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Hot Tubs and Log Fireplaces Prove Biggest Lures to Australian Buyers

The great outdoors still seems the enduring focus for the majority of Australian consumers, with the most popular items at Melbourne's recent Herald Sun Home Show proving to be alfresco spas, barbecuing equipment and artificial lawns.

Photo: Outdoor spa pools: A true Australian aspiration.
Outdoor spa pools: A true Australian aspiration.
Photo: Outdoor spa pools: A true Australian aspiration.
Outdoor spa pools: A true Australian aspiration.

All things hot, wet and steamy were in vogue at this year's Herald Sun Home Show in Melbourne. Accordingly, two of the big items trending at this year's show were outdoor hot tubs and gas-powered log fireplaces.

Outdoor cooking and furniture makers were also well represented, while the increase in the number of companies offering artificial lawn surfaces suggests a consumer shift towards ease and convenience.

With a brand name synonymous with the outdoor hot tub sector, many show visitors were naturally interested in the latest offerings from Jacuzzi. Vicky Kulupach, Sales Representative for the California-based company, claimed to have been swept off her feet with customer enquiries, both from locals and from mainland Chinese buyers. She said, "It's all about wellness. Our newest models have water jets that project towards the hips. Jacuzzis are also great for treating back pain and rheumatism. Our new models are especially easy to operate – the whole thing is iPhone-synced. Temperature, the timer and jet streams can all be controlled by your smartphone."

It would seem that customers are willing to pay for such a recognised brand and also are willing to wait for their Jacuzzi to arrive. Kulupach said: "It takes about eight to twelve weeks to ship the unit from the US once the order has been placed." The Jacuzzis – or spas – on show started at AUD$20,000 (HK$115,000) for a medium-sized unit, up to AUD$35,000 (HK$200,000) for the deluxe model. Rival exhibitor, Spa World, from Kingsport, Tennessee, went one better, with a super-sized hot tub with its own housing, all done in the style of a tropical hut.

With a focus more on getting warm than getting wet, Julian Terry, Sales Manager for New South Wales(NSW)-based Lopi Fireplaces, reported much stronger sales of their gas-powered log fireplaces than last year, saying: "Our fire places are extremely durable, with our special ceramic fibre making them virtually indestructible. Our horizontal fireplaces are proving particularly popular this time round."

Leading Australian gas-powered fireplace distributors, Jetmaster also reported strong sales. However, one of its newest designs, featuring large river pebbles drew lacklustre interest, according to the manufacturer.

For something with more of an outdoor flavour, Grant Hilton, Co-Owner of NSW's Alfresco Spaces, reported keen interest in his company's latest creation – the Fire N Table. Hilton said: "The table doubles as a heater in the cooler nights, but also provides a chilled place to put your drinks in summer. The Fire N Table is also attracting interest in North America. We've already shipped 40 units there, with a similar number sent to the UK."

One of the best-attended sections of the show was the Sustainable Energy Zone, in particular the area devoted solar panelling. Tom Robinson, Business Development Manager of Melbourne's Sustainable Solar, was upbeat about developments in the sector. He said: "Watch for the impact for the new Tesla battery. It's going to be a real game-changer for the solar industry."

Photo: The Fire N Table: Heating and eating.
The Fire N Table: Heating and eating.
Photo: The Fire N Table: Heating and eating.
The Fire N Table: Heating and eating.
Photo: The kink-free X Hose.
The kink-free X Hose.
Photo: The kink-free X Hose.
The kink-free X Hose.

Tesla, the well-known Californian electric car manufacturer, is branching out into supplying solar panel-charged batteries. Robinson believes the Tesla unit to be superior to other solar batteries on the market and sees it as offering potentially great savings on home power bills. He said: "The Tesla battery will draw the energy from the solar cells on the roof and at much better rates than previously – it could allow people to go off the grid."

According to Robinson, homeowners looking to install solar cells in their homes would typically need about 12 to 20 cells at about AUD$350 (HK$2,000) per cell to make self-sufficiency viable.

Another innovative idea on display was solar pool heating. According to Peter Haddon, Chief Executive of Heliocol Australia, headquartered in Brisbane, this practice can extend the swimming season for people in the southern states of Australia.

