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Cinde W. Ingram

Getting ready for outdoor living

Last week I talked with Linda Moss, a casual specialty retail store manager in the Denver area. When I asked what events her store uses to attract consumers to consider a barbecue grill, she said they do grill demonstrations every Saturday during the summer. The summer season there can start as early as the first of May, she said. But with snow covering the ground at the time of our conversation, such cooking demonstrations seemed far in the future.

Now that March has arrived, the grill selling season should be underway in most parts of the country. Judging from comments of grill retailers and manufacturers, 2006 was a fairly good year as far as grill sales. It may not have set any records for retailers on the specialty side, but some continue to report healthy growth, driven primarily by selling the whole package of grill islands and outdoor kitchens.

In addition to the trend toward homeowners investing in outdoor cooking areas, here's another trend: Grills themselves are getting bigger. Bigger may be better, but simply having a larger size isn't the answer to what makes it a higher-end product.

Getting consumers to understand what makes one grill worth more than another is the biggest challenge specialty grill retailers face every day. It's also an educational process manufacturers can help retailers address. Those of you planning to attend the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo this month in Reno, Nev., can expect to see the latest offerings in grills, grill accessories and to gather more facts about ways to educate your customers.

Look for our popular and now even larger Outdoor Living display area in the lobby entranceway. This is the third year Casual Living has produced the exhibit and we hear good comments from retailers about the project. This year's Outdoor Living area will be filled with O.W. Lee outdoor furniture covered with Outdura fabrics, outdoor rugs by Duracord, spas by Cal Spas, outdoor kitchens and grills by Cal Flames and outdoor heating products by Dimplex. You can take home plenty of ideas for merchandising your own store.

And, by the way, don't forget to take a few photos of your own store to submit in Casual Living's annual Merchandising Awards contest. The first prize is even better this year and entering is so simple. For details, visit our Web site at

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