Grilling kicks off second season
Carole Sloan -- Casual Living, August 12, 2011
ACCORDING TO THE HEARTH, PATIO AND Barbecue Association, nearly 44% of Americans shut down their grills after Labor Day and all but quit cooking outdoors during the fall and winter months.
But grill manufacturers, retailers and the HPBA are working hard to convince that 44% that there is a "second season" - that time between Labor Day and the end of the calendar year - for cooking outdoors.
"It seems silly to stop after the summer season," said Lynne Eppel, publisher and editor of Edible Front Range, a Boulder, Colo.-based quarterly magazine dedicated to the area's local foods, farms and cuisines. "It is well-known that fall is when some of the best produce comes in - eggplants, peppers and others."
"Late-season vegetables are great for grilling and offer a welcome change of pace for the outdoor gourmet," said Russ Faulk, vice president of marketing, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. "Winter squash, parsnips, rutabagas and butternut squash can all be fantastic off the grill. The flavors you can achieve off the grill are unbeatable, especially for entertaining, so the late season is prime grilling time."
"Our stats say that 56% of the people that own grills use them all year long . . . That's a lot of people," said Leslie Wheeler, director of communications for the HPBA.
But the HPBA isn't resting on that number. It wants to convert more people to yearround outdoor cooking. "Every year we have a fall promotion. The past several years it has been around Thanksgiving and Christmas to promote holiday cooking outdoors," Wheeler said. "We team up with the National Turkey Federation and do a joint promotion that has been very successful. This year we're going to promote tailgating which will dovetail with our tailgate party at HPBExpo 2012. I think retailers need to be reminded that grills and all the accessories make great Christmas presents too."
"We very strongly believe in the second season," said Jodi Burson, marketing manager, Big Green Egg. "We are close to not considering the grill business seasonal."
It is a sentiment held by retailers, too. Dan Marguerite, owner of Backyard Barbecue Store in Wilmette, Ill., said September through November are "all pretty good months."
Tim Hillebrand, owner of Hillmon Appliance Distributors near Pittsburgh, Pa., echoes Marguerite. "Fall could be as good as summer," he said. "When the unofficial grill season closes, I expect business to remain steady September through November," Hillebrand said.
Outdoor-kitchen design is a point of emphasis for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, which conducts an ongoing webinar program to teach design professionals and dealers the fi ner points of creating outdoor spaces that can be enjoyed by homeowners year-round.
Even though business is good during this time of year for the two retailers, each of them say they work hard to remain relevant to their year-round grillers and convert those who are fair-weather outdoor cookers.
One of the ways they keep their businesses humming is by leveraging important dates and activities taking place in their markets, or by capitalizing on lifestyle idiosyncrasies in their areas.
Marguerite's store is located in the heart of Northwestern University Wildcat country, which means college football is very important to his clientele. His location also caters to the affluent North Shore area of Chicago, a region that is known for deep allegiances to alma maters. He said he leverages those loyalties during the college and pro football seasons.
Education also plays an important role in bringing customers through the doors. "We offer tailgate classes," he said. "[Attendees] learn tailgating recipes and cooking techniques and watch the game as they take the class. We usually schedule a class for a big game - Michigan versus Notre Dame - for example."
While most people think of tailgating in a favorite team's parking lot, it takes on a different meaning in Pittsburgh where yards, driveways, garages and porches are converted into party central.
To take advantage of the unique tradition, Hillebrand worked with the local newspaper and an outdoor furniture company to create a contest. The contest asks residents to share their best tailgate party. A panel judges the submissions and the winner gets a new grill and outdoor furniture.
He also said he capitalizes on tailgating and football season by offering several cooking classes at his store. "One covers dishes that can be cooked in 15 minutes or less; the other covers ‘gourmet' foods that can be cooked on tailgating grills," Hillebrand said.
Big Green Egg promotes the second season of grilling amongst its dealer network by offering post-Labor Day recipes on its website.
Manufacturers are also benefiting from the second season and are working to keep sales coming by supporting their dealers.
Jodi Burson said Big Green Egg supports its dealers by offering products that capitalize on food styles that change with the seasons. "Providing cooking accessories is a way we help dealers translate the Egg into the second season," she said.
The company provides a Dutch oven "that cooks soups, stews and chili - the kind of food you would normally associate with falling temperatures outdoors," said Burson. She added that the company also offers paella pans and a vertical turkey roaster.
"We are updating our website to include more videos, recipes and tips," Burson said. "The content will be seasonal. Fall will feature recipes for soups and stews and be prominently placed and changed out on a regular basis to keep things fresh for visitors to the site. This will help both the consumer and the dealer use the product better."
Brian Eskew, director of marketing for Lynx Professional Grills, said the company takes a more active approach with its dealers to capture second-season sales. He said Lynx "encourages dealers not to re-merchandise their stores after Labor Day and push the grills to the back of the store."
Instead, he suggests the grills should be kept front and center. "And at this time of year, or any time of year, avoid the temptation to display in silhouettes - grills in one section, firepits in the other. They should be displayed in an outdoor living scene. Give your customers information that there are lots of opportunities to create outdoor spaces year-round," Eskew said.