Seeking an “endless summer”

By Terry Herbert November 20, 2015 Great Outdoors

Creating a great outdoors room is not just about eating, relaxing and entertaining – it’s about extending summer. And, with the right setting, seating, heating and lighting, can summer be year round? Terry Herbert reports.

To view a PDF of the complete feature as it appeared in NZ Hardware Journal magazine, click the download button at the bottom of this page.

As stockings and socks come off and dresses and shorts go on, spurred by daylight saving, Labour Weekend (and the back-to-back Rugby World Cup victory!), we cannot as a nation do anything less than eagerly anticipate summer.

But why wait for summer, as the hardware channel tell us, when we can bring summer to us?

Gary Woodhouse, General Manager Operations & Marketing at PlaceMakers, tells us that both the trade and consumers are looking for more ways to spend more of the year outdoors.

“People are asking us, ‘how can I spend more time outdoors’ and ‘how can I find alternative ways to cook outdoors’?”

Outdoor rooms are about relaxing, sharing a glass and dining. While some barbeques are being built-in, the vast majority of our barbeque sales are standalone hooded barbeques. The new trends we’re seeing are an increasing demand for pizza ovens and pizza stones.

Heating is a big part of extending the summer season as well, adds Gary Woodhouse. “We’re getting requests now for outdoor fires to be part of the outdoor living area. I don’t mean patio heaters, there’s still a demand for those, but now especially with bigger renovations, we’re getting requests for built-in fires.

“These just extend the season where you can spend more time outside. We supply the total outdoor build from paving and decking to outdoor furniture and heating – that’s all part of it.”

 

WHAT’S ON TREND GLOBALLY?

I’m sure Gary Woodhouse will be pleased to know that his comments and in-store range are “on trend” with the world’s largest home design portal, US-based Houzz (www.houzz.com), which asked readers for the their top outdoor trends.

According to Houzz’s 260,000 global respondents, the top 10 outdoor trends for summer 2015-16 are:

  1. Outdoor rooms – Distinct outdoor rooms or spaces for cooking, dining, lounging and playing. “Rooms” with the right furniture make the space more interesting and aesthetically pleasing.
  2. Increasing use of vertical structures – Vertical structures such as walls, screens, pergolas and planters define and separate outdoor rooms. They take up little space, provide privacy and camouflage unwanted views.
  3. Clean lines for a sophisticated look – Curves in landscaping have given way to rectangular geometry. Think clean, sleek lines with sharp edges for this trendy urban vibe.
  4. Outdoor kitchens – The outdoor kitchen can be practical, convenient, functional and absolutely spectacular.
  5. Water features – Fountains, waterfalls, cascading ponds, rain showers, whatever the execution, water features add ambiance. They also mask external sounds like noisy neighbours...
  6. Fire features – Fire is a primal source of satisfaction. Custom built natural gas fireplaces and wood burning fire pits and pizza ovens are growing in popularity.
  7. Fibreglass swimming pools – Across the US and Canada, fibreglass pools have grown 6%, at the expense of concrete and vinyl pools, mostly because of lower costs and a life-time guarantee.
  8. Low maintenance – Today’s time-crunched homeowners are going low maintenance for their outdoor space. Sod is giving way to terracing, decks and mulched planting beds.
  9. Edible landscapes – The latest trend is blended gardens that incorporate edibles and ornamentals together. Gardens can be beautiful and delicious.
  10. The well-lit landscape – Customised outdoor lighting can light up your pool, water and fire features, patio, walkways and garden beds. The right lighting gives your outdoor space ambiance.

As you can see, much of Houzz’s survey predictions involve something masquerading as something else, elegant solutions to inelegant situations, affordable as high-end. That’s the aspirational marketplace for you.

 

SPENDING MORE TIME & MONEY

Meanwhile, closer to home, Dee Lal, General Manager of Mitre 10 MEGA Botany and Henderson, is telling us that the release of Mitre 10’s Outdoor Living 2015 Collection catalogue is proof that the cooperative too sees outdoor rooms and outdoor living as an important and growing category.

“Definitely a big category,” he confirms. “Outdoor furniture and the introduction of Weber barbeques have been very, very popular this year. The traditional Masport hood barbeques are still there but the new Webers have really taken off.

“The trend I’m really noticing in our stores is that people are spending more on outdoor furniture. And they don’t go for the cheapest ones. Previously, I’m guessing, they’ve spent money on cheaper items and they’ve rusted or fallen apart.

“So they’ve learned that if they spend more money on good quality furniture it’s going to last a lot longer. And if there’s one thing I know – Kiwis love the outdoors.”

Ironically, at the exact time we were interviewing Dee Lal, he was actually building his own deck. We asked him if he had watched the appropriate Mitre 10 Easy As video?

