photo of owner Dan Hart
Even here in Michigan, where the outdoor living season can be cruelly short some years, the trend toward outdoor living or having a backyard oasis is not only taking hold but is flourishing.
“There’s been an explosion in outdoor living…in the last five years,” said Dan Hart, owner of Out Back Casual Living & Fence, 4050 West River Drive in Comstock Park. “We used to furnish deck areas, small patios, and now we furnish complete outdoor rooms and kitchens.
“It’s not just the use of it,” he added. “When you’re looking at your backyard, it draws you in, it’s inviting.”
Studies, such as Furniture Today Magazine show outdoor furniture has been outpacing sales of indoor furniture. More than one-third of retailers expect an increase of sales in outdoor living product, and sales are expected to rise four percent annually through 2017.
Hart was manufacturing outdoor wood playsets when he bought what was then Factory Fence at the current property in 1995. Prior to that the fence company, the site was home to Morrissey Lawn and Garden, the local John Deere distributor, who built the current building in the 1960’s around the same time US 131 was under construction, said Hart.
“I bought the property because of the unique exposure,” said Hart. “You can see us from the highway (131), get a lot of awareness as to what we offer.
“We get calls from that exposure.”
Besides fencing and playsets, Hart saw an additional market and added patio furniture, basketball goals, and outdoor grills. He ended up separating the fencing business from the other retail products. Hart said he thought the building was “more suited to retail than wholesale” and converted part of the warehouse to a retail showroom.
Retail was a new experience for Hart, who had a manufacturing background, and there was a learning curve to the retail side of the business. He learned marketing from experience trying television, radio, and print media. He said he’s had the most success with billboards he advertises on in the West Michigan area, adding, “They give the feel of outdoor living.” He also does the West Michigan Home and Garden Show.
The business is seasonal, and there are ten full-time, year round employees. He hires another ten for the spring, summer, and fall months. Their sales market cover much of West Michigan extending as far south as South Haven and north to Montague.
The main building is 8000 square feet which includes the showroom displaying outdoor chairs, tables, sofas, grills and accessories like pillows and outdoor rugs. There is an extra 2000 square foot warehouse in the back of the three and one-half acre property. The White Pine Trail runs in front of the property, and Hart says he enjoys having families from the Trail stop by for the kids to use the playsets and basketball goals displayed in front of the store.
In his twenty years in the business, Hart has seen many changes in outdoor living trends and fashions from the strap aluminum chairs of the nineties to present day products such as all- weather woven wicker furniture and outdoor sofa sectionals with weather proof cushions.
Hart is all about giving back to community, and he buys advertisements school programs, church bulletins and the like, and donates products for fundraisers. His favorite program is the Comstock Park Pre-Vocational Program in which he has a student intern at his store in the Spring.
Hart is grew up in Cannonsburg and graduated from Rockford High School. He and his wife Brenda live in Rockford and have four grown children.