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Barbecue retailers can build business through proper planning

Stephanie RichardsonJanuary is the month of possibility. if the previous year has been hugely successful, it's an excuse to kick it up a notch. If the previous year was not so great, it's a chance to wipe the slate clean and go for a "do-over."
     Regardless of which camp you're in, January is the perfect time to take stock of what you want or need to do this year with your business, and put pen to paper; after all, it's been said that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
     I think that every business building plan should include a commitment to attend at least one trade show or conference, as well as to create a year-long marketing plan. Trade show and conference attendance is a great way to stay on top of industry goings-on, new products, and importantly, many of these gatherings provide an opportunity to further your education about subjects that are pertinent to our business.
     Marketing to consumers throughout the year is way to stay top-of-mind with your existing and potentially new customers. Perhaps best of all, having these activities scheduled means that you can fine-tune your yearly budget, staffing requirements, inventory and more.
     Two of the trade shows to consider certainly include HPBExpo, hosted by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, which will take place in Atlanta in 2012; also the International Casual Furniture & Accessories Market in Chicago, Sept. 20-23.
(After all, if you don't attend, how would you know things such as Pantone declaring "Tangerine Tango" to be "the" color for 2012?)
     Certainly another event to consider in 2012 is the Casual Living Conference, this magazine's first industry-wide outdoor conference for vendors, manufacturers, retailers and designers that will be held in Sarasota, Fla. at the end of February (and sponsored in part by ICFA).
     Remember that events aren't just for walking and buying - they also represent an opportunity for ongoing education. A quick glance at the seminars scheduled for HPBExpo includes It's Time to Start Rebuilding; Electronic and Social Media for the Time Challenged Retailer; Cause Marketing: A Great Way to get New Customers, Build Buzz and Do Good all at the Same Time, and; Turn your Staff into a Customer-Focused, Service-Driven, Selling Machine.
     The Casual Living Conference will feature panels with some of the industry's top retailers and keynote speaker and performance coach Bob Davies. Davies, the author of "The Sky is Not the Limit - You Are," is a former college football coach and is one of today's most sought-after motivational speakers.
     Sphere Trending founder and CEO Maxine Lauer will tackle the topics of life stages and the changing consumer. Jim Jansen of Pew Research will be on hand to break down Web statistics and Gallery Furniture's Robert Williams will discuss taking technology to the next level. Financial analyst Jerry Epperson of Mann, Armistead & Epperson, Ltd. will give his take on the casual category. Who among us couldn't benefit from something in those presentations? At the very least, it may be a good opportunity to have a refresher course.
     And speaking of marketing, remember that there are opportunities for driving traffic at times other than what are the obvious ones (summer holidays). Occasional events such as demos and cookbook signings can drive foot traffic during what would normally be slow sales times. Planning for them at the beginning of the year allows you to think through the best timing, get the best talent for demos, negotiate the only appearance of a noted book writer in your area, etc. It also allows you to have the inventory on hand - grills, accessories, seasonings, cookbooks - to support the event without having to steal from another budget.
     Setting aside a little money for "opportunistic" spending would be a good idea, too. I'm reminded about this past summer when barbecuing with an open flame was banned in the county in which I live. What a perfect opportunity to promote electric grills and smokers!
     I know as a retailer that sometimes it's tough to find the time to sit down and find some quiet time to look and plan any further ahead than the next few weeks. But it very well may be one of the most valuable things you do for your business this year.

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