Laughing heartily, he tells me, “Yes I watched the video and I’ve got the brochure here too. I’m using it for reference to make sure all the joists are the right size and distance to meet code. I’ve got a couple of mates here helping me. You can hear them sawing the timber. They’ll expect a few beers and dinner afterwards too (laughs).”

“This year the other hot item for us,” he continues, “is LED lighting which is a good sign for the future. A few years ago LED lights were too expensive but the costs have come down and education has gone up.

“Better customer understanding through education, brand and government television advertising of the features and long term benefits have all helped people realise the value. If I had to sum up our entire outdoor range it would be that it satisfies what people want – better quality and value.”

 

ARE BARBIE’S GETTING SMALLER?

Having devoted space above to the new kids on the BBQ block and not wishing to cast any aspersions on the trusty Masport hooded barbeque, I asked Masport’s Steve Hawkes for his take on the market.

“First of all and I don’t want to seem like I’m skiting,” he says “ but we have just picked up the title of Most Trusted Brand in Outdoor Power Equipment for the 6th year in a row. Our brand awareness is way up there so we’re still getting our share of barbeque sales, but I will admit it’s status quo.

“Everything you need comes in one package. We’re not the cheapest but, when you add up all the extras and accessories that come standard with a Masport, plus you get 304 grade stainless steel, the value of the package seems to stack up. That’s where we’re holding our share of the market.”

For those of you out there who don’t know, the difference between the steel grades is all about the carbon content in the steel. 316 is marine grade steel, it’s what’s used out on the ocean. With 430 grade there are rust issues because of the higher carbon content.

“It’s cheaper and it’s more malleable but it comes with rust issues and we don’t want that associated with a Masport barbeque. We use 304 because it has a very low carbon content,” says Masport’s Hawkes.

Steering Hawkes back to market share, he resumes his thread, “We haven’t lost any ground and we haven’t picked any up.” Without being prompted about Weber, he confides: “There are players out there, a couple in particular, that are making a bit of noise in the market place.

“That’s been good for barbeque sales all round. Weber, Broil King and Beefeater have been very active. They’re out there advertising. Weber in particular have a strong campaign and brand out there. They’re getting noticed.”

As they say, sometimes it doesn’t matter who’s leading the promotion stakes in a consumer-facing category, because all of the players will see some of the benefits…

 

LOSING FAT & GAINING A SCOOP

Still, you can’t sit there and wait for the orders to roll in. When asked how Masport is combatting the increased competitive activity Steve Hawkes says: “We’ve introduced our new fat drainage system. The feedback we’re getting from the retailers is that their customers want healthier barbeque cooking options with less fat.

“The days of throwing steaks and snags on a barbie are still there, but more and more people are learning what they can and can’t do with a barbeque. The market is maturing.”

At this point Hawkes pauses for some time, obviously weighing up what to say next… “More and more the market is shifting to smaller type barbeques. That’s where Weber are making inroads.”

At which point he pauses again, sounding cagey but continues: “OK, you can have the scoop. We’re going to be distributors for a product called Ziegler & Brown. They’re a range of barbeques that are very powerful, with a very high megajoule output, but they’re small. They still put out a lot of heat.”

Warming to the subject he continues: “They have the same footprint as a Weber, there’s a portable, a dual grille and a triple grille and they’re fantastic! I’ve trialled one. People think a Weber is a different way of cooking, but it’s just a smaller footprint. Smaller is more in fashion, more in vogue so we’re responding.

With Masport expecting its first shipment just after this magazine comes out, he continues: “The portable will retail around the $300 mark, but we expect the twin grille will be the bigger seller.”

Ziegler & Brown will be exclusive to specialist outlets, rather than the general hardware retailers. “Like I said before,” says Masport’s Hawkes, “The market keeps moving and we have to move with the market.”

 

INSPIRE THEM & THEY WILL COME

With the market firmly in mind we cross back to PlaceMakers’ Gary Woodhouse. The organisation has not been focused on the outdoor furniture market for some years: “Our trade and consumer customers have told us there’s a demand so this year our outdoor furniture and barbeques is our biggest and I think our best range.

“We’re already getting strong feedback from stores that sales are good. Kiwis don’t usually start thinking or looking for outdoor furniture until Labour Weekend. Typically that flags the start of summer or that outdoor season.

“For us to get this high level of early season sales, we’re certainly happy. Having daylight saving at the same time has really helped kickstart the season for us. Our range is all about outdoor entertaining and giving consumers one place where they can access everything they want in one place.

“Our catalogue has certainly helped. The role of a good catalogue is to provide inspiration. A customer will say ‘I can see that at my place’. We see outdoor living and entertaining as a strong trend. Absolutely!