He said: "Solar cells are actually comprised of light-absorbing polycarbonate tubes. Water passes from the swimming pool to the cells attached on the roof and then the heated water circulates back to the pool. Instead of swimming just over the summer months, people can swim from September right through to March. It's great for families, kids, old people – anyone really."

Also attracting a lot of heat was a range of energy efficient windows from Victoria-based Valley Windows. Sales Executive, Sharon Hill, reported that sales of the windows had been notably brisk.

She said: "Its double-glazed glass with Argon gas in its centre, so it insulates very effectively. We do have some windows that are suited to hot climates, but the ones on display here are especially good at retaining. They very popular in the more Southern cities, such as Melbourne and Sydney."

When it came to sleep solutions, customers at the show were spoilt for choice, with several exhibitors even exhibiting bamboo pillows. Andrew Mocha, representing Western Australia-based Bambooze, said: "The advantage of the bamboo cover is that it's safe for use by anyone suffering from an allergy, such as asthma. It's also resistant to bedbugs."

Aaron Preddy, Sales Representative for Australian Outdoor Living, based in Adelaide, believed his company had the perfect artificial outdoor surface for sport-loving Aussies. He said: "For cricket, the best artificial turf is the PGA, which has the best spring and bounce in our range. The most comfy, though, is the Oasis, it's so plush you feel that you could just lie down on it after a hard day."

Judging by the number of synthetic grass vendors at the show, the product is proving particularly popular with home owners this year. According to Maddie Shaw, representing Better Living Outdoors, there are several advantages to an artificial lawn. She said: "The advantage of artificial turf is that it's easy to maintain and always looks really good. It costs about AUD$40 (HK$230) per metre, which goes up to about AUD$80 to AUD$100 per metre with installation."

For something innovative and kink-free in the outdoor, one gardening company – Toronto-based X Hose – may have just revolutionised the world of garden hoses. Citing the product's USP, Contractor James O'Neill said: "The X Hose is incredibly lightweight compared to a traditional garden hose. Also it doesn't kink.'

The expanding and contracting hose was first developed in Canada and is freeze resistant, with water being expelled from hose when not in use. It is becoming popular in Australia and New Zealand thanks to its resistance to UV and cracking.

Another eye-catching exhibit in the outdoor area came courtesy of Germany's Haaga, with its lightweight range of leaf sweepers. Sales Representative, Carol Wallace, on hand to demonstrate the device's operation, said: "It weighs only about 6 kg and retails for AUD$349 (HK$1,995). It will sweep up leaves and cans from any hard surface, including driveways, paths and wooden decking."

Kitchenware providers were also prominent at the show, including NuWave, a Sydney-based induction cooking brand. Explaining the thinking behind the range, Neil Ronald, Company Demonstrator, said: "It all works by induction, heating only the magnetised metal pan. It uses only about one-seventh the energy of a normal hotplate. One customer invested in NuWave cookware because they have a parent who has developed Alzheimer's, so they wanted the peace of mind that comes with safer cooking."

NuWave cookware doesn't come cheap, however. Prices range from AUD$2,000 (HK$11,400) to AUD$19,000 (HK$108,000) per piece.

Offering a more traditional product range, Aurora (Living Bathroom) reported considerable in its range of kitchen and bathroom fittings. The company sources many of its products from China, but assembles finished kitchens and bathroom fittings at its factory in Melbourne.

Co-Owner, Summer Lu, said: "Our faucets are selling well. It's back to basics for colour this year, with customers preferring matt white, matt black and silver."

This sentiment was echoed by Western Australia-based Kresta Blinds, which specialises in shutters and awnings, with beige, it seems, being the new black. Kelly Powers, a Kresta Branch Manager in Melbourne, said: "We do have a wide range of colours and styles, but people keep coming for neutral, earthy colours. In terms of our best seller at present, the motorised Roman rollers are top of the list."

Photo: The 2015 Herald Sun Home Show: Everything for the Australian hearth.
The 2015 Herald Sun Home Show: Everything for the Australian hearth.
Photo: The 2015 Herald Sun Home Show: Everything for the Australian hearth.
The 2015 Herald Sun Home Show: Everything for the Australian hearth.

The Herald Sun Home Show was held at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre from 13-16 August and featured more than 330 exhibitors.

Robert Blain, Special Correspondent, Melbourne

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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