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Good displays, clean stores work for winning grills sales

Stephanie RichardsonTHERE SEEMS to be some reluctance on the part of specialty retailers to carry grills these days. This column is the final one in the series that will attempt to "bust" some of the more common myths associated with entering or staying in the grill-selling business.

Myth 3: It's too expensive to indulge in the ‘frills' of selling barbecue grills
THERE'S AN interesting story that's been heard about Disney World: The amount of money spent to promote a new ride is equal to the amount of money spent to create it. True or not, it does make a point, doesn't it?
     As a specialty retailer, it starts with taking the time to find the perfect location, build or remodel the space, hire employees and purchase inventory. What successful grill retailers know is that it's often what comes next that determines whether a business becomes a moneymaker.
     Those who do well in the high-end grill business know that customers want to feel like they're getting personalized, caring service from barbecue experts. So now it takes an investment of time and money in tactics that used to be considered frivolous, but it may not take as much time and money as one might think. And many of the tactics certainly should no longer be considered frivolous - especially when you consider that your customer has the option of walking into your store or that of your competitor.
     From in-store displays and ongoing social media programs to the way the store looks from the parking lot, every detail counts.
     Deliberate merchandising strategies and well-thought-out displays bring must-have credibility to your store. But that doesn't necessarily mean investing heavily in just grills.
     Tri-County Hearth & Home in Waldorf, Md., has been carrying grills for about 12 of its 30 years in business. Co-owner Rona Kelley said that decision was made because they were seeing others being successful at it, and because it was a good seasonal counterpart to their hearth business. They've figured out a cost-effective way to visually tell customers that they are grilling experts. They devote a fair amount of space to grill accessories.
     "Accessories make you look like you're in the grill business," Kelley said. "If you just put a few grills in the

California Home SpasCalifornia Home Spas & Patio displays Viking, Twin Eagles, Fire Magic and Napoleon Grills alongside outdoor furniture and market umbrellas.
showroom, you're probably not going to be very effective. Now, we actually don't have that many grills on the floor, but we keep the accessories fresh and we have two walls of them. We carry a full line - a slew of Big Green Egg accessories, but also a variety of everything from wood chips to tongs."
     Not only do accessories look good, but they help make money. In fact, late last year Big Green Egg offered retailers an accessory rack with a planogram, etc. "Accessories offer a great opportunity for add-on sales," Kelley said. "They can be a good profit center, but it does take time, effort and space."
     Joe Burch, general manager at Alfinity, said a good accessory display is very important, but not just for selling accessories. "A good display also helps sell grills because it demonstrates various methods of cooking and types of food that can be cooked on their grills," he said. "Not all accessories are self-explanatory. Take for example our Grillfinity ‘thing-a-ma-bob Grilling System 6-n-1.' Many people see that item and comment on the name - they like it. However, most can't see that the item can be used for making kabobs, fish or seafood, vegetables or any small food that may fall through a typical cooking grid. When it's displayed in a way that shows that versatility, it helps sell the value of that item."
     Other than the actual use of a product, good sales displays can demonstrate how to store the accessories on or in a grill, as well as how and where to place them while cooking, Burch added. "Not only is it helpful, but it sure looks good," he said. "In a store, under those lights, everything sparkles."
     Sales displays are not just important to show a customer how an accessory can work; simply how grills are placed on the floor can help increase sales (all of which costs no extra money). Kelley said the relatively few grills they do have on the floor work hard. They are integrated into outdoor room displays with patio furniture so that customers can get a complete look - making it easier to visualize what it will look like when they get the products home.
     Painting the picture for the customer is critical, and sometimes you do have to make a small investment.
     When thinking about what makes one retailer successful and another not, there are some areas that seem to set the winners apart, said Doug Pryor, sales and marketing director at Twin Eagles. Presentation is at the top of the list. "If you're going to carry built-ins, you need to have the island with the builtin, because customers want to see it," Pryor said.
     But it's not just what's inside the front door anymore. It's getting people to walk through that door. Advertising has traditionally been a big line item in the budget, but not all marketing is expensive. And face it - no pun intended - if you're not on Facebook, or at least have an electronic newsletter, you're in trouble. The good news is that both of these things are virtually free of charge.
     Bruce Bjorkman, director of sales and marketing at MAK Grills, and a supporter of the grill industry as a whole,
This Big Green EggThis Big Green Egg display presents plenty of accessories to spark consumer interest.
said "if you don't have a dedicated website or Facebook page, you are virtually invisible. You are immaterial to your customer."
     He points out that the average Facebook user is 35+, which is the perfect target audience for those in the specialty retail business. A Facebook page takes 15 to 20 minutes to set up, and content can include photos of the store, new merchandise, staff, cooking demos and more. But it is important to continually offer good content. A business can instantly notify its Facebook followers about new grill and accessory merchandise, sales and other special events. Posts can include quick tips for how to clean a grill, provide answers for frequently asked questions or offer quick suggestions for how to shop for grills. Remember that customers can be linked back to the webpage for more in-depth information - including grilling recipes.
     Bjorkman is also a fan of capturing customer information in order to pro-actively contact them via e-newsletter. And when he's not contacting them online, he'll frequently follow up with a customer by phone to see how a new grill is working out, or to ask them what they've been cooking. He's even been known to send birthday cards to good customers. "You must be connecting with your customer," he said. "If you're not, you shouldn't be in business."
     Kelley follows the same leverage-every-sale logic. Every time Tri-County Hearth & Home makes a sale, that customer's name goes on the mailing list and they stay in touch. "They often don't want to deal with mass merchants, so the next time they need something, hopefully they'll think of Tri-County," she said.
     So relationship building can be done with minimal expense, but it's not the only low-cost way to boost high-dollar sales. And while it isn't necessarily grill-specific, it is important: Think about the experience a customer has from the time he or she pulls into the parking lot. Is the parking lot clean? Is it well-lit at night? Is the front of the building clean and inviting? Are the windows clean? Does the signage look professional?
     And when the customer walks inside - does your sales staff look professional? Have the carpets been shampooed? Are the bathrooms clean? "We tend to lose focus on these things, but they speak volumes about you as a person, your business and your staff," Bjorkman said. "And they cost little to no money."
     So if you're going to get into the grill business, and stay in the grill business, there really are no "frills" anymore. Any way you can get to a potential customer, get them in the door and then get them to come back, is a win-winwin. And it doesn't have to cost as much to promote it as it did to build it.

Stephanie Richardson has been promoting the grill industry for more than 20 years. She publishes an online newsletter at www.The-BarbeQuer.com.

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