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Guest Editorial

Firing Up Sales: Hot Ways to Boost Sales in a Cool Market

I owe grill retailers a huge debt of gratitude. They’ve helped me sell more than 4 million copies of my “Barbecue Bible” cookbook series and rack up a banner year with my Best of Barbecue products. Now, as guest editor of Patio & Hearth Products Report, I get the chance to repay the favor.

Many people believe 2008 will be a challenging year for retailers. Not only has the grilling industry been enjoying double-digit (ultimately unsustainable) growth since 2003, but all this talk of a recession has made everyone understandably nervous, yet where some people see problems, others see opportunities.

I see a boom in the lifestyle trend Americans call cocooning—turning the act of staying home into an evening’s pleasure, entertainment and even art. Cocooning could bode well for the hearth and patio industry, even in—especially in—an economic downturn.

People will be less likely to dine out and more likely to entertain at home. In a recent survey, 78 percent of people who cook at home prefer to grill a meal outdoors (versus 22 per cent who would rather cook inside). Having people over for a barbecue will be an attractive alternative to meeting at a restaurant. Gas-guzzling vacations may be put off this year in favor of more R & R (and more outdoor grill sessions) at home. 

According to the National Association of Homebuilders, even though there is a slowdown in new housing starts, the remodeling market remains strong. Significantly, enthusiasm for comfortable outdoor kitchens and living spaces is soaring.

How do you maximize potential benefits—and profits—from these trends? Here are some ideas.

  * Partner with local contractors or landscapers who specialize in building outdoor-living spaces.
  * Offer on-site grilling and/or smoking classes, if codes allow. Grilling classes make a great bonding experience for men and an enjoyable social activity for couples.
  * Don’t overlook the idea of holding a special grilling class solely for women. According to the National Barbecue Association, women are the primary decision makers in a family when it comes to when and what to grill.
  * Offer rebates to new grill purchasers who refer other customers to you. Include a coupon for free meat or products, or throw in a book (I know some good titles) or a set of barbecue sauces.
  * Real-estate agents often give gifts or incentives to homebuyers, so pitch to them the idea of offering their clients a new grill, a gift basket of grilling accessories or a discount coupon.
  * Publish a monthly newsletter with useful information, recipes and in-store specials; collect your customers’ email addresses, when possible, for future mailings.
  * Sponsor a drawing to boost buzz and advertising, such as an Ultimate Rib contest or a Best Griller for Father’s Day contest.

Once you get people in your doors, snag them with these eight marketing ideas. First, in addition to free delivery and initial setup, offer an add-on service that covers troubleshooting, annual grill checkup and maintenance, propane delivery and so forth. People hate taking empty propane tanks to be refilled.

Second, create a grill-safety sheet with your store’s logo on it to distribute or mail to customers. In it, include such essential safety tips as how to fill and store propane tanks (upright and away from the grill), how to light a gas grill (always with the lid open) and how to grill chicken and burgers safely (to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees).

Third, the most important thing we can do is be educators. Stock books like “Mastering the Grill” (Chronicle Books), “Weber’s Big Book of Grilling” (Chronicle Books) and, of course, my own “How to Grill” (Workman Publishing). The more our customers know about grilling, the more they are inspired to come back to buy better grills, more accessories and more books.

Fourth, employ personable and knowledgeable people to represent you and your business. Give them a reading list and make sure they know their stuff.

Fifth, engage customers with in-store video and closed-circuit television. Make their mouths water while they’re standing in your store aisles (not waiting for help, I hope).  I’ve been told that retailers who broadcast my DVDs, “The Best of Barbecue University” and “The Primal Grill,” have doubled their sales.

Sixth, make your grilling display attractive to both sexes by mixing up your grilling hardware with sauces, rubs, books and grilling accessories.

Seventh, offer free samples of grilled and smoked foods (cooked on the premises) on weekends. Check with your local health department first to be certain of specific requirements.

Eighth, more Americans are grilling year-round, so don’t dismantle or ignore your display when September comes. Sponsor a class in winter grilling and remind customers that grills and accessories make great holiday gifts.

Remember the old saying: when the times get tough, the tough get going. Economic downturns produce winners as well as losers. Be smart. Be creative. Have fun. After all, that’s what grilling is all about.

Steven Raichlen is the author of the best-selling “Barbecue Bible” (newly released in a full-color 10th-anniversary edition), “How to Grill” and “BBQ USA” (Workman Publishing) and is the host of “Barbecue University” on PBS. His new television show, “The Primal Grill,” debuted on PBS in May. His Best of Barbecue product line is manufactured by the Companion Group of Emeryville, Calif. Visit him on his Web site: www.barbecuebible.com.

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