Not long after Jacob's Sunrooms, which serves the St. Louis market from an Illinois location across the Mississippi, started carrying aluminum pergolas three years ago, owner Scott Jacob discovered that the pergola customer is different from the patio cover customer. Pergolas are about form; patio covers are about function. “A pergola customer is more concerned with aesthetics and backyard ambiance,” he says. “The patio cover person wants the sun and rain away from their head.”

LIFESTYLE PRODUCT Pergolas — essentially a lattice on posts — can be made out of teak, cedar, or pressure-treated pine, or from other materials such as metal, composite boards, or even PVC. Pergolas go on (or over) patios, decks, or walkways, or are installed in gardens. The lattice supports vines or other foliage that soon enough provide shade. People buy a pergola “for the look,” Bill Zimmer, owner of W.A. Zimmer Co., in Fort Wayne, Ind., says. His company carries pergolas made of heavy gauge aluminum (made by Temo) that require no maintenance. Zimmer recalls a woman coming to the showroom to lament discovering that her stick-built pergola would only stay beautiful if painted each year. “We choose to sell things that do not require maintenance,” he says.

Increasingly, homeowners know what a pergola is. Rarely, though, do they know what it costs to build one — that depends on materials. Pergolas sold by Sunrooms and More, in Lexington, Ky., start at about $5,500, though the company installed one last spring for $26,000, director of operations John Penn says. Sunrooms and More often includes pergolas as part of bigger projects. W.A. Zimmer recently installed a pergola that mimicked the piano-shaped patio over which it was erected. “That was complicated,” Zimmer recalls, and cost $10,000.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT Penn says that spring is the ideal time to promote pergolas. He and other dealers agree that selling the product requires displaying it. Sunrooms and More has displays in several Home Depot stores; W.A. Zimmer has a pergola erected in its showroom; Jacob's Sunrooms promotes pergolas at home shows and events, sometimes with an actual floor model, more often with pictures. But pictures do the trick. “If you just have a sign that says, ‘We install pergolas,'” Jacob says, “that's not going to get you a lot of leads.”