The Real SoCal

Carol_Photoby Carol Daus

After reading Bill Sendelback’s distorted article, “Tough Times in SoCal,” in the July 2014 issue of Hearth & Home, the following points are obvious: 1) Bill does not live in Southern California and probably didn’t visit the area when he wrote the article; 2) Bill did not talk to enough successful specialty retailers in Southern California whose businesses are booming.

And why are savvy specialty retailers prospering in the current economic SoCal business climate? Because the economy is in a strong recovery mode, resulting in job growth, rising home prices, and even robust retail sales in some sectors. But Bill claims that business is down in “SoCal” due to what he calls a “poor economy, a severe decline in the value of homes, and anemic new home construction”–all of which couldn’t be further from the truth!

According to Moody’s Analytics, California currently leads all states in job gains. One could argue that a state (like California) that lost the most jobs during the recession  would experience the greatest gains as it climbs out of the hole, but if you study the type of growth that’s occurring, it also reveals that the housing sector is expanding here faster than other regions of the country. In Orange County, the unemployment rate stands at 5.0%. This compares with an unadjusted unemployment rate of 7.3% for California and 6.3% for the nation during the same period.

Obviously, this is great news for Southern California retailers and manufacturers. One in every eight new jobs created in California since the start of 2013 is in construction. In Orange County, construction accounted for nearly a third of all new jobs. The Associated General Contractors of America reported last month that Los Angeles and Orange counties ranked first and third among U.S. metro areas in April in creating new construction jobs. Construction workers are coming to Southern California in droves to find work. And homebuyers are snatching up new homes in Irvine, San Juan Capistrano, and other areas in south Orange County, not to mention other communities in SoCal.

House prices in most regions of SoCal have grown dramatically over the past couple of years. My unimpressive tract home in Huntington Beach would fetch $100,000+ more this summer than last summer. Five of my neighbors sold houses during the past year for more than the asking price after receiving multiple bids. The average price of a new KB Home ordered in California in the three months that ended May 31, 2014 was $591,000, up 18% from a year earlier. And home buyers are lining up to buy these houses. SoCal is also drawing a large amount of Chinese investment as that country’s real estate bubble continues to deflate and investors seek safe havens for their money. Irvine, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are the three largest markets for this new market niche.

And yes, Anaheim Patio & Fireside did close in Orange County, but what Bill failed to mention is that one of its shuttered stores was replaced by an exciting new business, Backyard Expressions in Huntington Beach, which has experienced strong sales since it opened its doors on Father’s Day 2014, under the ownership of Bill Montgomery (a 35+-year veteran of the casual furniture/grill/fireplace industry) and his daughter, Angela Rolish. Many other SoCal retailers are thriving as well, such as  Fireplace & Patio Trends in Orange, Roger’s Gardens in Newport Beach, Patioworld (4 locations in Southern California), and Today’s Patio in San Diego. The trendy Costa Mesa-based South Coast Collection (which houses locally owned home products businesses) has grown steadily and high-end manufacturer Brown Jordan opened its first direct-to-consumer showroom here a year ago. Furthermore, Wilshire Fireplace did not close its doors, as Bill states in his article. With a new ownership structure, Wilshire & Okell’s Fireplace Shops is a healthy 6-store enterprise with strong reviews on Yelp.

Even the dated and dowdy Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, California (located near the Patio & Hearth Products Report offices) is in the middle of a $200 million renovation that includes a new Nordstrom as an anchor store.

It’s true that regulatory actions in California have impacted the sale of hearth products in Southern California, but the drought and unusually warm weather during the past few years are having a much greater impact on fireplace sales. The first six months of 2014 were the hottest January-through-June period on record in California, representing nearly five degrees warmer than the 20th century averages. I bought a RH Peterson log set three years ago and have probably used it only a handful of times, not because the flames don’t look beautiful, but because it overheats my family room and that’s in the middle of winter without any heat turned on in the house!

Still, many Southern Californians who aren’t buying fireplaces are spending oodles on well-appointed outdoor kitchens, beautiful fire tables, and plush furniture collections. As some of the retailers in Bill’s article point out, the key to being successful in Southern California is being flexible enough to completely understand what types of products customers want to buy. Selling a Sub-Zero refrigerator to an Eskimo is probably as silly as selling a wood-burning fireplace to a Southern Californian.

I have lived in Southern California for 26 years, after living 29 years in the Midwest. I raised a family here in Southern California while struggling through two recessions. In terms of the present, I am optimistic about where things are going with our local economy. I am also confident that SoCal specialty retailers who sell outdoor-living and hearth products should continue to do well, as long as they have the ability to adapt to a changing marketplace. But then again, that’s a recipe for success regardless of the geography.

