Another Great Year

Friendly Fires Trainers

Its amazing that another full year has passed.  Once again, we could not be more proud of the incredible accomplishments of our talented team.  2015 was another great year for Friendly Fires, and once again, we achieved some great achievements this year again.  First and foremost, was the addition of some amazing new talent.  We were fortunate to grow again as a business, and one of the fun parts about growth is the addition of new people with their respective skills and abilities.  If Friendly Fires did not have the most skilled solar, fireplace & BBQ team in North America before – we definitely do now.  We added some new gas technicians, wood technicians, sales people and a Service Manager.  Its great to grow when most newspapers talk about doom & gloom!  Thank you customers!

Another interesting point is the fact that ‘winter did not arrive’ in 2015.  Normally for a fireplace business, this would be very tough and sales would suffer.  Luckily for us however, our fireplace business did very well – and – our BBQ and solar business grew!  Its tough for a business to remain small and focused on a few verticals, but so far, our focus on 3 categories is paying off.

We have no plans to sell hot tubs, furnaces, patio furniture, or any other distraction in 2016.  We want to be the best we can – in three specific yet complimentary categories: Fireplaces, BBQs & Solar.

But don’t take my word for it, check out what our amazing team accomplished this year.

Thank You Hydro One

As we enter the half way point of the fireplace season, its fair to summarize that the weather has not cooperated.  Fireplace sales are weather driven – cold brings in customers (just like the winter tire or air conditioning industries).  So one would assume that fireplace sales are down this year…. But, this is not the case.  Our efficient wood and gas burning product sales are up again this year.  And this does not include the benefit of our new Carleton Place Store store, which has surpassed our sales expectations.

I asked a new Friendly Fires customer this week why they were purchasing when it was so warm outside, and his answer: I’m tired of my hydro bills.  When I inquired with our sales team, this was a common theme.  Although saving money is definitely a reason that our customers have purchased from us in the past, never has a single reason polarized so many of our customers.  This has also reflected on our alternative energy and solar business – customers are angry about their hydro bills.

Reflecting on the issue, its fair to assume that Government will not change – even if we do elect a different political party next election that will undoubtedly ‘promise change.’  Don’t we always seem to vote for a party that is ‘promising change’?

That said, I do find it empowering that a customer can purchase a product from Friendly Fires (or hundreds of other great retailers) that allow them to completely remove themselves from the reliance of Government when it comes to heating their home.  Wood and pellet burning is rarely mentioned in the conversation of an efficient environmentally friendly way to heat – but the reality – its the only carbon neutral way to heat a home.  I always find it interesting that Hydro subsidies thermostats, efficient lighting, etc… things that sometimes help reduce hydro consumption.  Why not subsidize a product that can eliminate hydro consumption all together?  Solar panels, gas and wood burning products allow home owners an environmentally and cost effective way to heat their homes.  And looking at how politicians manage these hydro monopolies, it would appear that its a bright future for fireplace & solar stores.

On behalf of all fireplace stores in Ontario, thank you Hydro One.

Celebrity Fireplaces

This week, Friendly Fires completed another installation for a popular home renovation show.  This latest episode will be aired on Home and Garden Television (HGTV) as part of their Income Property / Vacation Property series.  It’s not the first time that Friendly Fires was chosen to be the trusted fireplace contractor, nor the last (we hope).

Unfortunately, we can’t speak much about what was done as the episode has not aired yet – so stay tuned.  We can say that the wood fireplace was installed in Apsley (Kawartha Lakes) in between Lakefield and Bancroft.  In addition, we can also speak about the experience – which was really neat.  On a normal course of business, our amazing fireplace installers typically install a standard wood stove in under 5 hours.  Total time for this episode, will be closer to 10 hours.  Our projected on air time: 10 seconds (from a 10 hour install)!

Its funny to see our technicians perform a task and then the director asks them to repeat it again, and again, and again – so that he can film it from different angles.  I think we must have thrown some old chimney pieces off the cottage roof 10 times (throw off, bring back up, throw off again…).

Working with Scott McGillivray and the rest of the HGTV designers and producers was excellent once again.  And considering that our Cobourg fireplace showroom was in the Adam Sandler / Kevin James movie Pixels this year, and that we have dozens of popular movie stars as customers – maybe Friendly Fires should consider opening a store in Hollywood?  Celebrity Fireplaces anyone?

