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Big display yields big results for Fortunoff, Weber

Weber grillPictured is a small sampling of the Weber grill display at Fortunoff Backyard Stores Westbury, N.Y., location. During the peak selling season, the display encompassed 1,200 square feet.
WHEN FORTUNOFF Backyard Stores relaunched under new ownership in February, it had big plans for the grill department at its flagship store in Westbury, N.Y.
     Really big plans.
     Westbury's 1,200-sq.-ft. Weber display may have been the largest collection of Weber grills and accessories ever assembled in one retail store.
     "It's definitely the most complete assortment of our products," said Weber Executive Vice President Mike Kempster.
"It's hard to say if the display is the largest in the country, but certainly no other store would have a larger and more comprehensive display."
      The five other Fortunoff Backyard stores also had substantial, albeit smaller, Weber displays. The idea for the big one began long before the retailer relaunched. Marty Merkur is the COO of Furniture Concepts LLC, which licenses the Fortunoff brand for outdoor furniture and seasonal products in the United States and online. He said he, CEO Bernard Sensale, and the rest of the Furniture Concepts management team met with all their vendors to discuss inventory and merchandising strategies before the relaunch.
     Weber, however, was a special case. First of all, there's the passion for the brand.
     "Weber customers are almost like a cult," Merkur said. "They walk into the store and want only Weber. They've had Weber grills before and they're satisfied with the product."
     Merkur said the grill maker also shared Fortunoff's focus on high-level customer service and had a relationship with Fortunoff that went back about two decades.
     "We thought there was strong synergy between the two brands," said Sensale. "We not only had a business opportunity in providing the largest assortment of Weber products in our largest store, we also had an opportunity to burnish both brands."
     The display was scaled back in August, but during the selling season it was organized neatly into halves, one side with gas grills and the other with charcoal grills. That layout made the shopping experience as easy as possible, Merkur said.
wall of accessoriesA focal point for Fortunoff’s massive Weber display turned out to be its wall of accessories, which generated significant add-on sales for the retailer.
      "Based on customers' shopping patterns, they're either charcoal customers or gas customers," he said. "The charcoal customers tend to be diehards. Then again, there are a lot of people who have converted to gas."
     A big revenue generator in the display, however, was the long wall lined with every accessory Weber makes, from replacement parts to cooking tools to giftable items.
     "Many times, customers came in looking for one accessory and they didn't know they could also add a light or buy Weber tool sets," Sensale said. "A customer that had in mind one accessory would often walk out with several."
     If customers had any questions about grills or accessories, they were in luck. Fortunoff employees were trained extensively on the grills, Merkur said.
     "They were trained to ask all the right questions to qualify each customer," Merkur said. "That knowledge and approach made the difference in selling customers what they wanted and, in addition, all the accessories."
     Weber also had its own staff on the floor in all six Fortunoff stores, an arrangement it has with other retailers in non-compete situations.
Kempster said the display at the Westbury store essentially became a giant lab for Weber.
     "We always watch trends very closely at the Fortunoff stores," he said. "We try new sales techniques in terms of what consumers are interested in when it comes to product knowledge. We'll listen to them on the floor and that drives some of the videos we'll post on Weber.com. It gave us lots of insights on how we can improve our services."
     Sensale wouldn't disclose sales numbers. "But I think we can say that despite the expansion of the display this year, we were still happy with sales on a per-square-foot basis," he said.
     Weber is also pleased. "We see a bright, lasting relationship we want to build upon for the future," Kempster said.
     That future should include another big Weber display in 2011.

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