Carol Daus is the editor of Patio and Hearth Products Report.


Klaussner® Home Furnishings will debut its new outdoor living category this September at the ICFA show.

Klaussner® Home Furnishings will debut its new outdoor living category this September at the ICFA show in Chicago.

Klaussner® Home Furnishings will debut its new outdoor living category this September at the International Casual Furniture and Accessories Show in Chicago. The division, aptly named Klaussner Outdoor, will feature a wide variety of products geared toward the upper half of the outdoor market with offerings in good, better and best categories.

Outdoor furniture veteran Gary McCray, president of Klaussner Outdoor, originally came to Klaussner in March to begin developing the outdoor category. Bringing more than 25 years of outdoor experience to the table, McCray was formerly with Heritage Home Group where he most recently served as senior vice president of Sales, Designer Brands. Prior to this appointment, McCray was president of Lane Venture for five years culminating a tenure that spanned 34 years with the company. McCray also serves as vice chairman of the International Casual Furniture Association.

“I’m thrilled by the opportunity to bring my experience to Klaussner. We previewed a sampling of the new product at the July pre-market in Chicago and the response we received from the specialty retailers and the traditional Klaussner customer was outstanding,” said McCray. “The infrastructure has been in place all along for this new venture.  Couple that with the support of the impressive team at Klaussner and we think we’re creating something special here.”

Klaussner will introduce seven collections at the Chicago Show.

Klaussner will introduce seven collections in Chicago.

Also joining Klaussner’s Outdoor team as its sales and merchandise manager is Teresa Buelin, former vice president of Sales and Marketing for Lane Venture. Teresa brings extensive outdoor experience and relationships with key retailers to the Klaussner Outdoor team. She will be focusing on the development of the new division’s sales force of 60 representatives servicing accounts across the globe.

“We are very pleased with how quickly we’ve been able to bring this category to the marketplace,” said Klaussner president Bill Wittenberg. “The feedback from our retail partners has been impressive. It’s great to hear how excited they are that we are adding this category to our existing portfolio of products.”

Klaussner will introduce seven collections at the Chicago Show and the new line will also show at October Market in Klaussner’s dedicated space in the Klaussner on Hamilton Building.

Headquartered in Asheboro, N.C., Klaussner Home Furnishings has grown to become one of the largest furniture companies in America with showrooms in High Point, Las Vegas and Chicago. Its comprehensive selection and divisions include: Domestic Upholstery, Imported Upholstery, Domestic Motion, Case Goods, Enso Sleep Systems, Comfort Design and Klaussner Outdoor.


Sustainably cut, large-diameter trees (with more heart wood) lead to gorgeous and durable products.

Sustainably cut, large-diameter trees (with more heart wood) lead to gorgeous and durable products.

The word “furniture” features prominently in the Jensen Leisure Furniture name, but Robert Simeone, product development manager, insists “We are a wood company” at heart.

Simeone credits the remarkable uniformity and durability of the company’s wood furniture to sustainably cut trees that are usually between 125 and 150 years old. “We have close to two million acres in Bolivia, an area the size of Yellowstone National Park that is Forest Stewardship Council [FSC] certified,” he says. “Our company starts with our forest and timber supply, and it sets us apart from other companies.”

Going on two decades as an FSC entity, Jensen is completely integrated from the forest to wholesale distribution in the United States and the United Kingdom. “For companies that procure wood on a large volume basis, quality is always the number one challenge,” explains Simeone. “The trees that we cut, both the Ipe and the Roble have a large diameter, and that means heart wood increases.

The Opal Swivel Dining Group.

The Opal Swivel Dining Group.

“The key to longevity in weather is 100% heart wood, and the only way to get that is large diameter old trees,” adds Simeone.

By using only FSC certified wood, Jensen Leisure Furniture is working to maintain the long-term well-being of the forests and the people who depend on them.

The Ipé is certified to meet criteria of the FSC, a non-profit organization that sets international standards for responsible forestry. By sourcing materials in this manner, Jensen Leisure Furniture is helping to conserve tropical forests and enhance the standard of living in its surrounding communities.


The Cardiff Collection features a thick, durable resin wicker weave.

The Cardiff Collection features a thick, durable resin wicker weave.

With headquarters firmly entrenched in the Golden State, Sunset West has carved out a decade of success thanks to a wide spectrum of styling and design. The latest offerings are the Cardiff (upper left) and Leucadia (lower right) collections.

The Cardiff Collection features a thick, durable resin wicker weave with a boxed “T” cushion seat and back cushion. The correct seating geometry and generous proportions of the group ensure hours of comfort and enjoyable entertaining in the outdoor great room.

