How do fireplaces play a role in health and wellness? In this episode of the “There is a Difference” series, we talk with Jeni Forman, SVP of Hearth & Home Technologies to answer this question. She also shares with us what keeps her inspired, even after 14 years with the brands, how fireplace technology continues to evolve and how leveraging brand loyalists on social media has allowed for unique insights in growing the business.
Jeni: My name is Jeni Forman and I am the senior vice president of marketing for Hearth & Home Technologies, in Lakeville, Minnesota. I lead a marketing team of 65 individuals that cover trade marketing, category management, go-to-market strategies, integrated marketing — which covers the marketing tech stack, creative services, and digital marketing. I have been here for 14 years and am actually in my seventh role with the company. I’ve been on the sales side, I’ve been in product management, and I’ve been on the marketing side. Needless to say, I’ve had a great experience in the last 14 years.
What inspires you most about Hearth & Home and its initiatives?
Jeni: There are a lot of things. I certainly never thought when I started here 14 years ago, that I would stay this long. In fact, I started my career in food and beverage with Kraft General Foods. I did not come from building products, but when I did start here, I was inspired by several things.
First of all, the array of brands. We have a lot of brands in our portfolio. We have the top three most recognized fireplace brands in the industry as well as iconic stove brands. Coming from a big name like Kraft, the Hearth & Home brand piece felt really good to me. It was exciting to come into a leadership position in a new industry. From an opportunity standpoint, I really love that there is always opportunity — not only to grow professionally, but also for the organization to continue to grow. Be it in revenue, profit, or expanding our abilities across trade partners and channels.
I also love that we grew up through acquisition. The company started with Heatilator, and even as they acquired companies, they were able to keep the founders. We would acquire a company, and the original founder would stay. Even today, we have three of the founders of the several companies that were acquired, who are still with us. It always spoke to me that those founders would stay. Our culture really supports and enables people with entrepreneurial minds to grow and continue to feel like they’re contributing to the business, and that it’s still theirs. In this organization, we refer to the other people who work here as members, not employees, but members of the company, and that just feels like a really great culture to be in, very inclusive.
Finally, one of the things I learned very early as a home and building products marketing professional, was that I didn’t want to have to worry about the quality of the product. In this company, we are very operationally focused, we take great pride in the products that we manufacture, and in our ability to deliver them on time to our customers. Knowing that I never have to worry about the quality of our product makes me feel really good. It allows me to focus on myself, my team, and our activities, on actually going out and talking to consumers, as opposed to having to worry about product quality. That is something that I really love.
We love that you include the actual customers and their stories on social media. Why is that important to the brand?
Jeni: I think it’s very important to each of our brands for different reasons. From a marketing perspective, we’ve really focused on brand persona and how we get that persona to go out further than just to the people that purchase them, but to others who are thinking about them. We liken our brands to other brands that are out there, and then we look for consumers that we can relate to, that show that persona.
I’ll use the Quadra-Fire brand as a starting point. We always thought it was kind of a working man’s brand, or a working person’s brand, if you will. It’s the kind of person that wants to tinker with stuff and wants to have the most beautiful burn possible in their appliance. With that, we are always looking for people that can tell the “What is the best way to start a fire” story so others can see and emulate it. People who may have grown up burning a wood-fire, or a campfire, or in a fire pit at home can still build that beautiful fire inside a Quadra-Fire wood stove and appreciate the same kind of traditional fire.
On the Heat & Glo side of things, the ads reflect interviews we’ve conducted with consumers talking about how much they enjoy being able to sit in front of a gas insert rather than having to go out and gather wood themselves, and without a mess to clean up. Instead, they have this beautiful fire that they can turn on with a click of a button, or with their iPhone and an app. The next thing you know, they’re talking about, “How I get to enjoy this, and the time with my family, I spend that time now enjoying the fire, as opposed to going out and building a fire.” That kind of relationship with your Hearth appliance is so important, because as I say, “As human beings, we all have a little bit of that desire for fire in our lives, because it’s something born in us.” I don’t think you can ever take it out of people. The question is how do you bring it out, and really highlight it in their lives? And allow them to have those memories of the past and their family, maybe growing up as a child? All of those memories that people have around fire are so important, and so that personalization is just critical to the brands.
