Selling the Outdoor Room

Demand for outdoor rooms is booming. Here's how to present such a project to customers.

Outdoor rooms are in great demand. In 2007, U.S. homeowners again requested greater attention to outdoor living spaces, including upscale landscaping, fireplaces, kitchens, courtyards and gazebos, according to an annual home design survey to architects by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, Ph.D, notes: "More than half of respondents reported that space that helps blend indoor and outdoor living is increasing in popularity," Kermit says. "With added attention to outdoor space and activities, respondents noted the continued popularity in upscale landscaping and outdoor amenities."

Outdoor kitchens, great rooms and patios extend the living space and come in at a fraction of the cost, in many cases, to finished interior space, notes Ross Johnson, vice president of sales at Fire Stone Home Products, maker of outdoor grills, fireplace and accessories in Burnsville, Minn.

While patios are denoted by seating, a table and an optional fireplace, Ross says that, like their indoor counterparts, outdoor rooms and entertaining spaces often include these elements:

  • Structure: pergola, columns or other hardscaping elements

  • Food preparation or grilling island area with socializing close to the cooking area

  • Dining area: benches, pub chairs at an island or tables

  • Socializing area: whether casual seating or doubling up with dining area

  • Lighting: task and ambient lighting, such as ground lighting, electrical or gas. If a light is portable, anchoring systems are recommended for safety.

  • Entertainment or quasi-entertainment elements such as a fireplace (doubling as zone heating), firepits, infrared heaters, marine-grade stereo systems (often built into the grill island), TV, spa or pool

Little Discounting

All these accoutrements don't come cheap. "There's not tremendous room for great discounts as there's not a big markup that goes to the end consumer. We buy direct through manufacturers or via distributors of grills, fireplaces, etc." says Jonathan Carr, president of Grillmaster's Garden, a landscape design firm and dealer of outdoor accessories in Zionsville, Ind. "The landscape contractor makes their money in the rest of the project, not in the sale of the appliances."

"Pricing isn't an exact science," Ross agrees. The company is typical of many outdoor gear makers that offer discounts to dealers, and Ross says, installation costs to the customer typically run about five percent to 10 percent of the retail price. "If the hardscaping is already done, including pavers, you're looking at half a day to a day to put up a pergola and complete gas lines, etc."

For instance, the retail price of Fire Stone's deluxe Sonoma great room package, complete with 32 cubic foot pergola with wall section, island-style gas grill, gas fireplace and lantern as well as furniture, is nearly $22,800. Combined with installation costs and other landscaping costs on the project, Ross says, total costs are closer to $30,000.

Tom Kolbo, an independent manufacturer's rep in Dana Point, Calif., says contractors can get products from distributors, dealers or directly from manufacturers in some cases. "Generally speaking, industry discounts on outdoor equipment starts at 10 percent and moves with volume," Tom says.

Reporting a proliferation of products geared toward outdoor rooms in the last few years, Tom handles a number of outdoor lines, including Fire Stone, Meteor Barbecue Ware and Pacific Coast Manufacturing barbecue islands. "Freight isn't included typically, and each project is so different. Some of the distributors sell direct to contractors."

Tips to the Trade

Tom recommends that contractors who are considering outdoor rooms align themselves with a solid professional installer and a reputable landscaper. "That's key to delivering a good outdoor great room."

Jonathan adds that contractors should find established, reputable dealers and vendors. "Try to find someone that can help plan a space and look beyond the grill or the equipment."

Marcia Jedd writes frequently about design and construction issues.

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