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Hearth Retailer Profile

Fresh Start Builds on Success Black Swan Fireside

After nearly 30 years in the hearth business, Black Swan Fireside Hearth & Home in Newtown, Conn., is hotter than ever. A spacious new building, great products and unbeatable service are all part of owners Tom and Carrie Swan’s grand plan to keep their family business going strong. “We have a passion for what we do,” Carrie says. “We are committed to our customers, the industry and its growth.”

New Look and New Opportunities

In 1979, Black Swan started out as a one-man chimney-sweep service that the Swans ran out of their home. After a few years, they moved into a 200–square-foot retail store and began selling a few hearth-related items. They quickly outgrew their modest space and purchased an 800–square-foot building on the property that they are still on today.

Just last year, the Swans said goodbye to the old building and built a new 8,400–square-foot retail store with a 4,000–square-foot showroom in its place. According to Carrie, this has changed the store’s image and breathed new life into the business. “We never dreamed that our new look would have such an impact on our business,” she says. “More people are coming into the store than we ever anticipated.”

The Swans have pulled out all the stops to make their new showroom shine. They have filled their store with eye-catching vignettes featuring everything from grills and fireplaces to garden items, home decor and gifts. The store recently became a Fireside Hearth & Home retailer, so it is an exclusive source for Hearth & Home Technologies products that include the Quadra-Fire, Heat & Glo and Heatilator lines. “It is the best manufacturer that we’ve ever worked with, and is a wonderful addition to our business,” Carrie says.

The Swans also had a full-service kitchen (with an integrated gas fireplace) built into the store, giving them the ability to host community events and hearth-education seminars. “It’s a great way to get people into the store to check out what we have and to educate them about our products,” Carrie says. In the first half of 2008, the Swans hosted a 40-member Rotary Club meeting, an 80-member Chamber of Commerce event and a hearth-education seminar for local homebuilders. They plan to host a hearth-design seminar later this year for local interior designers.

A few years ago, the Swans added the outdoor-room category to their product mix, so they’ve built an exterior patio (complete with a built-in kitchen and pergola) to showcase their outdoor-living products. This year, they even teamed up with a local butcher and other businesses for some weekend cookouts. “When customers pull up in the parking lot, they can smell the food cooking, so they come over to check it out,” Carrie says.

In the end, she believes that the biggest appeal of the new Black Swan is that it’s a place to come and have fun. She says that one customer told her the store was a new entertainment area, which is just fine with Carrie. “We want people to come in, look around and have a good time,” she says.

Creative Marketing

Black Swan has plenty of local competition, and Carrie is always looking for new and interesting ways to set the store apart from other retailers in the area. One idea that’s become particularly popular with customers is the provision of complimentary gift boxes and bags. The closest shopping mall is about 20 miles away, which is not always convenient if someone wants to pick up a quick gift for a barbecue or a party.

Carrie says that people who buy a gift item receive a silver-and-black gift box or bag with Black Swan’s name embossed on it. “Customers love it because they don’t have to wrap the present, and the recipient is excited to see that it was purchased from Black Swan,” she says. “It’s something small that’s been a big hit.”

The Swans also mail out a full-color, 16-page merchandise catalog twice a year, in the spring and fall. The spring issue features tips on topics like remodeling, redecorating and taking out old fireplaces. The fall catalog is the holiday issue, which focuses on ideas for entertaining and gift giving. The catalogs are also posted on the company’s Web site. “People tell us that they really look forward to receiving them,” Carrie explains.

The Swans have been very successful with their 30- and 60-second cable-television spots. They run lifestyle campaigns throughout the year, including an outdoor campaign from Memorial Day through July 4 and a hearth campaign beginning in late August. “It keeps us in people’s minds during the key buying seasons,” she says.

Carrie credits much of Black Swan’s success and growth over the years to knowing her market. “You have to know who your customers are and understand how to relate to them,” she says. “You also have to understand the hearth industry.” She encourages retailers to join their local Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association affiliate and take advantage of its educational seminars and networking opportunities. “You can learn so much from your peers,” she says.

Carrie adds that she’s made it a priority to continue learning ways to market the business better, whether through taking an online class from a local college or simply visiting her local bookstore and browsing through marketing books. “If you want to grow your business, you have to educate yourself on the best ways to do it,” she says. “It doesn’t just happen.”

The Future

Tom and Carrie agree that they are having the best times of their lives right now. They have many new business ideas that they are excited to try, and they are optimistic about the future of the hearth industry. “I think there is going to be a lot of positive change in the industry in the coming years, and we’re ready and willing to be a part of it,” Carrie says.

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