Hearth & Home Technologies recently created an app that allows users to create both their dream fireplace, and home office. How did this idea come to fruition?
Jeni: Yes, we launched it this year in 2021, and it’s a configuration software called Design Your Fireplace, which allows you to go on to the Heat & Glo website, and pick the appliance that you want to start with, the fireplace or gas insert that you want to start with, and then you can customize it.
Users can pick their desired front, pick the colors they want, put the refractory on the inside, etc. That customizes it to a certain style or design, whatever they’re looking for in their home. And then you take your phone, do the ‘point and shoot’ for the configurator, by pointing it to the wall that you want to put it on, and get a really great visual of what that’s going to look like. And then, you can actually send it to one of our local trade partners, who will help you get it designed, and installed for you. It’s that end-to-end customer relationship, getting your own personalized fireplace.
The second app that we have created is called the IntelliFire App. This app allows you to control your appliance in your home from your phone, or from Alexa, or Google. I actually have three, I have a home in Wisconsin and a home in San Diego that has a couple of inserts. I control three different appliances on the app now. I can turn my appliance on or off when I’m on my way home, which I love because if I’m heading home in the middle of winter to Wisconsin, and I want my house to be warm when I get there, I can turn the fireplace on. If I leave, and I forget to turn it off, I can turn it off from my phone, which is a great benefit. I rent out the house in California, so I can tell if my renters have turned it on or left it on, and I can turn it off for them.
There are some great advantages, not only the on and off feature, but I can also turn the lights on to create a bit of atmosphere if I want to. I can raise the heat up or down, turn the fan on or off. Really allowing that interaction with your fireplace to be customized, to the way that you want it, which is so important to the consumer today.
With the trend of indoor and outdoor spaces over the last year, what are some of the things that Hearth & Home has noticed with indoor and outdoor fireplaces?
Jeni: When we went into COVID, I don’t think any of us really realized what was going to happen as a result. We thought we were in for another major downturn at the start. And as people began to realize they were cooped up in their homes, with nowhere to spend their money, they decided to invest in their homes. It was a pretty amazing year for that… and certainly indoor and outdoor fireplaces were no exception.
We’ve seen consumers make their indoor fireplace experience a better family environment and also extend that outdoors. From a growth standpoint we’ve seen outdoor really take off, because that was an area that people really hadn’t developed up until COVID. Now, we have a better vision of what outdoor spaces could look like and they’ve become very popular.
It’s been fun to watch. Additionally, there are a lot of fuel choices out there, whether it’s wood, or natural gas, or propane and the newly popular electric fireplace. Historically, there was a little bit of a paradigm about, “Oh, that’s not real fire.” And granted it’s not real fire, but it has become more of an artistic element in the home. In that linear format that you see most of the electric fireplaces, you really get a beautiful artistic element to your home that does provide you with some great ambience and style.
Oftentimes, fireplaces are associated with health and wellness, relaxation, time with family, and winding down. Is this something as a marketer that your team plays into, when selling the product?
Jeni: Absolutely health and wellness. It’s a big deal, especially in the new home building now. There are even things we can do to help contribute to that environment. In fact, it can be one of the areas that, if you’re looking at it like the net-zero home, can help you with some of the offsets of carbon emissions by balancing what you’re putting in and what you’re taking out. We’re really learning a lot about that right now and evaluating how fireplaces fit into that environment.
For some of our appliances, we use what’s called chromotherapy, which means we use different lights and colors to match your mood. If you want to relax, you can choose blue, for example. Other colors represent different moods or environments, and those are available to select as well.
We also have some products where you can actually connect it to the Wi-Fi in your home and play the crack flames sound of a fire. When you get those sounds, you’ll naturally start to have different thoughts of happiness and wellness, maybe family memories, and those sorts of things. Those are all really important elements of that health and wellness environment.
Simply from a relaxation standpoint — with the lights and the sound — there are just some things that can really enable your mood and emotion, as you’re around the Hearth appliance. We use that messaging when we’re talking to consumers. How it will help enhance their lifestyle, their emotions, and their happiness for the family at home.
Thank you, Jeni! This has inspired us to learn more about chromotherapy. Anyone else? Do you have unique insights to share to home and building manufacturers and customers? Please let us know, we’d love to talk with you. Email Abby at firstname.lastname@example.org