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Barbecue/Grill Retailer Profile

The Best of Both Worlds

As the president of a thriving barbecue/grill Internet business and a high-end specialty retail store located in Chicago’s upscale North Shore suburb of Northbrook, Ill., Ron Gadek straddles the worlds of both online and brick-and-mortar retailing with Bar-b-que.com and Grills & More.

Gadek’s father and grandfather originally started in the hardware business in 1974. “I grew up in the retail business,” Gadek says. “It was the subject of our dinner conversation.” While his core business is hardware, about 15 years ago, Gadek began searching for niche opportunities and discovered the barbecue business.

The company always sold grills within the hardware store, but decided to increase its grill-market specialty by building a 1,500–square-foot retail space that adjoins its 15,000–square-foot hardware store at the Northbrook location. The company also operates a 12,000–square-foot hardware store in Twin Lakes, Wis., as well as an Internet business, myhardwarestore.com.

Gadek’s retail location, Grills & More, gives customers a true sense of what they can create in their own backyards with inviting vignettes featuring grill islands and decks, along with outdoor furniture by Agio and by Smith & Hawken and an array of accessories.

“We’re in an area with a demographic that gives us the opportunity to sell a high-end barbecue,” Gadek says. Those characteristics describe customers who not only require the best knowledge and service, but also expect retailers to “look the part,” according to Gadek. “We feel our displays give our customers a mind’s-eye picture of what their barbecues could look like in their own backyards,” he says.

Along with striking visual appeal, Grills & More provides expert customer service, including delivery, assembly and grilling instructions, as well as warranty and repair work. “We believe our service sets us apart from other retailers and the big-box stores in our area,” Gadek says.

About ten years ago, Gadek entered Internet business with Bar-b-que.com. “Initially, the Internet gave us the perfect marketplace to give people who live in rural areas, who normally wouldn’t have an opportunity to purchase them, access to high-end grills.” The Internet business has proven to be a true success for Gadek. The online and retail ventures each represent about 50 percent of yearly sales.

From both his retail location and Web site, Gadek sells a range of upmarket grills, including models from Weber, Broilmaster, Ducane and Thermos. In fact, any product available on his Web site is also in stock at the retail location. Accessories, utensils, firepits, heaters and grill parts, as well as sauces and seasonings, are also available in both arenas.

When deciding which manufacturers’ products to carry, Gadek evaluates several important factors: the depth of a line; whether the product is new, fills a need, or has a unique niche; the nature of the dealer program; and whether it works well for both the Web site and the store. Last year, Gadek brought in a line of cookbooks and sauces from award-winning author and PBS host Steven Raichlen; this line has done very well in both businesses.

Gadek acknowledges that his competition on the Web is vast. “The competition is very intense,” he says. “It’s the perfect marketplace. Everyone from national chains, other specialty stores and even some grill manufacturers themselves has a Web presence.” Gadek, however, believes that he stands out from the competition because he only sells barbecues and related products. “We are solely barbecue, so you are not going to buy a television on our Web site,” he says.

Unlike many of its Web competitors, Bar-b-que.com makes it possible for customers to call customer-service representatives Monday through Friday with any questions that they might have about their purchases. “The people who answer the phones are very knowledgeable in the barbecue business,” he adds. “We are dedicated to barbecues that, in the end, will greatly benefit customers, no matter where they live.”

In recent years, Gadek has seen a change in the grill market. “The market has become fragmented,” he says. “Customers will see a stainless-steel grill at a warehouse store for $300 and see a similar-looking grill at our store for $1,500 and wonder what the difference is, if any. Some consumers have become confused as to what the differences are in the product.” Consumer education is perhaps one of the major reasons that upper-end independent retailers like Grills & More and Bar-b-que.com are imperative in the marketplace.

To remain profitable in a slowing economy, Gadek continually looks for niches or new product lines to complete the outdoor-room concept. “Even in a downturn, people still want to go outside and celebrate, so we’re always looking for that something new,” he adds. “The idea is to keep diversifying, as a hedge.”

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