Distributors reveal the top outdoor living trends they’ve observed and share successful display ideas.
Outdoor living has most definitely arrived. Americans are finding more ways to extend the flow of their homes by adding functional living, dining, hobby, and entertaining spaces outside. Not only are homeowners more fully enjoying their properties, but these improvements are also helping to bolster their home values.
Today, in many regions of the country, outdoor living areas are just as carefully planned out as interior rooms. A large backyard is no longer required; residential outdoor living spaces are being fashioned for small patios, courtyards, and even rooftop decks.
A recent survey indicated 43 percent of new home construction includes outdoor living options, and similar results were found among homeowners doing remodeling. Furthermore, according to the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Home Design Trends Survey, outdoor living rooms have taken the top spot in terms of growing consumer interest among special function rooms for the sixth consecutive year. Overall, the U.S. market for outdoor living products was expected to reach $24 -$25 billion in 2019 [as of press time].
There are a number of reasons cited for the growing popularity of outdoor living spaces:
- Shrinking lot sizes put a growing emphasis on flexible informal spaces.
- Travel costs have increased, resulting in many homeowners scheduling “staycations” to spend some quality vacation time at home.
- Members of Generation X (those born in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s) tend to be “maximizers,” meaning they want to get the most out of anything they buy, including all of the space on their property.
I spoke with showroom executives in several markets to get a feel for the changes they’ve experienced in outdoor lighting and how they are preparing for anticipated growth.
Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina
Coley Herrin, President and CEO of PDI – a privately held Georgia-based plumbing and lighting distributor with locations in several states – says there has been a significant increase in consumer demand for greater attention to detail in their outdoor spaces.
“Homeowners across a broader price range have become inspired by online resources with articles and pictures, which has piqued their interest in creating unique environments in their homes that are reflections of their personalities and lifestyles,” he comments. “And of course, seeing something cool at friends’ homes is always a motivation to make some changes.”
Just as spa-like bathrooms have been very popular in recent years, many consumers are now looking to create that same type of relaxing environment outdoors. This trend presents PDI with a great opportunity to grow the business across these categories.
“We got into lighting in 2001 through an acquisition and went through a learning curve over the next few years,” Herrin recounts. “We decided the best way to go forward was with the services of experts who either already had experience in lighting or would be dedicated to lighting sales. I think it says a lot about our commitment to that market that several of those initial people we hired are still with us. That decision also earned us a great deal of credibility and respect in the field.”
Herrin theorizes that PDI’s lighting expertise would enhance their customers’ outdoor living environments. “We know that homeowners will enjoy their outdoor spaces to the fullest when they are well-lit. The lighting we provide goes far beyond traditional flood and entry lights. We can create a whole new aesthetic that turns the exterior into living spaces they can enjoy,” he says. “When you add the technology component to this equation, it opens up even more possibilities for homeowners — and for us. Much of the outdoor lighting we sell is Bluetooth-enabled, which means it can be controlled by a cell phone and offers mood lighting options for greater ambiance.”
Herrin expects that outdoor lighting and living spaces will continue to be prominently featured online and on TV shows and will remain a growing market in the years to come.
“I think we are still in the infancy stages and just on the cusp of where things will ultimately go with the outdoor living market,” he predicts. “It’s a growing category that I think will become huge.”
Offering visual displays is one way to inspire consumers in their outdoor living plans. “Our displays are only a tiny snapshot of what we have access to; it’s really about starting the conversation,” Herrin says. “We want to give customers enough to spark their interest, and then our sales team will take that opportunity to develop the conversation. It’s interesting to drive through neighborhoods throughout our market. We’ll see subdivisions where every house’s elevation and landscape lighting looks exactly the same, and others where every home is unique and different. We have the products and expertise to sell to them all.”
Central Arizona Supply
11 locations throughout Arizona
and Las Vegas
The unique desert landscape across Arizona provides a tremendous background for outdoor living spaces. A native Arizonan, Savannah Lindau has a love for the natural beauty of the desert, and in just a short time at Central Arizona Supply, she has developed a passion for lighting and how it can enhance the exterior of a home.
“I had no experience in the decorative bath and kitchen industry when I began my career after graduating from the University of Arizona in 2014,” she remarks, “and I definitely didn’t know it was something I wanted to do. But now I totally believe that old saying, ‘When you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ It’s a great industry to be in, and it’s an incredible feeling to make homeowners’ dreams come to life,” Lindau affirms. “Lighting is fun and interesting. It adds an extra spark to a home that brings all the other elements together. Beyond the decorative results, I really enjoy the technical aspects of lighting projects. It can really make or change the mood in a room.”
Lindau admits that exterior lighting can be more challenging to sell because homeowners aren’t as familiar with the options available.