LeucadiaThe collection consists of a sectional, sofa, loveseat, both fixed and swivel rocking club chairs, occasional tables and an ottoman. There are also two sizes of dining available, as well as barstools and counter stools. The collection comes complete with lounges.

Founded in the beautiful climate of Vista, Calif, Sunset West designers know about enjoying the outdoors. From the inception of the company in 2004, the company has brought together, quality, comfort, design and value into the outdoor living space.

With three generations of furniture experience, Sunset West offers a spectrum of styling and design, from the contemporary La Jolla and Malibu collections to the rustic Del Mar. The collections are produced using a variety of materials from cast and extruded aluminum, to multiple shapes, textures and colors of resin wicker.

Sunset West uses Sunbrella fabrics in the manufacturing of its cushions. Sunset West sells through its authorized dealer base to help ensure excellent service.


The Swiss Series BBQ Island Package Special is a 6-foot Island with many options.

The Swiss Series BBQ Island Package Special is a 6-foot Island with many options.

Galaxy Outdoor of Las Vegas, Nevada, has a Barbecue Island Package deal perfect for consumers looking to upgrade their backyard or outdoor living area. The Swiss Series BBQ Island Package Special is a 6-foot Island that stands out on showroom floors.

The Swiss BBQ Island Package gives customers options, including their choice of a Danby Outdoor Refrigerator Unit with Trim Kit, or a Swiss Triple Access Drawer. The Swiss BBQ Island Package has the following options and accessories:

• 6 Ft. Barbecue Island w/ Limited Color Finish Options;

• Granite Counter-Top with Limited Stock Granite Options;

• Swiss BI460 Built In Series 30″ Barbecue Grill w/ Rotisserie, 1.2MM Tubular Burners, 8MM Stainless;

• Steel Grids, Party-Ready Bottle Opener and Swiss Style Thermometer;

• Option of Danby Outdoor Refrigerator or Swiss Triple Drawer;

• PCM Vent (located in the back of Barbecue Island);

• Swiss 27″ Stainless Steel Double Access Doors


The Rio dining chair details finely-crafted mixed media and exposed aluminum.  frame

The Rio dining chair details finely-crafted mixed media and exposed aluminum.

Three new offerings from New Jersey-based Foremost Groups Inc are already in the pipeline for 2015. The Rio from Veranda Classics is the first of three collections. The Rio (pictured, upper left) is a a twelve-piece, all-weather wicker collection that includes motion chairs and matching stone-top tables.

The Rio dining chair details finely-crafted mixed media, exposed aluminum frame, and 100% weather-proof hand-woven wicker seating. Cushion fabrics are Outdura 100% acrylics made by Sattler Group.

The Encore features distinctive, hand-applied, driftwood frame finish.

The Encore features a distinctive, hand-applied, driftwood frame finish.

The new Encore collection from Veranda Classics includes 12 all-new pieces for seating and dining. This aluminum 
lounge chair (pictured, right) features a distinctive, hand-applied, driftwood frame finish and Sunbrella’s new 100% acrylic strapping with coordinating Sunbrella cushion fabrics.

Finally, the Melody is Veranda Classics’ newest addition to its renowned cast aluminum line-up. Melody combines beautiful traditional scrollwork with the timeless pineapple symbol of hospitality. An extended collection with dining, deep seating, and fire pit chat pieces includes cushions made with weather resistant 100% Sunbrella fabrics.


The Domino 8 Maxi is designed in Italy.

The Domino 8 Maxi is designed in Italy.

Customers looking for a particularly striking look in their kitchens can opt for what WITTUS designers tout as the romance of Italy. The company’s Atmosphera, Eco 90 & 80, Domino 8 Maxi (pictured, upper left) & 6 Maxi, and Domina wood cook stove ranges are contemporary appliances with old world flair.

Designed in Italy by the de Manincor family, who has been making stoves since 1828. The products are reliable, durable, powerful, and safe—especially designed with the element of essential cooking in mind.

The Happy Pizza Oven is an environmentally friendly.

The Happy Pizza Oven is environmentally friendly.

Yet another customer-friendly offering is the Happy Pizza Oven, an environmentally friendly, wood-burning pizza oven that operates with high thermal

efficiency and low greenhouse gas emissions. Capitalizing on the growing popularity of outdoor pizza cooking, the inside of the overall dome structure heats up and reflects on the internal cooking stone so that the oven heats up in just 8 to 10 minutes.

The outside of the oven remains cool due to the natural rock lining that works as an insulator. And this mobile pizza oven can easily be wheeled to an outdoor garden or kitchen area, or even placed indoors.



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