The internet is a vast source of information for purchasing fireplaces, stoves and related hearth products. Some shoppers use the internet simply for research, while others move to the next step and make a purchase online from a local or national company. The internet gives you the ability to educate yourself about the products available for your needs, narrowing your search and focusing your choices.
Manufacturers of fireplaces and products can be a great source of information, and most hearth product manufacturers offer a website these days. They provide product information such as dimensions and technical data, design ideas and, often, a dealer locator section. Most manufacturers do not sell direct to consumers, but do want to build awareness of their products among the public. Many of these same manufacturers will also discourage you from
Why would manufacturers discourage internet sales?
Manufacturers want to support the local dealer in your area who promotes their product, often including store displays where you can touch the product and enjoy the benefits of the local sales, service and installation departments offered by these local retailers
Manufacturers want to reduce their own liability for improper installation or maintenance. While your product warranty is provided by the company that manufactures the appliance, this warranty is often tied to a requirement that a qualified technician perform the installation, perform all service and maintenance, and that a local dealer administer the manufacturer’s warranty policies
They want fireplaces sold through reliable retailers, because that’s the way their business foundation was usually built. Many feel that these goals cannot be met by an online fireplace store.
We feel this is an untrue view of how the internet actually works, and limits product availability to geographical areas where there is a fireplace shop that carries a particular line. Besides, manufacturers only tend to hear the horror stories (that truly do occur) via complaints from the buying public or from a local dealer who is appalled at a customer’s experience with an internet purchase. Customers simply don’t take the time to call a manufacturer and say “I love this product and the internet company I bought it from treated me great”. It just doesn’t happen, so keep in mind that manufacturers form opinions based on the bad experiences the learn about and subsequently form company policies in hopes of preventing more bad experiences by homeowners.
Few manufacturers publish their contact information to the general public. Manufacturers’ talents lie in design and manufacture fireplace products, and in distribution through a channel of local dealers. Most fireplace product manufacturers do not have a staff that is qualified and trained to deal with the processes involved in providing sales and technical support direct to consumers so they want their dealers to provide local support to the local consumer.
This process works great as long as you, the homeowner, is able to establish a great relationship with the local dealer, and if this dealer carries the product you want. If you don’t, for some reason, feel good about dealing with the local shop, or if that dealer’s staff isn’t as familiar with the product in which you’re interested, then you as a consumer must make the decision:
If there’s no local dealer who carries the product you want then driving a long distance to pick up the appliance or buying over the internet may be your only means of getting it.
The best of all worlds is, perhaps, the full-service fireplace shop who also sells online. They should have staff that can communicate well, whether in person, on the phone or via online communication such as e-mail. Besides, you know that a bricks-and-mortar shop has a physical location that’s open to the public you can take your house plans, photos of your room, measurements that can affect your product choices, and get the help of an expert, in person. For a speciality fireplace product this may mean a long trip for you as the consumer, but knowing you do have this ability should help instill confidence. You may opt to perform certain installations on your own and hire out the aspects of a project that may be too challenging for you to take on yourself to a local pro.
Beware the online retailer who has no way for you to phone them for sales, service or installation support. As mentioned above, a factory warranty may limit the manufacturer’s liability obligations when the product is improperly installed or maintained, or if it is not administered by an authorized dealer for the product.
Fireplaces, by their very nature of providing heat and fire inside your house do come with an inherent ability to cause harm to your home and family. Choosing the right model to do the job and having it installed to the very letter of the manufacturer’s instructions are of utmost importance. Buy only from a retailer – be it the local shop or an internet store – that makes you feel comfortable during the buying process and who can help provide answers for you regarding installation and service requirements as they may arise.
*Article reprinted with permission of Victorian Fireplace Shop