“Everyone knows what appeals to them about a home’s exterior, but they don’t necessarily know how to properly accentuate that look at night,” she states. “It’s our job to help them find their vision, and it’s fun to see homeowners get excited about the possibilities. There are so many beautiful components to our outdoor landscape here and the right lighting can turn things like a native Ocatillo [cactus] into a work of art. There is also an important safety component in Arizona: No one wants to walk down a path along their house and step on a snake!”
Many Arizona cities – and others across the country – have Dark Sky regulations that preserve the beautiful look of starry nights. Lindau notes that numerous manufacturers offer Dark Sky-approved fixtures in multiple styles and lighting spreads, many with LED technology, that allow homeowners to incorporate new design elements into their outdoor living areas without disturbing their views.
“Training is so important,” she acknowledges. “There is a lot to know when working with lighting – especially exterior lighting – that doesn’t come overnight. It’s detail-oriented, and you have to be very careful to ensure each component is outdoor-rated to hold up to a multitude of weather issues.”
Lindau has found that the best way to display exterior lighting is in settings that mimic an exterior wall or that are installed near a window setting. “We like to keep exterior lighting in its own separate environment in our showrooms, and we often add little extras like BBQ grills in our vignettes that lend a feeling of being outdoors on the showroom floor. We want to make selections as easy as possible for builders, designers, and homeowners.”
Offering plenty of variety has been another successful investment. “We can go from stem to stern with outdoor lighting, showing every level of lighting a home might need,” Lindau says. “Many of our manufacturers offer complementary interior and exterior lines. We emphasize to customers that exterior lighting can be done in stages. They may not have the budget for it all up-front, but it is more efficient and cost-effective if we can develop a long-term plan and lay the groundwork. We work closely with electricians, general contractors, plumbers, remodelers, and landscape contractors on the preparation and execution of exterior living projects. Ultimately, we encourage homeowners to have fun with these projects and really consider what will provide them the most enjoyment as an extension of their home for years to come.”
Lindau encourages showrooms to find people with a passion for exterior living to head up these projects.
“There are a lot of elements involved,” she comments. “Showrooms need to provide the motivation for their team to grow from within, and members of the sales staff need to grow their technical knowledge by working with reps, vendors, and organizations like the American Lighting Association for training.”
As the largest distributor and national decorative showroom network, Ferguson® has strong relationships with its vendors and a layout for its showroom displays that has proven successful.
As the category manager for decorative lighting, Caroline Danielson is involved with everything that is lighting-related, serving as the vendor contact and working closely with vendors and field associates.
“We are involved with almost all lighting vendors in some way, and there are 30+ vendors that we are in constant touch with,” Danielson recounts. “Many people know us from the plumbing industry, but they aren’t aware that we’ve actually had a strong presence in lighting for many years. As outdoor living spaces have heated up, it’s brought more attention to our lighting program,” she states.
“We saw the popularity of outdoor living spaces begin to boom during the recession that started in 2008. Homeowners were cutting expenses, including vacation travel, and stopped buying upgraded homes. Instead, they started investing in transforming their current homes into their dream homes,” Danielson remarks. “As that trend continued, it really added value to their homes and we strengthened and expanded our outdoor offerings as this trend took hold and has grown.”
According to Danielson, the key to successfully displaying exterior lighting is to show how layers of light can create a variety of customized atmospheres. Ferguson displays products by installation height and has found it helpful to include extra add-ons like pizza ovens.
“Our displays are designed to grab customers’ attention, help inspire them, and bring their vision to life,” she notes. “We want to ensure that each customer finds the right products for their home to create the atmosphere that will allow them to fully enjoy their outdoor living.” Danielson adds that Ferguson showrooms find their inspiration from a wide range of online sources, as well as customers themselves. In fact, they annually host a “Best in Show” competition where customers can submit projects to be featured.
“The trends we are currently seeing blend different types of organic materials like wood, rattan, and textiles with metal finishes to help create a seamless transition to the outdoor environment,” Danielson explains. “Sales for outdoor and interior lighting follow a similar process to plumbing or appliances. Our product experts work very closely with customers, learning their lifestyles, tastes, needs, and wants. Then we match all of that up with the right products to create their dream spaces.”
Ferguson is involved with a large number of trade professionals from carpenters, electricians, painters, drywallers, landscape architects, and design firms to highly trained and skilled contractors and electricians that specialize in outdoor and landscape projects.
“We value our relationships with contractors in the same way that we do our consumer customers,” Danielson notes. “For each project, it’s critical that the correct plumbing and electrical foundations are in place. Our associates work very closely with all parties to ensure we are providing the right materials and support for each job from start to finish.”