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A Friendly Giant


Check us out in the May/June 2012 issue of Patio and Hearth Products Report

"This regional chain understands that its stores's greatest assets are its customers."

With eight locations in the central United States and a wide offering of family-fun products for inside and outside the home (at low prices, and with most products in stock), Family Leisure certainly falls into the chain retailer category. With a company wide goal of offering high-quality products and exceptional customer service before, during, and after the sale at each of its showrooms, however, Family Leisure also has the qualities that consumers expect from a specialty retailer.

Family Leisure of Indianapolis Storefront.

Family Leisure's 200,000 square-foot Indianapolis showroom, built in 2004, features a New Orleans' inspired interior design.

Certainly, Family Leisure has a unique accomplishment to its credit: bridging the gap between the mass merchant and specialty dealer-while becoming one of the largest retailers of home-recreation products in the nation.

Family Leisure began in 1967 in Cincinnati, Ohio, as a vending-machine distributor. In 1969, founder William Watson began selling swimming pools, and his company, known as J.J. Pool City, grew to become Cincinnati's largest swimming-pool store. In the mid-1970s, the company changed its name to Watson's, as more products were added to the store's lineup. Andy Prefontaine, who had worked with William Watson since the 1970s, opened the first Indianapolis, Indiana, location in 1985.

In 2009, Watson's changed its name to Family Leisure to reflect its expansion into offering a wide range of indoor and outdoor products (and to communicate its message more clearly, as it launched a new website and entered into online sales). Family Leisure is still affiliated with a chain of Watson's stores (which are under separate ownership) scattered throughout the Midwest; the two companies buy together, but do not operate in the same cities.

Today, Family Leisure offers a remarkable range of products for the home, including patio furniture, outdoor fireplaces, firepits, grill islands, pergolas, above-ground pools, pool supplies, spas, hot tubs, tanning beds, billiard tables, other game tables, bars, barstools, home-theater seating, play gyms, and trampolines.

Family Leisure is owned and operated by Kevin Prefontaine, president, and Andy Prefontaine, chief operating officer. Corporate headquarters are in Indianapolis and showrooms (independently owned and operated as franchises) are located in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee; San Antonio, Texas; Olathe, Kansas; Lakeville, Minnesota; North Little Rock, Arkansas; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Indianapolis.


Since 1969, Family Leisure has had a retail presence in Indianapolis, and in 2004, the company built a new 200,000 square-foot showroom patterned after the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. "Our building is truly one of a kind," Malachi Chapman, casual-furniture buyer, says.

The store's interior reflects the unique architecture of the French Quarter, including backdrops of two-story buildings (painted in a whimsical color palette) with scrolled wroughtiron balconies. "From the stamped-concrete floors to the beautiful New Orleans theme and all the fun products we sell, I can personally say I feel blessed to work in such a great atmosphere," Chapman adds.

Malachi Chapman of Family Leisure.

Malachi Chapman

Among the store's many product categories, patio furniture has represented the biggest area of growth. "Even through the economic downturn, we saw continued expansion in patio furniture-better than we could have dreamed. It is now, by far, our largest category, and half of our showroom is dedicated to outdoor living," Chapman says.

Cast aluminum is currently the most popular material with customers. "It offers beautiful and intricate designs and has a reputation as a durable and lowmaintenance product," Chapman says. Another growth category is polyethylene-lumber furniture. "While it is limited on style and design, compared with cast aluminum, its popularity comes from being completely maintenance free-and it is still mostly made in the United States, which is becoming an increasingly popular question asked by customers in today's market," he adds.

In addition to seeing a surge in casual-furniture sales, Chapman reports that the popularity of other outdoor-living products (including outdoor fireplaces, firepits, and outdoor kitchens) has also exploded for the company. "With the average home being around 200 square feet smaller, in the past few years, customers are looking out their back doors to expand their living spaces," he says. "What makes Family Leisure a step above the rest is having superior outdoor products and professional installers with years of experience and a can-do attitude."

Even as Family Leisure strives to offer customers low prices on all its products, the company does not forgo quality. The company's strong relationships with its suppliers, built up over 40 years, enable the retailer to provide high-end products at competitive prices. The company offers more than 30 top-name casual-furniture brands, including Hanamint, Gensun, Tropitone, Summer Classics, Telescope Casual, Cast Classics, Woodard, Homecrest, and Lane Venture.

Along with quality, providing exceptional customer service is key to the retailer's overall success. "From our fivestar-rated in-house service department to our professional sales staff, we pride ourselves on truly caring for our customers," Chapman says. "Our best source of advertising is customer referrals."


In 2009, Family Leisure began online sales, offering its range of products to customers throughout the country through its website (www.familyleisure.com). Internet sales proved to be a remarkable success for the company, as it experienced a 400% increase in revenue in 2010 over 2009. In 2012, Family Leisure created a separate business, FamilyLeisure.com, Inc., solely to handle online transactions. The new entity, headed by Noah Williams, vice president, is based in Indianapolis.

Online customers can expect the same high-quality service and products that store visitors receive, with a dedicated sales staff and a new warehouse to offer quick delivery of in-stock orders to customers around the country. "Our Internet sales have had astounding growth," Chapman says. "Our president had a great vision, some years back, and it has just been simply amazing to watch the business grow, with the help of Williams. Not only are online sales another obvious source of revenue, but they have made our brick-and-mortar stores stronger and more efficient, and have strengthened our market share across the nation."

Luxury outdoors.

Family Leisure offers a wide range of indoor and outdoor recreational products and furnishings for the home.

From 1994 until its 2009 name change, Watson's was famous for its television commercials featuring the Watson's girl, Jennifer Eichler, who often ended spots with the tag line "That's Watson's!". Today, each Family Leisure store directs its own marketing and advertising in its individual market.

Chapman says that the main form of advertising for the Indianapolis showroom is television. Social media-including Twitter and Facebook, along with informative blogs and support videos (on a variety of topics, such as how to buy a patio table), are also important in spreading awareness of the Family Leisure brand.

Since its name change, the company's tag line has been "Where Fun and Family Come Together!". It's this message that now plays prominently in all the company's advertising. Chapman says, "We want to create brand awareness and let people know everything we carry. People are shocked when they come into our store."

Written by Kimberly Rodgers
Photography by Larry Gindhart
via the Marketing Maneuvers section of Patio and Hearth Products Report