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‘Tis the season

Stephanie RichardsonStephanie Richardson
Are you ready to hear those Cash registers ring? May is National Barbecue Month, and for retailers in our business, it offers tremendous traffic-building opportunities. In fact, from a business standpoint, this is pretty much our Christmas holiday. It's the peak time for barbecue grill and accessory purchases, and by promoting the barbecue lifestyle for a whole month, you can get a whole 30-day or so jump-start on what used to be the first big promotion of the season - Memorial Day. Since that particular long holiday weekend is followed rather quickly by Father's Day and then the Fourth of July, you can kick off your barbecue and backyard living activities the first of May and keep them going right through the big July Fourth celebration.
     One thing working in our favor this year certainly is the weather. With record numbers of unseasonably high-temperature days this winter, I'm guessing that barbecue fires are already burning in backyards across the country. Those people are primed and ready for buying new grills and accessories.
     Of course, nearly $4 a gallon gas means that that at-home eating and entertaining are going to be top of mind this year for many families. They'll protect their household budgets by traveling less and minimizing the amount of driving they do - but investing in a new grill or fire pit, or even going as far as updating the outdoor room seems like an investment in their summer fun and/or the value of their home.
     So, what is your plan for generating excitement in your store for the month of May?
     Some ideas are easy, cost relatively little, and can have a big impact. Try a big banner outside the store inviting customers to "Come in and Celebrate National Barbecue Month." (Contact the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association for artwork.) Consider running a special that allows customers to get a freebie or discounted item with the purchase of a grill. You also can hold a sweepstakes that will award a grill to someone at the end of the month. Promote it via traditional media as well as your websiteMay is National and social media sites. To really leverage the sweepstakes, encourage customers to fill out entries that request their email addresses so you can keep in touch via email notices or newsletters throughout the year. (Keeps you top of mind when they're ready to buy if they're not ready now.)
     Of course there's the obvious - demo, demo, demo. Plan demos every weekend outside of your store and promote them well in advance via traditional and social media. Nothing works as well to get people in the door as the tantalizing aroma of barbecued food wafting down the street. Oftentimes, tasting hot-off -the-grill food is just what's needed to remind customers that they should replace their grill or add a new accessory to their arsenal.
     To maximize sales opportunities, set up a display inside that features barbecue cookbooks - after all, don't we all get a little bored with preparing the same old recipes sometimes? It's always nice to pick up a new cookbook to get inspired to find a new favorite dish.
     This would also be a great time to conduct cooking classes. Consider bringing in a recognized chef or a competition cooker who has won a championship cook-off and let him or her educate and entertain your prospective customers. Try contacting a local TV show to see if they would be interested in having your chef do a segment about new foods to prepare on the grill this season - as your spokesperson, of course. Be sure to have a visible display of the cookbooks, rubs, sauces and even the accessories that are used in the classes so participants can purchase them readily. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record - be sure to heavily promote the classes to ensure that you will have a good crowd. Invite local print and broadcast media to come as your guests. Consider having a radio station broadcast live from your store on one or more weekends.
     As May continues, make a heavy push for the Memorial Day weekend. But then keep the momentum going by using the holiday weekend to remind customers - or potential customers - that Father's Day is around the corner and barbecue grills and accessories make a great gift.
     I know it can be a challenge through the year to find a hook for a promotion. A "May is National Barbecue Month" promotion is the perfect opportunity to ring in the barbecue season.

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