“We see this as a natural extension from painting and renovating to creating these outdoor dining and entertaining areas. We see a similar pattern with paving, timber and decking. That’s the start of it. Outdoor living is very much a Kiwi thing.”

 

PAVING IS GETTING BIGGER & STRONGER

Shifting our attention to paving and tiling we decide to seek some outdoor insights from a paving specialist. Mike Syddall, General Manager at The Tile Depot, was just the expert we needed to quantify any trend predictions and add some credence.

“We go to the big tile fairs in Italy every year,” he explains, adding that the big trend this year is bigger. “Tiles are getting enormous. The Italians are trying to differentiate themselves from the Chinese so they’re releasing a lot of 60x120cm and even bigger sizes than that.”

The other new trend is 2cm thick tiles which are durable enough to be laid as a paver. “It can go straight onto grass or a compacted metal base or sit on those little deck jack pedestals,” enthuses Mike Syddall.

At this point I ask about the tensile strength of these tiles and were they strong enough to withstand vehicular traffic?

“The Germans actually started the trend and perfected the engineering. They wanted 20mm tiles that you could stick down and take the weight of cars without breaking. A 60x60cm tile can take a weight bearing load of 9,000 newtons ( 9kN more than twice the load it would bear if a large sedan car at 4.15kN ran over it). Just put down central deck jacks and you can run cables underneath.

“We’ll be introducing those bigger tiles that are twice the size of a standard ‘big’ New Zealand tile. When you take into account that they’re also twice as thick, that equates to four times the weight. In terms of importing, distributing and installation, that’s four times more problematic for us but the end user is going to get a stunning result.”

 

BOB MARLEY’S IN YOUR POOL

The Tile Depot’s Mike Syddall is just as enthusiastic about tiled pools. “We’re coming into swimming pool season. It’s that time when I really look forward to the big, juicy swimming pool projects.

“We’ll be pushing a brand called Trend mosaics which has an endless range, but they also custom make. For example, if you want an image of Bob Marley on the bottom of your pool they can supply that.”

The benefits of porcelain over concrete or a limestone paver is no maintenance: “There’s nowhere for mould to grow plus you have far more colour options. What’s cool too is they now make a rounded bull nose for swimming pool edging that you can match to your tile surround. In the past finding a decent pool coping has been difficult – not any more!”

Asked if he considers the big box chains a threat to Tile Depot’s specialist role, Syddall falls just short of dismissive: “Not really – they’re quite disjointed amongst themselves. Some of the independent owners have a good range but tiles are very difficult to warehouse and distribute.

“It’s all batch manufactured and, if your front line staff aren’t experts in what they’re selling, it can get quite messy in terms of product coming back. I think most of the big box stores can’t be bothered with them.”

 

ON-TREND OUTDOORS

Switching tack back our Top 10 trend list let’s touch briefly on edible gardens. Outdoor companies like landscaping specialist Zones (www.zones.co.nz) are reporting increased demand for flowering gardens you can eat.

Bringing fruit and colour to limited spaces are espaliered apples, figs, thornless blackberry, raspberry, passion fruit climbers, and selected citrus. In our Kiwi gardens it’s also important to note that flowers provide a symbiotic relationship with bees inviting pollination as well as delicious fresh fruit and vegetables.

Rounding off the article, if you haven’t already, do take a moment to read the smaller articles around this main thread. You’ll discover that New Zealand is pretty much on-trend with the rest of the world with our great outdoor rooms, what we place in them, how we use them, light them, heat them and what we grow in or around them.

If we need more outdoor space inspiration we can watch TV shows like Get Growing. In short, our Kiwi summers are definitely lasting longer and getting warmer. And we predict we’ll all be in our outdoor rooms enjoying them and for longer too. Enjoy your summer.

 


 


OUTDOOR EXPOs TAKE A GRILLING

This year’s GIE+EXPO held at the end of October is once again the biggest ever for the US outdoor garden and landscaping industry.

Co-located with Hardscape North America in Louisville Kentucky it drew thousands of excited visitors keen to see the latest power tools, technology, outdoor living and landscaping trends.

And according to The Freedonia group (www.freedoniagroup.com) US demand for outdoor furniture and grills is forecast to rise 3.7% annually to US$9.1 billion in 2019. An improving economy and trends toward at-home outdoor entertaining and “staycations” are behind the predicted growth.

Across the Atlantic, in Cologne, at spoga+gafa, Europe’s largest garden trade fair welcomed no less than 37,000 trade visitors. They were treated to the latest trends in garden living including; garden furniture, decoration, outdoor grilles, water features, lighting, plants & flowers.

www.gie-expo.com  
www.spogagafa.com

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