Carleton Place Fireplaces

Yes its true – Friendly Fires is now open in the most cursed location in Carleton Place.  How it came about is an interesting (we think) story.  Although Friendly Fires gets asked to sell & service product across Ontario, we prefer to remain local (close to our service locations) and refer out of town business to other local dealers.  However, over the past few years, we have been receiving increased inquiries from the Lanark area and considering I was originally from Ottawa, that area has remained an interest for us.  There is (was) a strong demand for Carleton Place Fireplaces!

Early this year, a local heating & air conditioning company went out of business in Pakenham.  It had some amazing staff and they were now out of work.  We seized the opportunity and committed to opening a local store.  Although finding the right team is typically the most difficult part of a new venture, in this case, finding the right location was the challenge for us.  The Mississippi Mills community was incredibly welcoming early on (we committed to bring local jobs to the area) and considering we had the team and systems already in place, all we needed was a location!

We searched Carleton Place and surrounding area for a few weeks looking for the best location.  We wanted an amazing showroom and adequate warehouse area to ensure proper stock.  Fireplaces and BBQs are a destination, so we didn’t need anything prime.  The only good spot was a run-down strip mall on Hwy 7 that had been empty for years and years.  For anyone who commuted from Ottawa to Peterborough – mention ‘Valley Plaza’ – and they know the spot.  The previous landlord had left the mall in total disrepair, and as such, no business had been able to succeed.  We were up for the challenge, and our team and local contractors worked for 12 straight weeks and got the project done (15 bins of garbage were removed)!  We have neat pictures of the progress (and hiccups) on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/FriendlyFires1) and on our website under our Pictures section.

We could not be happier with the result.  Its one of the nicest showrooms in our company.  Everyday we get people dropping by thanking us for having cleaned up the mall, and a number of our local customers have dropped by and business (so far) has exceeded our expectations.

Although we are new to the community, we want to thank everyone for the warm response (and business).  Looking back, its pretty amazing what the Friendly Fires team accomplished in such a short period of time.  Our team never ceases to amaze me.

Drop by and say hi to Paul and keep your suggestions for new store locations coming – who knows where we will open next…..

Are Solar Panels Normal?

When I graduated from Queen’s University in 1995 as a very young environmental idealist, I dreamed of a day when Solar Panels would be easily accessible – not a novelty item.  So began my epic journey into the Solar Industry.  Back then, hardly anyone had touched or seen a solar panel, let alone had them installed on the roofs of their homes.  We worked hard, taking our solar powered trailer to every home show, county fair and sometimes even to the local beer store to show people in our community how solar worked.

In 2008, we were honoured when David Suzuki came to our store . We were the first business in Kingston (and maybe even Ontario) to feed solar and wind power back into the electricity grid.  As he stood next to me, I realized my solar dreams were slowing coming true. Imagine, little ol’ me – shaking hands with David Suzuki at our store!  Check out Cam Mather’s video on the event – but more on that later.

I sat down with a good friend and our Solar Engineer, Jason Wamboldt, and we came to some very interesting conclusions.

1) The Ontario Power Authority, released a long term energy report in 2013.  In that report it says that the price of delivered electricity in Ontario will rise to 20 cents/kilowatt hour in 2015 and continue to rise to 25 cents/kilowatt hour by 2022.  Take a closer look at your Electricity Bill – you’ll see that they are right!

2) With a south facing roof, we can install solar panels on your roof for around 18 cents per kilowatt hour.  Yes, you read that correctly, Solar Electricity is cheaper then regular electricity!

Jittery with excitement about this newly discovered fact, I thought it would be interesting to share this with my niece and nephew, seeing as they are the next generation that will benefit from cleaner forms of energy.  Then I remembered a trip we took to Toronto awhile back.  I thought it would be intriguing to stop and show them the Solar Panel installation by the Napanee Good Year plant.  Much to my dismay when I stop the car, I discover that they are on their phones in the back seat.  They were completely oblivious to all of my mind-blowing explanations of how solar panels work.  So, I asked them why they were not more excited, and their answer was very interesting.  “Well Uncle Brad, Papa (their Grandfather) has Solar Panels on his roof, Dad has them on his roof and you work with Solar Panels everyday.”  I paused for a minute and replied, “So, is this normal to you?”  They replied, “Yes!”

