Feature: The Outdoor Room

n recent years there has been a quantum shift in the way we view and use our outdoor garden space. Graeme Pope reports…

Our outdoor gardens are becoming much more than just a “space to be filled in” rather they are reflections of our taste and lifestyle which enhance the value of our home. In past decades this backyard space was primarily functional in use. We all remember the single brick garage, metal garden shed, kitchen drain trap, Hills hoist, incinerator, path, pile of grass clippings and the occasional plum or lemon tree. However, it was in this space that most of us spent our youth – riding bikes, playing cricket, building cubbies, growing vegies, feeding chooks and visiting the humble, wooden outhouse.

Caption: An example of an Outdoor RoomAHJOutdoorOct05

The family home now has new importance, as does the priority of connecting with core family members, friends and neighbours who are casualties of pressured lifestyles and heavy work schedules. For this reason ‘home’ is a safe, secure personal space to withdraw and renew. It is no surprise that home and garden lifestyle investment is on a strong growth curve. The garden is evolving as an extension of our home living space with defined and inter-related zones described by contemporary designers as “outdoor rooms”. These “rooms” are themed in the same way we colour, texture and furnish the interior space, except the traditional ceilings and walls no longer exist. Traditional indoor activities are moving outdoors, with everything from screened outdoor showers, bathrooms, mini-kitchens, eating and dining zones, day beds, private retreat zones, and outdoor spas. From past indifference, our outdoor space has become a planned, living environment that reflect tastes of people wanting a more aspirational and personal outdoor environment.

There is a plethora of products available to service this lifestyle trend. While initially consumers acquired individual products to fill this space, smart companies are responding with themed products, colours and co-ordinated finishes. The value of this approach is that consumers are able to purchase complete “rooms” of products rather than individual item purchases, benefiting both homeowner and retailer. Consumers are investing in their outdoor space, but they are not simply rushing out and buying “stuff” to fill that space. They are more educated, more aware and certainly more discerning in the way they design and decorate their outdoor space. This could mean that retailers who focus primarily on “price entry” functional products will miss the opportunity to provide quality aspiration products consumers are seeking for their outdoor areas.

Research shows that women arbitrate over 90% of purchase decisions when it comes to home and garden lifestyle products. Garden lifestyle decoration is also identified as a high interest category for the female gender. It is an interesting statistic that 28% of Australian homes are headed by single females, and research confirms that women are key decision drivers of lifestyle purchase decisions at retail point of purchase. Some analysts believe that investment in outdoor structures and garden landscaping will grow to exceed 20% of the overall home investment.

In the home appliance and furniture industry, market leaders have long realised the value of displaying “virtual displays” to help consumers visualise the outcome of their purchase.

In the US, stores such as Home Depot Expo, IKEA, and Sears Great Indoors stores, use this concept very effectively, allowing consumers to walk through tastefully themed and decorated rooms fitted with products to be purchased. Consumers are not left to “imagine” the product in their home – they can see the outcome from their purchase.

Many leading Australian and New Zealand garden centres (and more recently, hardware retailers) have adopted this concept, introducing virtual displays which allow consumers to interact with products in an operational environment. To become a destination retailer for water features, they must be presented as a complete lifestyle concept with active working displays of products, preferably landscaped with decking, plants, bark, pavers, trellis and other garden decoration items.

Stores that fill a pond or basin with water and believe themselves to be in the water garden business really miss the point. A pond or water feature project frequently has a value exceeding $1,000, so it is important to present the beauty and natural ambience of a natural pond in order to maximise the sales and profit opportunity. Waterwerks has invested more than $300,000 building a virtual display showroom at its Melbourne head office, which is a unique trade feature. The indoor showroom is planted with large ferns, shrubs and plantings around small lakes, waterfalls, several concept outdoor rooms, decks, patios, verandas, small rivers and watercourses, a night garden expo and around 150 contemporary water features. The concept has been franchised to Europe and the US where the Waterwerks Australasia program and brand is now being marketed to garden centres, and hardware stores.

Water features and garden decor is an exciting growth opportunity. It is not a fad, and forecasters are predicting long term sustainable growth in products that help consumers to individualise their personal space inside and outside. While much of the garden hard-lines category is relatively mature, the garden decor category will grow significantly in coming years as new innovation promotes further consumer involvement. The challenge for retailers and suppliers is how to partner these consumers to supply the products and services they need to achieve the outdoor environment they imagine.

Graeme Pope is Managing Director of Waterwerks Australasia, a subsidiary of Peaktop International, a leading global manufacturer and marketer of lifestyle water features and garden decoration products

To read the full feature article, see the Garden and Outdoor Feature in the Australian Hardware Journal October issue