YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Landscaping companies and those that specialize in outdoor living products and services have seen increases in spending on backyard projects since the COVID-19 pandemic.
But while business has increased for many, the costs of materials have also risen sharply.
Erik Tabor, president of Tabor’s Landscaping and Garden Center in North Lima, says his company recently did a lot of work in the Firestone Farms development in Columbiana.
It’s part of a trend toward “stay-cation” spending that began during the pandemic, he says.
“A lot of people don’t travel as much, so people are putting money into outdoor patios and into their homes and yards,” Tabor says.
Some of the more popular items are patios and outdoor living products. As far as retail, Tabor says stone mulch has been trending in the past couple years.
“Everyone wants to go low maintenance,” he says. “No one wants to work in their yard constantly.”
Tabor says demand has remained strong since the pandemic.
“We always have a pretty big demand,” he says. “The weather probably affects us more than anything.”
While finding customers hasn’t been a concern for the business, everything continues to go up in price, Tabor says. Aluminum, grills and costs associated with transportation for bricks and other materials remain challenges.
The company has 12 full-time employees year-round with 15 to 16 seasonally and generates about $2 million in sales.
“If we had more employees, we could definitely do more work,” he says.
Although trends change from year to year, May through November is the company’s busiest time, Tabor says. It serves about 500 customers annually, he says.
Tabor’s Landscaping and Garden Center was launched in 1992. “We started during the heyday of the housing boom,” Tabor says.
The company has a full-line garden center, spring bed flowers, trees, shrubs, bushes, mulches, brick pavers and a gift shop full of decorative outdoor items.
Landscaping services include design and installation, outdoor living patio, lighting, ponds, waterfalls and more.
“We’ll cover within about a 50-mile radius – mostly Poland, Canfield, Boardman and Columbiana County,” Tabor says.
During the time many other companies were facing supply chain issues, one local business owner says his company was benefiting from its American-made products.
Making all of the products in Ohio using American steel has helped his business stay afloat, says Matt Skillman, president and CEO of Ohio Flame. When steel products became increasingly difficult to get from overseas, many shifted to purchasing American-made products.
Skillman’s business is based in Columbiana. His products are sold all over the United States through his website and a large reseller network.
“A lot of people are looking at being a little smarter with their purchasing and the discretionary income,” he says. “What we have seen in other economic downturns is that people elected to stay in and not necessarily go out as much.”
Skillman says his company got its start during the so-called Great Recession (2008-2009), and he expects to see similar trends during the current economic downturn.
“What we saw based on that time was the start of people focusing on building up their outdoor space, and instead of going out and spending money, just staying in and entertaining,” he says.
Demand for Skillman’s products boomed during the pandemic. In fact, his company is still “riding that wave,” he says.
“We are seeing new demand for our products with the newer companies that have come on and still getting a lot of support with the companies we have been doing business with for over 10 years,” he says.
Skillman estimates the business makes at least 5,000 transactions annually. This number has quadrupled since before the pandemic, he says.
Still, a continuing concern is the rise in the cost of steel.
“We have seen pricing slow down,” Skillman says. “We’re not seeing huge sweeping increases that we have been dealing with for the last two years. The increases have slowed a little bit but were still highly elevated compared to where we were in 2019.”
Demand for the product hasn’t changed much, while necessary materials have become increasingly difficult to secure. Skillman says this adds an additional challenge for meeting customer expectations on product wait times.
While many businesses are seeing high demand even with rising prices, this isn’t the case for some luxury businesses.
Scott Jones, president of Youngstown Propane Fireplace & Patio, says his company caters to about 15% of the residents in the area because of the cost of its higher-end items.
The cost of fireplaces is now 20% to 30% higher now than it was two years ago, Jones says, causing his market to shrink.
“[At one time] you could get that job done for $5,000 to $6,000 – beautiful home improvement,” he says. “That same job, [with] nothing changed, is about $7,000 to $8,000 now.”
Rising costs have pushed many customers to gravitate toward cheaper products that must be replaced sooner. Jones says oftentimes customers will shop at popular chain stores, paying less for a product that will last them only a couple of years.
“Because we are a brick-and-mortar store, we pride ourselves on quality and service, and it’s a dying breed,” he says. “Some businesses think we are rolling in money, and we are not. We have the headaches that everyone else has.”
Jones says his customers range as far as northern West Virginia and into western Pennsylvania.
“The biggest trend now is still the outdoor kitchen,” he says. “We are still building in products. The one thing that everyone is coming out with now is an outdoor pizza oven, and that is the new thing they are putting in these kitchens.”
Outdoor kitchens have been popular for the past four or five years, Jones says.
Jones says during the pandemic, people were not taking vacations. Now that people are traveling more frequently again, his business has slowed down.
“We were getting people’s vacation money for a couple years, and we set record numbers because of it,” he says. “People are back putting money into airplanes and hotels. We are still getting our piece of the pie, but it is not quite the [same] numbers.”
Concerns about byproducts of the oil industry were high last year. With increasing inflation, Jones says that problem has only grown worse.
Freight has been another big issue for the business, Jones says.
While this is something that may be of little concern to big online retailers such as Amazon, it’s significant for small retailers.
“When you’re a retailer and you’re a brick-and-mortar store like us, you have to account for freight,” he says. “Your big internet companies and online stores usually have a freight rate that is pretty minimal.”
“There are surcharges on everything,” Jones adds. “There is a steel surcharge, there is a freight surcharge, there is a gasoline surcharge – those things look like they are here to stay.”
Pictured at top: Scott Jones, president of YP Fireplace & Patio, says one of the newest and most popular products he sells is an outdoor pizza oven.