 

 

New Emission Standards for Wood Stoves

There has been a lot of chatter in the fireplace industry this past couple of weeks about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for Residential Wood Heaters.  Although the EPA is an American Government Agency, their rules and regulations affect the wood and pellet stoves that are sold here in Canada. The biggest marketplace in North America is the USA; so when manufacturer’s are designing new products for our industry, they always design to the American standard.

From the not for profit web site woodheat.org, John Gulland points out the some of the highlights:

* in 5 years all new wood heaters would have to comply with a weighted average emission cap of 2.0 g/h
* between now and 2020, all new wood heaters would have to comply with the current Washington state limit of 4.5g/h
* furnaces, boilers and masonry heaters are also included under the new rule.

You can find the new rule here:
http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-02/documents/20150204-residential-wood-heaters-nsps.pdf
At 344 pages, it is not an easy read.
As the NSPS challenges our wood and pellet stove manufacturers, to make a products that meet this new emission standard, I am confident that they will rise to the challenge and surprise everyone along the way.

Does it get any better?

HPBA Vesta

What an amazing year for Friendly Fires!

First – we were featured in Pools, Spas & Patio Magazine.  Then, we were featured in Patio Hearth & Product Report for our opinions on the North American fireplace & BBQ market.  One of our fireplaces was then chosen for the Colin & Justin Bunkie (two popular designers www.colinandjustin.tv).  To top it off, we were chosen as the official Fireplace Contractor for HGTV’s Income Property Show (www.hgtv.ca/incomeproperty).  To add to our accolades, we were also chosen as “Favourite Fireplace Store” in all our markets by local media (Best Kawartha Fireplace Store – Peterborough This Week and The Peterborough Examiner, Best Fireplace Store Northumberland, by Northumberland This Week, and Best Kingston Fireplace Store as well…).  We also won two more awards from the Kawartha Home Builder’s Association at their annual gala (www.pkhba.com) and received honourable mentions from multiple charities for our dedicated involvement.  Reflecting back on our record number of BBQ classes, BBQ competitions, amazing employee events (http://youtu.be/vJUx1nXJUXQ) – what a year we had!

Oh – and how can we forget that our Cobourg Store is being featured in the upcoming Adam Sandler & Kevin James Movie Pixels.

But – our crown jewel was being named Best North American Fireplace Store by the Hearth Patio & BBQ Association in Salt Lake City (www.vestaawards.com).  Friendly Fires was up against some amazing American fireplace stores, and we were chosen as #1 (the first ever Canadian company nominated). Not bad for a store with locations in Kingston, Cobourg & Peterborough – eh?

Looking ahead, 2014 will be tough to beat when it comes to public awards and accolades, but we do have a few surprises up our sleeve – so stay tuned!

A special thanks to all our customers, suppliers & amazing team for a very memorable year.

Alex

You can’t touch this!

When I joined the fireplace industry I was amazed as to how many Canadians primarily heat their homes with wood.  Coming from the city I was used to the open brick fireplace that actually removes heat from a home – and I was not familiar with new efficient wood burning appliances.

I soon learned that these Canadians heat with wood because its the only sustainable carbon neutral way to heat a home (yes – wood burning IS the most environmentally friendly solution), the warm radiant heat produced by a wood appliance is unlike any furnace,  but most importantly – heating with wood saves thousands of dollars on annual heating costs.  What would you do with tens of thousands of spare dollars when you retire?

These are the main benefits typically associated with heating with wood.  Last winter however, another important benefit surfaced:  As certain propane suppliers ran out of fuel, some homes who did not have a wood (or pellet) burning appliance did not have heat.  It never occurred to me  that if you heat with wood – you will never run out of fuel.  This does not seem that important until power outages start occurring (most furnaces don’t work if there’s no hydro) or if fuel suppliers (propane / oil / natural gas…) can’t supply for some reason or another – as what happened last winter.  What about nuclear?  It sounds great until a quick Google search reveals how competent the Government has been at managing these types of projects.  What would the Government do with tens of billions of dollars had it not been wasted?

Wood burning is good for the environment, very safe, allows home owners to save thousands of dollars on their heating bills, and now – provides peace of mind that their home will remain warm and cozy forever – no matter how mismanaged the large utility or fossil fuel companies are.

In future blogs we will discuss these benefits but for now – rest assured….

“You can take my propane, you can take my electricity, but you can never take my wood!”  Braveheart movie anyone?

