BBQ Classes & Competition

Chris Neil BBQ

What a great year for our outdoor category this year.  Our BBQ class and competition schedule is complete.  We have some great returning Chefs (Brian Henry) who are prepared to wow our barbecue students (weekend warriors).  And, in keeping with our tradition of having local butchers show off their skills – a new butcher shop in Peterborough ( Primal Cuts ) has signed on to showcase their skills.

In addition to our popular BBQ classes, we are pleased to announce the return of our Kawartha BBQ Competition as well as a new Kingston BBQ Competition.  If you have never attended a BBQ competition – you must try at least one.  It’s a fun day of BBQing, socializing, and mingling.  Think you have the best sauce?  Come and prove it.  Local celebrity judges line up for a day of rib tasting – so join us and show off your BBQ skills.  A $1,000 first place prize (Saffire Charcoal Kamado) may help your decision as well.

Something else to announce is our first ever celebrity endorsement commercial.  Cheesy?  Yes.  Interesting?  We think so.  We are not sure how it will play out with our Toronto Maple Leaf fans (as the celebrity is Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators) – but hopefully it will be viewed in good fun.  Let us know your comments.  You can check out the video here.  If we get good feedback, we will do our best to get some of our celebrity customers (many many have purchased products from Friendly Fires) and do some more.

To view our BBQ class schedule, please visit the ‘Events page.’  Looking forward to see you here this summer.

Happy BBQing!

BBQ Season is Here

Just like my father used to do it

What a great feeling when snow begins to melt and our grills surface from all the snow (except for those die-hard BBQers that BBQ all year of course).  This is such a fun time of year.  Butchers are busier selling BBQ foods…. Big Box Stores really start pushing their outdoor (foreign built & supported) products….  and we begin looking at our yards planning the summer season.

Personally – this is my favourite time of year.  No snow.  No lawn cutting.  No extreme cold or heat.  Great BBQ weather.

Early BBQ trends: this is going to be a strong season and charcoal looks to increase again in popularity this year.  Funny how charcoal has come full-circle.  Many of us remember our parents ‘hibachi’ during weekend picnics… the taste of lighter fluid… the mess of ash…..  Today’s charcoal grills are ‘slightly’ different – but I can’t help but wonder if these same type of memories are being created in my children’s minds?

What are my memories?  I’m fairly certain the ‘BBQ’ picture in this post was what my father used to cook on.  This probably explains the hockey pucks that were called hamburgers.  I’m wondering if I’m creating these same type of memories for my children?

Update – What’s New!

A few neat happenings at Friendly Fires.  Firstly, our Kingston Showroom has just received a makeover to improve and modernize displays as well as allow us to display the full line of Friendly Fires’ outdoor products.   It has not been easy for our team or our customers – so we greatly appreciate everyone’s patience during construction.  We are proud to say however that renos are 95% complete – so it will be business as usual (and beyond) very shortly.

Secondly, our BBQ class schedule is nearing completion.  Contact us (to be on our list) or check back soon for the schedule.

Thirdly, we just came back from the annual BBQ & fireplace trade show that our industry hosts every year, and we got some great ideas.  At these shows we always get pumped up about ‘shiny objects.”  It’s great.  That said, over the years, we have jumped the gun sometimes with new products and learned the hard way (anyone ever buy the first generation of a car before?), so we have tended to prefer ‘generation 2’ of new products.

Trade Show Ideas we are implementing:

1. New amazing Kozy Heat Fireplace called the Alpha (now installed in our Kingston location)

2. New incredible charcoal lighter called ‘Looft.’  If you cook on charcoal, you need to check it out

3. Negotiated better pricing on some current products we carry

4. Forged great relationships with other hearth stores and are working together on best practices

Pending trade show ideas

These are neat things we saw that we are considering:

1. New charcoal brand: John Wayne (who doesn’t like John Wayne)

2. New Linear wood fireplace (its about time!)

3. New gas fireplace that vents with propelyne (ie – plastic) venting

4. New outdoor see-through gas fireplace from Napoleon – has LED lights integrated with it

5. New Kozy Heat Thief River Falls clean face fireplace (currently our top selling fireplace)

6. New HearthStone wood stove products – economically priced HearthStone products

7. New Extra Large Saffire charcoal BBQ


Which of these new products will be on display at Friendly Fires this year?  I guess you will have to visit to find out!

