Port now home to the hottest showroom in town

The Fireplace Factory on Highway 33 in the Town of Port Washington is a spacious, light-filled showroom with walls of fireplaces, both gas and wood-burning, in a  wide variety of styles, free-standing stoves, fire tables, firepits and other fire features.

It’s a far cry from the building’s former use as Stevlin’s Hardware Store — a shop filled to the brim with gadgets, screws and everything else a homeowner might need to fix up their house.

And it’s also a far cry from the business’ former location, a cramped building on Lakefield Road in Cedarburg.

Company owners Larry and Stacey Berg bought the former Stevlin’s Hardware building between the City of Port and Village of Saukville in late December. They moved the business between Christmas and New Year’s and reopened in mid-January.

While the showroom is known as the Fireplace Factory, the business is Chimney Concepts, Larry explained.

“It’s kind of like Best Buy and the Geek Squad,” he saids. “Fireplace Factory is simply the showroom name.”

What a showroom it is. It takes up about two-thirds of the 15,000-square-foot building with fireplaces of all styles lining the walls.

Gas fireplaces dominate one section of the showroom while wood-burning fireplaces are prevalent in the other. Wood-burning stoves, fire tables and other items have designated areas within the showroom.

“I wanted this to be more like a gallery where you could see everything from one point,” Stacey said, noting that their old location was so cramped that fireplaces were stacked into “towers” and customers had to wend their way around the space to look at their options.

In their former shop, Larry said, they could only display about 30 fireplaces. Now, they display close to 50 fireplaces — gas, wood-burning and electric units — as well as 20 to 30 stoves and wood burners as well as numerous fire tables, pits and grills.

But there’s more than just fireplaces and features in the showroom. There are mantles, fireplace doors and screens and stone options.

The business isn’t just fireplaces and such. Chimney Concepts also provides services such as chimney sweeping and repairs.

“We do it all, indoors and outdoors, with our own staff,” Larry said. “The main thing that makes us unique is that we’re a one-stop shop.”

Chimneys were the company’s original focus. Larry said he followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, taking a job out of high school in the masonry business.

He started doing chimney repairs in 1993, and then got into other chimney work. In 1997, he opened his own shop and Chimney Concepts was born.

“Opening the store was a way to showcase our work inside people’s homes,” he said. “It’s very gratifying.”

Their first shop was on Washington Avenue in downtown Cedarburg, but the business quickly outgrew the space. It then moved to Lakefield Road — a fortuitous decision.

When the housing market crashed in 2008, “We shrunk like everybody else and made it through,” Larry said. “There were a couple of fireplace companies that went out of business.”

They grew their business primarily by word of mouth, Stacey said.

“Our reputation has been built with the hard work we put in with every customer,” she said. “That’s really important — your reputation is all you have.”

But through the years, the business outgrew its former home. The Stevlin’s building is about three times larger than their Cedarburg space and has enough room to store inventory and provide a staff room and offices for the employees.

And it provides plenty of room to work with customers.

Stacey said the company caters both to people looking to add a fireplace to their house and people who have a fireplace but want to upgrade it.

Updating a fireplace often falls down the list of home repairs, the couple said, but it shouldn’t.

“It feels like it’s unattainable to update but it’s something we do all the time,” she said, noting the company provides free estimates. “It’s not as hard as you think, or as expensive.”

The average cost to change out a fireplace is between $1,500 and $3,000, she said, while projects that include replacing the stonework and making other changes can run between $5,000 and $8,000.

“It really depends on what you choose,” Stacey said.

Picking a fireplace isn’t as simple as walking in and saying “That’s the one,” the Bergs noted.

For example, some styles throw off more heat than others and wouldn’t be appropriate for smaller rooms.

That’s not uncommon, Larry said, since today’s fireplaces can be 80% efficient.

“That’s a lot of heat,” Stacey said. “We try to solve your problems. You want the right unit for your space.”

That’s why the company comes out to houses to measure spaces and ensure the right fit for the customer, Larry said.

The Bergs and their 26 employees are still fine-tuning their new home — parking lot improvements and a new paint job for the exterior are in the works — but in the meantime they are enjoying the spaciousness of the former hardware store, as are their customers.