Keep warm – with wood!

Less Can Be More

A trend in the fireplace & BBQ industry is the infinite increase in choices (options) being offered by manufacturers.  Manufacturers call this giving consumers what they want.  We call this trend sku creation on steroids.  The fireplace & BBQ industries are not alone (I recently purchased a couch that had 4 different shades of red as options).

In this competitive world, I appreciate the desire for manufacturers to increase their business by offering more variations of existing products in the hopes of increasing sales.  However, what manufacturers are ignoring are the significant pitfalls with offering too many options:

1. Out of Stock

How can retailers or distributors stock product when hundreds of different configurations exist for a particular fireplace?  This creates the dreaded back order which eventually turns into the dreaded emergency or angry consumer (or even lost sale).  How do you feel as a consumer nowadays in our instantaneous society waiting for back ordered product ?

2. Manufacturing Costs

It costs more to manufacturer different options than a single sku.  Manufacturers are often hesitant to drop a low volume sku as they fear losing those sales.  But, if that option was eliminated, maybe manufacturing costs could be reduced hence making the product more affordable to more people.

3. Confusion

On average, when shopping for a fireplace, a consumer needs to chose the location, fireplace, size, brick interior, front, surround, venting, and then finishing.  Some manufacturers also allow for different log patterns, burner configurations, heat distribution methods and fireplace controls.  If six options are available for each choice (how many finishing options are available nowadays?) – that translates into thousands of different configurations for one fireplace (recall algebra class – 6 to the power of 6 to the power of 6…..).  Imagine the poor customer who is looking for 2 fireplaces for their home?  Its almost like the same person who created the income tax form is deciding on the availability fireplace options….

4 – Delayed Purchase Decisions

The more options available, the more difficult it is to make a decision.  We have seen consumers chose their fireplace in 10 minutes, but take 1-2 weeks (or more) to decide the best ‘front’ for the fireplace.

Recommendation

To swim against the manufacturing trend of trying to be all things to all people, Friendly Fires has implemented a few internal processes to simplify our business (at the chagrin of some distributors and manufacturers).

Firstly, we have reduced the number of manufacturers and distributors we do business with.  This has allowed our sales team and installation crews to become more educated with specific product, allowed us to stock more and negotiate better pricing.  Secondly, we only display best of breed product from Tier 1 suppliers.  Tier 2 suppliers who do not manufacturer great product or support our customers need not apply – no matter how large the market is (such as the $500 Chinese BBQ category – no thanks – not for us).  And lastly, we always re-evaluate our customers, so if a particular ‘exotic’ fireplace becomes more mainstream, we will display and stock up and replace a low-volume sku.

Was Henry Ford ahead of his time when he proudly pronounced: “You can have any colour you want, as long as its black?”

No one says we have to be that rigid… but what would Henry Ford have said if the consumer could have chosen between 4 different shades of black?

Built in Canada… or is it ?

One nice thing about our industry is that we get to sell and promote products that are made in Canada.  In fact, almost 80% of what Friendly Fires sells and installs is made in Canada.  In our industry, Canadian-made product is simply better quality and often comes with superior after-sales support.  Some of the best fireplace & BBQ manufacturers in the world are Canadian – we lead in this manufacturing category.

However, there is one troubling trend.  It seems that as Canadian manufacturers grow they tend to add new skus.  As the number of skus increase, these manufacturers eventually get drawn into the mass merchants addiction and then – what happens ?  Production begins to move offshore.

For example, a major Canadian manufacturer makes some of the best BBQs available today and has been an incredible Canadian manufacturing success story.  They have done a great job building their brand through quality products and great support.  However, this same company now has overseas manufacturing and sells these products to the mass merchants.  Customers are often surprised to learn that a BBQ with the same brand name in our showroom is made in Canada whereas the one at the Big Box Bargain Store was made overseas with cheaper components.  As an aside, this BBQ manufacturer is not alone …. Many Canadian and U.S. manufacturers employ this strategy.  This allows the mass merchant to have a cheaper priced (and produced) product that shows well in their weekly flyer.

Its been our experience that customers will pay more for quality when appropriate and explained.  Its unfortunate that so many manufacturers sometimes forego quality in order to get short term sales gains with the mass merchants.

