Our Meet Your Merchant series goes behind the scenes of the Island businesses that keep our rock running. From our hard-working shopkeepers to our friendly tradesmen and service providers, we celebrate all the people our Island depends on.
Next year Vineyard Hearth Patio & Spa celebrates its 20th anniversary. Owner Patricia Giumarra recently talked to the Times about what it means to be a small business owner on Martha’s Vineyard, and why we all deserve a hot tub.
Where are you from? Have you always lived on the Island? I’m originally from Connecticut, and moved to the Island in 1997, after a short stint in Rhode Island.
What kind of work were you doing before Vineyard Hearth, Patio & Spa (VHPS)? How did the business first get started?
I worked for 13 years in Norwalk, Connecticut for a specialty chemical manufacturer. I worked in the accounting department, customer service, and purchasing. In 1992 I came to the Island on vacation with my then boyfriend and loved the Island so much I bought a house seven months later! We got married, moved to Rhode Island and I worked for a company I used to buy products from, as a sales rep on the road. All these jobs prepared me for being a small business owner!
Next year marks the 20-year anniversary of VHPS, what does that mean to you? How will you celebrate?
I can’t believe it! Time really flies. I never knew I had such stamina! It’s not easy being a retailer on Martha’s Vineyard. Especially now. So much has changed in the last 20 years. I remember our first day, people came pouring in and it never stopped. The overall consensus among customers was that they were happy to be able to buy our products on the Vineyard. It’s still the case in most instances.
Our success also comes from our staff. Cherrie has been with me for 16 years. I am fortunate to have such a devoted, talented employee in her.
I think I’ll celebrate our anniversary by acknowledging the wonderful builders, architects, clients and employees that have contributed to the success of VHPS.
How has the business evolved over the years?
I started out selling mostly outdoor furniture and ran a small hearth business to keep us busy in the “off season.” Mostly fireplace tools, screens and accessories and some wood stoves and fireplaces. A few years into it we started selling several gas freestanding stoves (the ones that look like woodstoves) to second homeowners who mostly had electric heat. This started quite a shift in our business. The hearth business has evolved tremendously since 1997. The products available are amazing now in comparison.
We do a huge business in gas fireplaces and all kinds of outdoor fire features. Now, instead of selling a dining set and a couple of chaises and an umbrella we sell an entire outdoor room, complete with a kitchen, fire features and a hot tub. We’re working with landscapers to create beautiful outdoor oasises, small and large.
The hearth business is the bulk of our activity and the hot spring hot tubs are becoming very popular too. We have awesome manufacturers including Brown Jordan that offers the whole spectrum of products–furniture, fire features, kitchens–it’s a very exciting time to create wonderful outdoor spaces.
Describe the range of services available from VPHS?
We work closely with architects and designers providing the best product to fit the client’s needs. We attend shows and training to stay on top of new, emerging products and better ways to troubleshoot and maintain existing products. We also work with clients directly. It’s so fun putting these things together for our neighbors. They bring us into their homes to make warm inviting spaces. We value the trust and confidence they place in our team.
We also work remotely with our friends off-Island. We can communicate via email and come up with the best solutions for their space, and coordinate with the builders, landscapers, plumbers, installers and electricians. We can send them pictures along the way and we can manage their project for them.
What brands do you sell? What are some of the most useful products for your everyday Islander?
I have been very careful to choose brands that are of great quality including Lane Venture, Brown Jordan, Fireplace Xtrodinair, Town & Country, Hot Spring, and many more. I come from a purchasing background, that experience has been very helpful. I know we have a limited amount of resources for our labor force so I don’t want to sell anything that is going to break down and need a lot of service which can be disappointing to our customers and us. I don’t want to have disappointed clients, I don’t want to have to hide on the ferry or in the grocery store! I really take it to heart and do whatever it takes to make it right if we do encounter an issue.
I think the biggest product we sell to Islanders is the hot tub. We buy from one manufacturer who has several models so we’re able to find one for every need and budget. We Islanders love our off-season and the hot tub is a soothing retreat after a busy summer. I think we’re a hardworking group that appreciates our surroundings and we like having the ability to slide into nice, hot soothing water and have a Zen moment to ourselves. The other useful products we sell to Islanders are our heat sources, from wood, gas to pellet. Number one is the wood burning variety, a stove or fireplace. It’s that self-sufficient thing we like!
What do you recommend to Islanders to help keep cozy during the winter?
A hot tub, sauna, fireplace or stove.
What are some of the lesser known aspects of your business?
We do a lot of service and coordinating of products. We do a lot of training and research. We are very knowledgeable of our products and the industry we sell in. If someone decides they want a fireplace we spend a lot of time making sure they have the right product for their space and their needs. The internet allows people to browse for products at home and they walk into the store already having an idea of what they want, and we can educate them on the specifics. We have helped people avoid a fair amount of aggravation installing the wrong thing in their home.
My business philosophy is that we are in the life-enhancement business. The effort we make can bring unbounded enjoyment, relaxation and fun to our clients–which adds to our own. There’s nothing better than a happy customer.
What have been some of your biggest challenges and biggest rewards over the years?
My husband and business partner left three or four years after we started. That was a big challenge personally and professionally, but I got through it. Looking back it actually made it better for me to have more control over the growth and product mix. I was eventually able to buy the building we’re in now which was a great reward! I never imagined being able to own commercial property on the Vineyard. I feel very lucky.
Keeping up with the changing products and market are challenging and rewarding at the same time! My biggest challenge is I don’t get the word out promoting the business enough, or in the right way. We run under the radar which is unfortunate because we have a lot to offer. I wish more people knew what great stuff we have available here. That’s something I really need to work on.
What do you expect for the future of the business?
I think the future looks very good. I have found a nice niche here. I would love to get some energetic young person involved. It gets overwhelming to constantly be learning about new technology on top of meeting with clients, getting the right product mix, pricing things appropriately, keeping a handle on our expenses and making sure everyone is happy. You wear a lot of hats as a small business owner and I would like to recruit someone that can get our social media up and running, reach out and appeal to the next generation of buyers and maybe take over some day. We have a really good year round business here and there is never a dull moment. We have a lot of great clients that have become friends. We have a warm and inviting environment in the winter and we are here six days a week year round. People rely on us and that’s a nice feeling.
Vineyard Hearth Patio & Spa, 455 State Rd, Vineyard Haven. 508-693-5520, vineyardhearthpatioandspa.com.
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