consumer case has been true in the food service arena as well, where the pandemic had the effect of encouraging restaurants to develop year-around, or almost year-around, outdoor dining.
In a new phase, suppliers are creating more capable outdoor appliances that provide enhanced levels of performance.
“As far as we are concerned, the evolution of outdoor appliances supports the business as it plays into how people are expanding their expectations of outdoor living spaces,” she says. “Including the outdoor space as an element of the home design is now a reality, and it is a trend that continues to develop. Design elements may play on regional colors and can easily embrace the style of the home and homeowner, be it contemporary or rustic. Just add some well-placed accent lighting, a fire and/or water feature, and other key accessories to finish a project you can enjoy both day and night. We see people educating themselves, continually looking for new ways to make their outdoors more livable and enjoyable.”
In some places, outdoor living even supports sustainability as consumers replace lawns with more elaborate patios and decks.
As things have evolved, the trend for customization is becoming stronger and looks to drive a new stage of outdoor living development.
“People want to see ideas, get inspiration from what everyone else is doing,” Granger says. “They convert that inspiration into a space that reflects their own style. Some people do it on their own, some people hire a contractor to help them. For us, it’s an exciting and cool space to be in, we get to help people bring their dreams to life.”
More Outdoor Living Consumer Outlook Findings:
Click on charts to enlarge.
All charts from HomePage News 2022 Consumer Outlook Survey.