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Keep BBQ top of mind

Social networking, special promotions create profit opportunities

Double dipping has never been nice. So who wants to hear about a double-dipping recession?
     Our customers have been beaten up by everything from job loss to $4-a-gallon gasoline, but it did seem for a minute that things were going to get better. For the past week or two, everyday headlines are back to being filled with gloom and doom. It's enough to make any sane retailer crazy - especially now, when sales should be at their peak.
     Some retailers are doing just fine, thank you very much. Others are waking up in the middle of the night worrying about inventory, payroll, lease payments and other stress-inducing aspects of the job. To those, I say that if you're looking for places to cut back on expenditures, please don't eliminate marketing from the mix.
     These days, marketing takes on all forms, and thankfully, it doesn't even have to be extraordinarily expensive. A Facebook page is a must and is free. Facebook ads are a very inexpensive extra, and you can target specific groups of potential customers by age range, ZIP code, hobbies, education, income level and more. Best of all, you can tweak your message to each group - target tailgaters with ads about portable grills, gourmet cooks about new flavorizors, women about gift ideas for the man in their life, residents of surrounding towns who may not know your store exists or what product lines you carry, etc.
     Email programs such as Constant Contact make it easy to build a customer list and keep in touch with product information, recipes, special events, etc. (If you're not comfortable on the computer, there are plenty of job-seeking students who are looking for any kind of work now, and you can likely find one who will work for a reasonable rate.) In some areas, there are "buy local" programs that encourage residents to shop in their own towns, and they offer a small discount or a coupon. Search online to see if any exist in your area. And of course there are traffic- and brand-building programs such as Groupon and Living Social that may not make you money immediately, but for a relatively small investment, can produce new customers as well as bring old ones back.
     There are on-premise ideas to keep your store top-of-mind with customers as well.
Invest in a banner that you can hang in front of your business to get noticed. The message could be something as simple as "Invest in Yourself" or "BBQ Central" - anything to get noticed and plant the seed in a consumer's mind that you are the expert and spending money with you is a wise choice. Have your store staged to encourage the purchase of more than a grill - show off your outdoor firepits, hammocks, hot tubs or spas, umbrellas, etc. Emphasize that these investments are home improvements and a treat that will make a home comfortable, inviting and fun for family and friends. If you hang a banner, change it occasionally or people will stop noticing it. Consider the somewhat unusual, such as a banner that says "Wedding Gifts." It likely will be an eye-catcher for most passersby. After all, summertime is popular for wedding showers and weddings, and whether it's economy-driven or the fact that most aboutto- be marrieds already have the basics, barbecue grills and accoutrements have become gifts of choice on many wedding registries. Be sure to ask where the couple will live or about their hobbies so you can recommend the best products. Small-home or condo owners may need small or electric grills, and sports enthusiasts may prefer a portable or team grill.
Fire WireThis Fire Wire flexible skewer is great for cooking fish or meat and vegetables on a round or rectangular grill. It adds another colorful meal choice that relies on more vegetables and lesser amounts of protein.
     Of course a "BBQ Gifts" banner might be appropriate, too. If people are reluctant to spend money on a grill, you at least want them to come in for gifts. Every little bit goes to the bottom line. Gifts can include everything from grill covers to barbecue baskets. The basket contents could be an assortment of sauces and rubs, some intriguing accessories (I'm thinking of that clever Fire Wire product), a barbecue cookbook and more.
     This is also the time of year that people are taking vacations - and many are saving money by staying with friends and family. The aforementioned products would make a great hostess gift.
     It doesn't take much of an excuse to dream up a special promotion that will get people thinking about barbecue. Make your in-store events both festive and very visible - bunches of balloons are inexpensive and immediately arouse curiosity about what's happening.
     In short, it takes a little time and a lot of enthusiasm and ingenuity to get people in the door and convince them to open their wallets. But with peak barbecue season slipping by, there is no time like the present to get going and put an end to any nasty double-dipping recession.

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