Outdoor living is synonymous with California lifestyle. With 260 days of sunshine on average, Californians have extended their homes by creating outdoor living spaces to entertain and relax in.
When California Backyard first opened its doors in 1989 in Roseville, Calif., owner Buzz Homsy saw a need for casual furniture in the Sacramento area. At this time, California Backyard’s primary category was indoor casual furniture. Over the years, California Backyard phased out the indoor casual furniture and focused primarily on outdoor living. “In 2004 we dropped indoor casual furniture because we felt it was too confusing to customers to offer both indoor and outdoor casual,” said California Backyard General Manager, Tom Tapken. “Many of our customers didn’t understand the term ‘indoor casual furniture’, and it wasn’t as popular as it had been twenty years ago, so we decided to focus primarily on outdoor furnishings.”
Today, California Backyard has created a niche for themselves in Northern California and Nevada by offering its customers anything they need to create an outdoor oasis, from casual furniture and barbeques to swim spas and hot tubs. “Outdoor casual furniture is now our largest category and dominates most of our stores but we sell a variety of barbeques, mainly Webers, hot tubs, swim spas, pool chemicals and outdoor accessories. We put a lot of effort into creating our lifestyle settings, and when customers visit they see ideas they can implement in their backyard,” Tom mentioned. “Many customers don’t realize the different options they have when furnishing their outdoor living space and are often surprised when they first enter our store. They then start to see the possibilities for creating a great backyard living space that they might not have been aware of—by adding collections of outdoor products like rugs and pillows to transform a backyard into an outdoor room.”
One area that Tom feels is very special about these outdoor living spaces is its ability to bring people together and create a sense of community. The outdoor living space is one area that doesn’t compete for family time and instead gives families an area to gather. “The way families come together is to have a beautiful, inviting space outside—to have a hot, bubbling hot tub waiting for you and your family. It is impossible to sit in a hot tub and not talk,” he said.
Tom explains creating this sense of family time and community to each of his salespeople. California Backyard doesn’t sell a single item that takes families apart from each other. Everything is sold to make the customer feel like they can bring people together, and the entire store is designed to create this sense of community and togetherness, “This isn’t just decorating a room, it’s creating a sense of family, togetherness and community,” Tom said.
California Backyard’s roots start with family. As a family-owned and operated business, there are four family members that currently work within the business; Tom’s wife Denise, father-in-law Buzz and mother-in-law Wilma. The store was originally opened by Buzz who had relocated to the Sacramento area after working for Pool, Patio and Things in the Bay Area. After showing Denise and Tom around the Sacramento area, Buzz suggested they move up from Southern California. He said if they moved to Sacramento, he would open up a business. Twenty-two years later, California Backyard is a strong and successful business with six locations throughout Northern California and Nevada.
Their extended family is their 43 employees. California Backyard believes in keeping their extended family educated, motivated and ready to assist any customer’s need. Tom holds hour and a half training sessions each week with every employee to help them build up a company he calls ‘Me Inc.’. “The point that I always try to make with salespeople is that—I am in charge of getting people into the store through advertising, the website, etc.,” he said. “Once the customer is in the store, it is totally dependant on the salesperson to make the sale.
So we really emphasize the power of you—the power of the individual person to make a difference. Our training these days is only about 25 percent on product and 75 percent motivational—we really focus on the power of change.”
Along with motivating employees with weekly training, California Backyard religiously honors employee anniversaries. Most of California Backyard’s employees have been long term employees, with their longest employee working with them for 19 years. They did downsize over the last few years due to the economy but have recently added a few new employees. On an employee’s tenth anniversary, they receive a free hot tub. “After 30 years at Bank of America, you get a flat screen TV, but after 10 years at California Backyard, you get a free hot tub! We really make a big deal out of everyone’s anniversary,” Tom said.
While California Backyard did lose many employees over the last few years due to lower sales, Tom is hopeful for the future and is finding new ways to bring customers into the store. “The economy still hasn’t recovered in the Sacramento area, and people still haven’t recovered equity in their homes. We are trying to add to the breadth of our product lines instead of the depth,” he said. “We added gas fire logs two seasons ago, pool chemicals this season and will be adding dry saunas and hearth items next season. The idea is to broaden the products so our salespeople can sell more to the same customer. We are also really focusing on our relationships with our customers as well. We will do everything for the customer out of our store—install, deliver and service everything we sell.”
By Melissa Dressler, Western Retailer