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Pool, spa and patio dealers add to sales with grill products

Grill Column

Not long ago, the number of grill companies exhibiting at the International Pool and Spa Show could have been counted on one hand. Today, several dozen grill manufacturers will connect with attending dealers at the combined International Pool, Spa & Backyard Expo.

The concentration of these companies in the Backyard Expo area of the show makes it convenient for pool retailers to explore the idea of carrying barbecue products and for retailers who already carry grill products to find out what is new for 2009.

One major factor influencing the trend of pool and spa stores branching out is the growth of the outdoor room. Pool retailers are ideally set up to design and install increasingly lavish outdoor retreats. They generally provide all of the amenities a customer might want to complement pool areas — landscaping, electrical and gas installations, plumbing and the capability to add fountains, ponds, grill surrounds or islands, fireplaces and more.

Since pool stores have a captive customer base that returns frequently to pick up the chemicals and supplies required to maintain their pools, adding a number of grill lines and barbecue accessories is an easy way to generate add-on sales with little extra effort.

It also makes sense for retailers to either refill propane cylinders or participate in a cylinder exchange program, since many outdoor kitchens will be centered around a premium stainless steel gas grill. In addition to selling the newest tanks that alert the outdoor chef when the fuel supply is low, to ensure that backyard chefs don't run out of propane, carry the simple digital devices that fit on existing tanks to prevent running out of fuel in the middle of preparing dinner.

Whether running a pool and patio store or a barbecue and hearth shop, every owner today recognizes that financial belt tightening is increasingly a challenge to maintaining a good flow of traffic in their stores. This is the time to go that extra mile to gain consumers' attention and generate sales.

Remind customers barbecuing can turn less expensive cuts of meat into gourmet fare. Marinades, rubs and slow cooking tenderize cuts like pork shoulder, brisket and short ribs, while developing rich flavor. No one will feel deprived.

Offer a class focused on turning bargain cuts of meat into mouthwatering meals. Usually these economical meats will provide at least two or three meals, further stretching budgets. Convey that a smoker is an inexpensive purchase and an excellent value.

Step up your demo schedule. The tantalizing aroma of a slow-cooking pork butt, brisket or turkey breast will attract customers all day without resulting in a feeding frenzy. There will be ample time to talk about the benefits of the grill you're cooking on and to suggest seasonings, sauces, wood chips and accessories to make the backyard chef's job easier. Remember these items usually reward you with high margins.

Team up with a local charity suffering from the economic downturn. Offer to prepare grilled or barbecued food such as sausage sandwiches at one of their major events. The food can be sold to enhance the charity's coffers while you gain awareness and goodwill for your store and products. You'll impress attendees with the delicious results you achieve. You also can sell tickets for a chance to win the grill you are cooking on, with that money also going to the cause being celebrated.

Demonstrate budget-stretching meals on the grill. Colorful stirfry dishes combine small amounts of chicken, beef or shrimp with lots of bright, crunchy, cut-up vegetables to result in an easy, healthful dinner. It gives you a chance to promote woks, Asian seasonings and even appropriate cookbooks, in addition to grills.

Take Thanksgiving turkey outdoors. Everyone is short of oven space at Thanksgiving. Cooking the turkey in a smoker, on a gas grill rotisserie, indirectly in a charcoal grill or in an electric turkey fryer solves the problem and ensures a moist, flavorful beautifully-bronzed bird. You can promote packaged brining mixtures, injectors and the marinades that go with them, flavored wood chips, vertical turkey roasters, roasting pans, fryer cookbooks to name just a few appropriate items. And turkey fits right into the economical meals program because it nearly always provides multiple meals from the leftovers.

These are challenging times for all businesses and that means you need to be innovative as you seek to attract customers and maintain your sales. At least in the near future, and possibly much longer, people are not readily going to part with their money on purchases they do not consider essential. Show them that you will help them save money by buying your products.

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