By Kelly Johnson FOR THE TIMES
As it seemingly does for most, the winter season sneaks in without much warning, bringing with it snow, freezing temperatures and high heating bills. But about four years ago, partners Alan “Gordy” Techner and Mark Pedersen offered an efficient alternative to area residents looking to beat the cold — fireplaces.
Fireside Pros, conveniently located in South Windsor and Freehold, provides numerous types of wood, gas and pellet-burning fireplaces and stoves, fireplace inserts and doors, gas logs, screens, maintenance accessories and much more. The business also specializes in mantels, stone and tile work.
“In four and a half years, we seem to have made a pretty good mark. People recommend us and we get a lot of customers who have been to other places and come here and find the way that we do business to be really friendly,” Techner said. “We’re a very customer-focused company.”
The personal experience begins with one step into showroom. Upon entering the building along Route 130 in South Windsor, customers are immediately greeted by consultant Mitchel Galinsky and receptionist and “director of first impressions”Jodi Santemauro, who makes prospective buyers feel almost at home in a room full of fireplaces — offering drinks and treats neatly arranged on nearby tables.
A professional at either location will meet with the customers —whether they are coming for a scheduled appointment or are walk-in shoppers — and discuss what they are interested in and what their living situation permits.
Fireside Pros services Burlington, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties and features the Regency and Hampton lines of heating products, which use noncatalytic technology. Also offered are wood and natural gas heating appliances of HearthStone, which makes its products from soapstone because of its ability to retain heat and provide long-lasting, durable and gentle warmth. All of the products are also EPA certified, Techner said.
Techner said that while most interested buyers typically do independent research online before making a commitment, some still do not know what they want or what is most suitable for them. “A lot of people come in and say that they want a fireplace for heat but go to this one,” he said, as a fire began roaring with just a flip of a switch next to a deep fireplace surrounded by black marble and flanked by glass doors.
“Actually, this one is more for aesthetics,” he explained. Although almost indecipherable to the untrained eye, other similar-looking units and inserts cater to zoned heating, or provide heat for a certain area of the home or room. The key to every consultation, according to Techner, is determining what is best suited to the customer.
There are even ceremonial buttons situated on the consultation tables in the showroom that proclaim, “That was easy!” when pressed, an action taken at the end of every consultation, Techner said.
“This is an investment. It’s a commitment, and we try to make it as easy as possible while making sure that they’re getting what they want and what they need,” he said. “We try to marry them to the right product and if we need to come out to the house, we’ll come out to the house to make sure that the job is going to get done properly.”
Techner said that he encourages every prospective buyer to come to one of the showrooms to see the variety of products and get an in-person consultation, but appointments can also be made for on-site evaluations and estimates before installation.
The company has a few of its own people who specialize in the multiple areas of fireplaces including installation, stone and tile work, electrical work and gas hookups and conversions. Techner said that a lot of value comes from keeping his team a tight-knit group.
“All of the people we use are people who are very good at their jobs,” he said. “We have people who are personable and know how to talk to customers and know how to work on their feet.”
While Fireside Pros only started a few years ago, it is shared with Awning Design West, a business with a history of more than two decades.
Providing high-quality shade products to commercial and residential customers in Central Jersey since 1988, Techner joined Pedersen, president of the company, as a partner in 2008.
Shortly after opening the second location in Windsor and at the onset of the recession, Pedersen and Techner began looking for ways to sustain their business throughout the year, since awnings were predominately selling between March and the early summer months.
Ironically, the hard economic times actually worked in their favor, Techner said, as companies were looking to expand their client base and area officials were receptive to new, attractive businesses.
“We’re very successful with awnings, but it is seasonal and it is optional. It’s not necessary. We needed something different for the other months,” Techner said, “and fireplaces are sexy.”
Regency and Hampton worked with Fireside Pros to set up the showrooms in Windsor and Freehold, Techner said, and the business took off. During its first season the company installed more than 60 heating units along with numerous additional appliances.
The showrooms at both locations are open at convenient times seven days per week. For more information about Fireside Pros, visit firesidepros.net and for Awning Design West, visit awning design.net.