Formerly great manufacturing brands have been decimated overtime by the lowering of their manufacturing standards to meet the bargain box store expectations and weekly sales flyers.  Hopefully, our great Canadian fireplace & BBQ manufacturers will resist and fight this temptation and continue to produce great high quality products right here in Canada.

Social media not so social

A successful business nowadays must be best of breed in many categories including finding great employees (the most important), product (high quality), its processes (must be efficient), aware of rules and regulations (getting more complicated and onerous everyday), traditional marketing / branding – and now – social media.

5 years ago a marketing plan consisted of a brand strategy, some standard radio or print ads as well as a website.

Today – a marketing strategy consists of the above – as well as regular content on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, You Tube, Houzz & Pintrest.  Did I miss one?

Social media has allowed our customers and team members to interact and share content in ways never imagined just a few years ago.  For example, our Facebook page gets over 700 impressions every week and our Tweets are constantly shared with even higher numbers.   In addition, social media is a great venue for our customers to ask questions, send us pictures of their fireplaces or meals that they are cooking on their BBQs, and ways for our team to reach out to the public.  Also of interest, is that Friendly Fires gets contacted from customers and other fireplace / BBQ stores across North America because of our social media pages.

Outrageous Prediction….

I wish we could predict Social Media in the future.  I’m probably wrong, but something tells me that ‘less is more’ will become more and more prevalent in the future.  Although I won’t predict which social media site will be gone – does anyone remember Alta Vista? Yahoo Search?  Lycos? My Space?

Before they do disappear – let’s enjoy them.  And boy – do I ever look forward to reading this blog post in 10 years.  But for now, please visit our amazing social media sites as our team cares and does a great job keeping them updated with relevant content that hopefully you find interesting.

Happy surfing.

What an amazing team we have!

Last Friday, the Hearth Patio & BBQ Association (HPBA) held their annual trade show and conference in Salt Lake City.  The HPBA has thousands of members and is an association that represents retailers, distributors and manufacturers in the fireplace and BBQ industry.  The annual conference has a trade show, education sessions, as well as an awards ceremony.

Well – Friendly Fires was nominated this year as Hearth Retailer of the Year.  We did not think we had much of a chance of wining because we were the first ever Canadian retail store ever nominated.  Also – some of the American finalists where very impressive.  One fireplace showroom in the U.S. was 20,000 square feet!

In any event, we won the award.  We can’t believe it.  In hindsight it would have been great to have our entire team at the ceremony because our company is our team.  We have the best sales people, technicians and facilities support anywhere.  We won the North American award because of our team.

Brad and I could not be more proud of the amazing group of individuals we get to work with everyday.  Forget the 3 P’s (people product price) – we have the 3 G’s.

Great award.  Great people.  Great company.

We are so glad that specialty retail continues to strive and survive in the world of Big Box Stores.

Thanks Team!

High-dro Price$ – Ri$e Again

According to the Government, hydro prices are rising 40%+ in the next 5 years.  Can you image any company raising prices that amount?  How abut paying $50,000 for a Honda Accord? $3 for a cup of Tim Hortons coffee? $1.50 for gasoline (forget that last example…  we will probably be paying that amount anyways…).

Unfortunately, hydro is somewhat of a monopoly, and, well, what happens with prices at monopolies?  Does anyone remember long distance phone rates before competition?  Shipping prices before FedEx? Airline ticket prices before WestJet? Cel phone rates before Wind Mobile?

The best way to tackle these crazy hydro increases is with increased competition.  Fortunately, we as homeowners are able to compete and create an environment where Hydro will want to try and earn our business and will work hard at providing competitive rates.  How?  Although this is a very self-serving message …  how about generating your own hydro with solar? Wind? Or reducing your reliance on hydro with clean wood heat?

As home owners we have the power (get it?) – lets use it.  Only by increasing our independence and creating a competitive hydro environment do we have a chance of fighting back against these blatant tax grabs.

And we did not even touch on the environmental benefits…..

Wood burning is back!

Friendly Fires Cobourg customer enjoying the heat.

When the first frost appears, our wood burning customers are often the only ones smiling ear to ear (see picture on the right from a new Friendly Fires customer).  Speaking of wood, one interesting trend this season is the popularity of wood and pellet burning appliances.  The Hearth Patio & BBQ Association just released new fireplace statistics and after a few years of stable or decreasing sales in Canada, wood is back.

Why?