Happy end of fireplace season.


Eating our own dog food

One element of the Friendly Fires culture is to ‘eat our own dog food.’  In other words, we encourage our amazing team to use the products we sell in our showrooms and at their homes.  By using the products we sell, we can better support our customers and ensure we are recommending the right solutions for the right applications.  Examples of ‘eating our own dog food’ include:

  • We heat our showrooms with efficient and clean burning wood and pellet stoves
  • Friendly Fires’ warehouses are heated with pellet furnaces
  • Most of our team uses a Saffire or Primo charcoal kamado for their BBQing
  • Many of our team members heat their homes with wood or pellet stoves that we sell

Although we are proud of this success, one area we’ve been slow to implement is generating solar power in our Peterborough showroom. Although our technicians have (and continue to install) thousands of solar panels across Ontario – we never installed panels on our Peterborough building (Kingston showroom panels have been profitably generating hydro since 2005).

It was time to change.  This Friday – our amazing technicians installed solar panels on our Peterborough building.  We are now benefiting financially (and helping save the environment) just like hundreds of our solar customers.

Why did it take us so long?

The shoemaker’s kids often go barefoot.

Fireplace Safety

To Screen or Not To Screen: That Is The Question.

Fireplace safety has increased in importance recently.  Unfortunately, there have been too many incidents of children hands touching hot glass – and as such – new regulations are apparently currently in the works.  Some manufacturers have been proactive and have made screens standard on their fireplaces.  Some others, offer screens as an option.  However, even the fireplaces that come standard with screens provide the consumer with the option to remove them.

Unfortunately, although we try and recommend adding a screen to a fireplace installation when appropriate, most of our customers prefer the direct view of the fire.  Some screens are quite nice – whereas others, well, not so nice.  This is definitely a challenge for our industry.


This past weekend I was working on my oven in my kitchen.  I noticed that the outside glass panel had slid down slightly so I took the door apart.  I was surprised to see that once I did – there were in fact 3 sheets of glass.  Maybe this is common knowledge, but I had no idea.

Fireplace Safety Proposal

Oven Door Safety Glass

The relevance?  Why can’t fireplaces have 2 or 3 sheets of glass?  This would allow the outside glass to be cool to the tough, while allowing for the blower system to circulate the air.

3 sheets of glass is not as nice as 1 – however – some customers would probably prefer this to a screen.

There must be a reason why it has not been done yet in our industry – but I can’t think of it.

If you have a current fireplace – please consider putting a safety screen in front of it. The risk of not doing it can be significant.

Year End Review

Year end has arrived and its always great to take some time to reflect on the past 12 months and plan for the year ahead. From a business standpoint, Friendly Fires had another successful year. Thank you. It is great to be successful in such a challenging environment. We really have the best customers in the world!

As for my personal achievements, 2012 was a good year. Based on suggestions from some great productivity books I posted my 2012 personal goals on my office wall and I’m pleased to see that many were achieved this year. It was really neat to be able to review on paper my 2012 goals and update them for next year. The main one that continues to allude me: getting in shape (but 2013 WILL be the year!).

Looking ahead to 2013 – I often do some financial planning. It has been tough these past few years with the low returns being offered by financial institutions. It was not long ago that a ‘guaranteed 2% return’ would have been laughed at by consumers.

Well, I’m doing something different with my families finances this year. We are installing solar panels on our roof. The Ontario Government is offering a guaranteed 10%+ return on your investment for 20 years – so we are taking advantage of it. The catch? You must live in Ontario and it requires the installation of solar panels on your roof. For a 10% return – we are doing it. This is going to be our guaranteed RRSP!

