The appetite for fire runs hot in nearly every season at Southern Hearth and Patio, with blazing demand for fireplaces as temperatures drop in the fall, and a sizzling market for outdoor kitchens every spring and summer.
"We play hard and work harder," says Wendy Timmerman, the manager of the Lee Highway business, which opened in 2000, and sold in 2017 to Mississippi-based Blossman Gas.
The store on Lee Highway has a staff of 13, including six full-time installation technicians, and nearly two decades of expertise in providing high-end products from fireplaces and grills to tankless water heaters and backyard fire pits.
"Our customers are not looking for a clearance grill," Timmerman says. "They're in here looking for the best grill they can get."
Nearly everything they sell is made in the U.S., and some of it is tough to get anywhere else in the region, Timmerman says.
A massive orange smoker that dominates the showroom floor is a Yoder competition model pellet smoker available only at certified outlets, Timmerman explains. One version comes with the ability to control the temperature and cooking time from a smartphone. They start at $1,800 and go way up from there.
"People come from states away to get these smokers," she says.
Sales representative Dave Schussler can tell you anything you want to know about just about any product in the place.
"I came in through purchasing, so learned all the nuts and bolts and how it all comes together," he says. "There's not a fireplace school, that's for sure."
That level of expertise is one thing that makes the business special, and it also shows up in the focus on safety when it comes to installations and build-outs by their technical crew, Timmerman adds.
"These are people who have been with the company a long time," she says. "There's no wiggle room to be wrong — we're dealing with people's safety."
Word of mouth is their biggest driver of business, and the staff works closely with builders and design firms, owners of custom homes and homeowners planning renovations, Timmerman says.
"We get a lot of referrals, and a lot of repeat business," she says.
One customer recently turned into an unexpected business partner, she says. A beef farmer who wanted to cook his premium meat using premium heat recently paid a visit to the business. When he came shopping, they realized they likely had some clients in common.
"If you're buying beef from him, you want to cook it right," Timmerman says. "So he sends his customers our way, and we send our customers to him."
Southern Hearth and Patio
* Founded: 2000
* Employees: 13
* Location: 6513 Lee Highway
Marketing Main Street: Merchant coalitions say everybody wins when shoppers support small businesses