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Grilling gifts warm up the holidays

Stephanie RichardsonThe beauty of barbecue is that it's the gift that can keep on giving - to both you and your customers.
     Did you know that according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association's 2009 consumer research numbers, about 110 million households own an outdoor grill or smoker (82%)? And that also in 2009, 15 million grills were shipped to retailers? Perhaps the most relevant statistic for the casual living retailer is that about 56% of grill owners use their grill all year long.
     In sheer numbers alone, doesn't it make sense to try to capitalize on the barbecue fanaticism all year?
     I suspect I know what you're thinking - most of those units are sold at mass. And you're right, as that same survey shows only 4% of grill purchases are made at patio/hearth/specialty retailers. Now I'm a "glass half-full" kind of person, and I'd rather go after a share of 4% of 15 million grills (about 600,000 units) than 100% of nothing - especially if the products are already on my showroom floor. And if you account for the potential add-on sales or return-customer sales that can come from barbecue cookbooks, natural charcoal, tool sets, etc., it's evident that there's an opportunity waiting to happen.
     So why not get excited about those items you've already set up on the floor, and use them to gift yourself a little extra income during the holiday season? (It also could give you the opportunity to keep some otherwise seasonal staff on the payroll.)
     The folks who walk through your door have already made the decision to bypass mass, and while they are likely seeking good value, they're also seeking quality. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind during the gift-buying season:
     ■ Consumers might be buying less, but they're buying smarter. And since "durability" rates among the top three most important features among those buying a charcoal or gas grill, specialty stores are in the perfect position to market themselves as providing the quality products that aren't found at mass market outlets.
     ■ Taste is the No. 1 reason people grill, so continue outdoor demos as long as the weather allows. Nothing gets attention from passers-by like a big cloud of barbecue smoke. And remember that chilly weather is the perfect opportunity to show off fire pits and outdoor heaters.
     ■ Paint the picture and put your customer in it. Arrange products to create an outdoor room or outdoor kitchen, and bring on the pool floaties, summer décor and island music. Decorate grills and grilling accessories with big bows and spread around the holiday cheer.
     ■ We've all seen Christmas in July marketing, so why not Summer in December? You could invite previous customers to a one-day Saturday "summer" event (don't forget to use your Facebook or Twitter account for inviting) and serve barbecued foods and colorful summer drinks. Advertising the event in local media will bring in potential new customers.
     ■ For special events and throughout the holiday season, have a wide range of barbecue items for sale so that there is something for every pocketbook. Displaying a variety of tool sets in Christmas stockings reminds customers that these make good gifts. Different sizes of gift baskets made up of sauces, rubs, woods, tools, books, etc. also are great gift ideas. If you wrap them, you can promote them in-store and advertise them in the newspaper as "barbecue gifts to go."
     ■ Consider a New York City-style window display for the holidays. Recreate a scene from a popular children's book or TV show, or design your own small town. Don't forget to put an outdoor room, complete with pool, furniture, grill, etc. in the diorama. To encourage word-of-mouth marketing, erect red velvet ropes like they use in NYC to guide folks by the window. It wouldn't hurt to fire up a ceramic cooker or a smoker to feed visitors.
     It's tough out there, but there are consumers who are willing to invest. It's up to you to show them how to invest wisely. And in the end, they get the gift of barbecue, and you get the gift of out-of-peakseason sales.
Stephanie Richardson has been promoting the grill industry for more than 20 years. She publishes an online newsletter at www.TheBarbeQuer. com.

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