To summarize, if you are looking for a guaranteed financial return that pays almost 10 times more than a government bond and is guaranteed by the same organization (Ontario Government) – check out solar. As with all financial products, there is a limited time however – the government could change the program at any time (as they have done in the past).

As for goal setting….

If you are trying to achieve some personal goals, put them on paper and post them on a wall. By doing this – many experts agree you’ll be more likely to achieve them in 2013. It worked for me (except the exercise one – but 2013 will be different now that I have posted this goal online!).

Best of success to you and your family in 2013.

2012 Goals

Holiday Spirit

As per our last post, giving back to the community is an important part of the Friendly Fires culture.  We want to ensure that our team members who go above and beyond in giving back are properly recognized for their efforts.  For the holidays, our very own Jason Lichter organizes a fundraising effort to raise money that he then purchases new soccer and sports equipment.  This equipment is then donated to a chosen toy drive.

We are so pleased of our great team and their efforts in giving back to the community – great work Jason!


Charitable Success Story

An important part of the Friendly Fires culture is to give back to the community.  This week, we were recognized as the official winner of the workplace challenge of the Loving Spoonful / GAR.  Loving Spoonful is a charitable organization in Kingston that collects

healthy food for those who can not necessarily afford it.  What is great about this award is that one of our team members – Josh – was the person who did most of the work.  We simply provided some land for Josh – and he made some incredible gardens in our yard and has been cultivating them ever since.  Its great to give back, and its great that our team gives back as well.  Our success depends on our community – so it we feel it is important to give back.  More importantly however, Josh deserves some great kudos for taking it upon himself to work for such a great cause.  If you come into our store and feel that growing healthy food for those who may not be able to afford it is a good cause – could you let Josh know?

Great work Josh!

Why don’t IPI Fireplaces Work Properly?

IPI – the technical term used in the fireplace industry for ‘Intermitent Pilot Ignition’ (also called electronic ignition) is supposed to benefit end users with additional features and functionality – namely – lower fuel bills (as you can turn the pilot light off with a click of the remote) and additional functionality (because the flame on the fireplace can modulate). Some governments (see British Columbia) are forcing manufacturers to only sell IPI units.

However – these IPI units have caused us more service challenges than any other types of fireplaces. Our service calls have quadrupled on IPI units. At first we thought it was the manufacturers we were using – so we switched. But now, they are all more problematic than traditional standing pilot. Unfortunately for consumers, almost all new gas / propane fireplaces are being released as ‘IPI.’ No one really knows why they are more problematic… but our opinion is the following: 1) They rely on a proper power source (a common challenge in certain homes); 2) Replacing batteries is a challenge or unknown for many fireplace customers (especially in the hidden receiver part); and 3) Having electronic components so near to heat is … well… not good.

Therefore – if you are looking for a fireplace that will not have service issues, consider a traditional ‘standing pilot’ fireplace. If you prefer some of the features of newer IPI systems, that is fine, but you should be prepared for some minor frustrations at some point. The good news – is that if you purchased from us, we are here to support you. However, our technicians can be booked for 2-3 weeks during peak season so there is a risk in having a fireplace that is not working for a few days.

Please feel free to comment!

Friendly Fires Logo Debate

As you view this website, you may (or may not) be noticing the different logos and looks that Friendly Fires is currently using. Essentially, there is our original ‘waving flame’ logo – still present on a few of our old signage (copy is in this post).  In 2004, we updated to our ‘happy house’ look.  Then, when we merged with Renewable Energy of Plum Hollow – we had their logo as well.  Now, in 2012, we have our new look that is on this website.  Sheesh – that is a lot of logos.  How come not all our marketing material has been updated?  Well, to be honest, it is a question of time – energy – money. We have been updating our logos / looks as the marketing materials have required replacing. In always trying to keep our expenses to a minimum, we have a hard time spending money on cosmetic items.

Marketing Confusion? Definitely. Are we working towards a common brand? Yes. Does it make for an interesting blog post?

You be the judge….