Firstly, there are government wood stove change out programs in Canada.  These programs help consumers replace old inefficient (ie not environmentally friendly) wood appliances with new clean burning ones.  Secondly, the ever increasing cost of fossil fuels.  When you can heat for free – why not?  But lastly, there seems to be a new romantic, practical and energy independence association with wood (pellet) burning.

But….

With so many new wood burning customers, its important to talk about safety.  Everyone has seen a home on the news up in flames.  It does not have to be this way.  With a proper installation and safe wood burning techniques, burning with wood is safe.

Chimney Fires: Using newer efficient wood burning appliance with dry wood and a regular chimney sweep will ensure your venting remains perfectly clean.

Hot Glass: Use a safety gate to protect your wood appliance from intentional or accidental touching.

Ember & Heat Protection: Every appliance requires minimum non-combustible clearances around the appliance and venting system.  Take a few minutes and verify these clearances with the manual that came with your appliance.

In addition, if your appliance glass, gasket or internal components such as firebrick are damaged or missing, these are inexpensive fixes that will ensure safety for your home or cottage.  For expert resources, the fireplace industry has some great consumer tips that can be downloaded at www.wettinc.ca, www.hpba.org, as well as an independent website www.woodheat.org.

Happy and safe wood burning!

Where did summer go?

BBQ Rib Charcoal Competition

Where did summer go?  That is probably a question that many of you are asking right about now…  The good news for us is that at Friendly Fires transitions from a busy BBQ / Charcoal / Outdoor fireplace focus to indoor stoves and fireplaces (not that BBQ season is over….) and getting a few solar jobs installed before winter.

Its been busy for us (as I am certain it has been for you).  Some interesting Friendly Fires tidbits from the past few weeks include our first ever Rib BBQ Competition in Kingston, our 2nd BBQ Rib Competition  in the Kawarthas (200+ attendees), and we have been fortunate enough to be profiled in a number of trade publications including Our Homes, Patio & Hearth Products Magazine, Google (yes – Google photographers are at our Kingston store today) and an upcoming feature in Octobers’ Hearth & Home Magazine.  And, we recently surpassed 500 followers on the Friendly Fires Facebook page.  Thank you to everyone who has ‘liked’ us.  All this during the past 2 months.  Equally important, we have welcomed Heather & Andrea to the amazing Friendly Fires growing team.  Wow!

Moving over to fireplaces, this is the time of year that we begin getting a lot of service-related questions – and we are definitely here to help.  Our You Tube page has a number of videos that may be of assistance, and we also have a number of handouts that our sales team can forward to you should you be experiencing a challenge.  And – of course – our awesome technicians are here to help as well.

A final note – thank you for the great customer testimonials that you have sent about our team – we all love hearing about the positive reviews from the best customers in the world.

 

Alex

Summer Update

Outdoor Wood Oven Pizza

Summer has finally arrived – and time for another seasonal update.  What’s new with the Team at Friendly Fires?

We’ve been trying out some new products.  Our Kingston team has been cooking on an outdoor wood fired pizza oven with incredible success.  Food is so amazing we sometimes wonder why there isn’t one in every backyard (until we look at the price, and then we understand).  In addition, our team has been trying out the new Black Olive grill from Enviro (we have 2 burn units and our staff has been sharing one at their homes).  The pellet fuel adds a level of convenience when compared to charcoal.  So far, so good,  Our meals have been great.  Let’s make sure the reliability is there as well (and so far, it is).

As an aside, whenever we get get something new our team of 30+ take turns playing with them to ensure we only represent quality – as brochures have been known to ‘exaggerate’ the truth at times.

As well as obvious BBQing updates (upcoming BBQ competition anyone?), the Premiere of Ontario dropped by our Cobourg store last week – that was neat.  The only downfall was that we had to lock our doors during her visit for ‘security reasons.’  And, locking doors of a retail location during business hours is typically not great for business.

We’ve also had some great employee events.  We just finished a Friendly Fires bass fishing tournament (congrats John), some great charity causes (such as Walk a Mile in Her Shoes), we have 2 Friendly Fires soccer teams, have received from very flattering customer reviews, and we are going full steam ahead on our weekly BBQ classes.

To top it off, Friendly Fires was profiled in a National Fireplace magazine.  What a great start to this summer.  Let’s hope it does not end (except for fireplace season of course)!

Thanks for reading.

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.