Best Practices, Operations, V7I3

Other Backyard Structures

(Photo courtesy of The Carriage Shed)

For many businesses in the portable structures industry, sheds are all they need to offer.

However, some companies have found, through their customers and research into trends, that offering different types of outdoor structures would benefit the business—and exceed customer expectations.

How do other structures fit into a shed company’s business model? How do they decide what structures to offer? How can a business expand wisely?


The Carriage Shed in White River Junction, Vermont, a retailer of Amish-made structures and products, offers many different types of structures. The list includes barns, garages, certified homes, chicken coops, gazebos, pavilions, playsets, greenhouses, storage sheds, tool sheds, she and he sheds, offices for those who work remotely, and studios for artists to create in. 

It also has play sets that come in vinyl and wood, as do the gazebos. 

“We find a need voiced by our customers and we try to fit that need,” says Amy Therrien, assistant manager. “Especially since COVID, people are moving into our area in Vermont and they need houses, garages, playsets to keep their kids active, chicken coops so they can be more self-sufficient, and gazebos so they can just take a breath and relax.

“It always comes down to our customers. We listen and we grow. We just started offering greenhouses last year because we have seen more and more people trying to grow their own food. We have found it is important to offer a large selection of structures. We want to be able to provide the community with a quality product.” 

She says The Carriage Shed learns about the structures its customers want mostly through conversations. However, they also try and keep up with trends, researching to see what people are interested in. 

“You have to be able to adapt really quickly in this business,” Therrien points out. “It’s not Amazon where you can get it out to the customer the next day. You have to take into consideration build time, shipping time, and the change of seasons. 

“People seem to want certain structures during certain times of the year. You have to order items well in advance to have stock so you can keep up with the demand.”

She says that all of the “other” structures The Carriage Shed offers are easily delivered and put into place. 

“The playsets have some assembly once brought to the customer,” Therrien points out. “Slides have to be put on, swing frames added, swings hung, etc. They are all Amish-made, so the quality across the board is high. 

“We have found different vendors for our different products that do wonderful work, so it makes them easy to sell.” 

 She says that all of The Carriage Shed’s vendors plan to make transporting their structures easy. If they don’t come in one piece, they make pieces that go together easily. 

When it comes to selling these different structures, Therrien says that the business finds letting customers know about the different products is key. 

“We are known for being a shed retailer, and oftentimes people come to us and say, ‘I had no idea you sold those,’” she shares. “Just letting people know when you are offering something new is huge. 

“We use Instagram and Facebook to show what we have and what we are selling. These are easy ways to get customers to see our products.”

Therrien does caution that can become challenging to carry more products because you have to be able to answer any question customers have. 

“You have to learn about the product quickly and be knowledgeable about what you carry,” she shares. 


Jason Kloter, who handles sales of custom building projects for Kloter Farms, a provider of outdoor structures and handcrafted furniture in Ellington, Connecticut, says that over the years, his company’s products have basically “morphed” into other structures.

“They used to be just sheds, and they just morphed,” he says. “It was customers pushing the envelope and us listening and answering their requests.

“We sell garages, pool houses, pergolas, pavilions—they get turned into a lot of different things. We sell gazebos and play spaces, too. We’ve almost always sold those different products.”

In fact, Kloter says play spaces have made the business’ location a draw for families. 

“They’re probably not the huge cash center for us, but our display makes it family-inviting,” he shares. “We have eight to 10 play spaces for the kids where they can come and play. 

“The goal has always been to create a destination, and our advertising says we have a 16-acre display park, and play spaces definitely add into that. Kids want to come to our place, which makes it easy for mom and dad.”

Kloter points out that the sales and design process of other structures depends on the complexity of what the customer wants. For example, selling something that gets delivered in one piece, he says the salesperson sells it, schedules delivery, and then rarely gets involved again.

“The product comes in and goes out to the customer,” he says. “We have systems in place that work well—smoothly and efficiently.

“You jump into the more complex structures like a full house or garage, and now all of a sudden that project requires a project manager. The salesperson takes initial deposit. Now the project manager gets involved and works through the different details.

“With a pool house, you go visit the site. How’s it going to tie into the patio? What’s the grade going to be, is it going to have a floor and enough concrete on the base?”

Kloter says they do a lot of 3D rendering before sales staff puts the order in so there are no surprises with the customer.

“It’s definitely much more on the front side labor-intensive,” he shares. “And then on the backside, too, because you have a crew of three or four spend a day or two. A shed guy will deliver three or four sheds a day, so other structures are a lot more involved on the backside as well. 

“You’re working with the builder as well, making sure everything is all set and to spec to go out and build them.”

Kloter Farms uses a kit process to create other types of structures for its customers. The company worked with its builders to create special kits for the portable structures its customers requested.

“Over time, the structures got more and more complex,” Kloter shares. “As you get to a certain volume, it almost requires a different job. As the volume grows, the shop has to grow with it or else it’s going to blow up.”

Kloter says that the company has teams that deliver and put up the structure kits. Some teams are in-house; others are subcontractors. 

“We really care how they work,” he says. “Even our subcontractors wear our uniforms. We letter their trailers, things along those lines. They’re still part of the Kloter Farm team, although their compensation, that’s more like a subcontractor as opposed to an employee. We use both types of teams here.”

But Kloter Farms goes beyond outdoor structures in its product lines.

“There are two sides to our business,” shares Kloter. “We’re both indoors for wood and outdoors for wood. We sell furniture and bedroom sets, a new table, essentials along those lines as well.”

He says that the company started selling such furniture 25-30 years ago to fill a sales hole during the winter months.  

“In the winter here, you can’t do sheds,” Kloter points out. “You’re around, but you’ve got a few months where shed sales are off. The indoor furniture does very well.”


For any builder considering adding other structures to their shed-building lineup, Kloter suggests making sure the projects they are considering are “winners.”

“It’s not something that if your salespeople are already fairly busy, you throw this new level of complexity on top of them. I think you’re going to frustrate the customer,” he says.

“Add the best structures. And remember that these structures become more complex. They need to be managed very differently than a shed.

“You always grow into some things, but I heard a piece of advice a long time ago: If you’re going to do anything, do it really, really well or don’t do it. To get into something and do it mediocre is not a formula for success.”

Kloter says that it’s vital to have qualified people in place to work with the customers, especially on project management for other structures. 

“You’re managing the build crew. You’re managing the foundation install. You’re managing the customers—you’re really managing expectations,” he says. “It’s communication. That’s more complex building projects, but even projects that are pretty simple, a project manager can juggle 30, 40, 50 projects at a time, but it takes that person responsible for each project in my opinion.

“We dabbled with it before, but it wasn’t until we put a project manager in place that it really worked well.”

“Be ahead of the game, always order in advance to be ready for the different seasons,” adds Therrien. “Customers oftentimes don’t plan ahead. They want what they want and they want it now.”


Time to Add Products?, Dec. 30, 2020

Exploring Sales Beyond the Shed, Aug. 1, 2017

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