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Prepare for peak barbecue season

It's just around the corner

As I write this I am in the throes of holiday preparations and I'm wishing for a White Christmas, so it is difficult to think that spring and peak barbecue season are literally "just around the corner." But as a retailer you have to be planning and buying months ahead of when your customers will get into their spring shopping mode, so it's already time to start thinking about what's new for backyard living 2008 style.

Have you been taking advantage of the now well-established Outdoor Kitchen trend by extending the types of products you carry? Why not add several outdoor fire pits or portable heating appliances to your line of products? These help you plan early season promotions because they allow families to start enjoying their patios and decks for outdoor cooking and entertaining while the weather is still a bit chilly.

Charcoal grills move upscale

Is it possible that you need to increase the variety of barbecue grills that you offer? Specialty retailers have traditionally not been very enthusiastic about selling charcoal grills because they usually meant a lower price sale. But now, manufacturers are responding to a rekindled consumer interest in charcoal. They are realizing it produces food that has terrific flavor and it is worth a little more effort to enjoy the advantages of cooking over live coals. Industry research confirms that charcoal grills accounted for nearly 40% of total grill shipments in 2007.

Manufacturers ranging from Weber and Masterbuilt to Cal Flame and R. H. Peterson are offering premium charcoal grills that have many of the amenities enjoyed by gas grillers. Charcoal grills are now found in stainless steel cabinets with work and storage space or as built-in units housed in versatile islands. Features such as infrared rotisseries, convection cooking capabilities, faster lighting and better temperature control resulting from adjustable charcoal trays that can be moved closer to or further away from the food are luring grill customers back to charcoal.

While you can still find charcoal grills that will retail for under $100, you can also offer your customers ceramic kamado cookers that will run $500 to $1,000 and stainless steel charcoal grills in the $5,000 to $6,000 range. Remember that charcoal grills bring barbecue enthusiasts back into your store often for charcoal, wood chips and chunks, lighter products and accessories that will enhance their outdoor cooking experience.

Portable grills gain popularity

Have you grabbed onto the latest barbecue craze: tailgating? Although football games immediately come to mind when you think of tailgating, there are many spring and summer activities that are ideal for on-the-go cookouts.

Like charcoal grills, portable grills come in a variety of price points and with a myriad of features, whether you choose to cook with gas or charcoal. These should be viewed as an easy add-on sale when a customer comes into your store to purchase a full-size barbecue grill.

Grill accessories yield high retail margins

Innovative accessories that make barbecuing easier or more fun are endless. Many manufacturers introduce at least a few intriguing and practical new items annually ranging from digital thermometers that can be read from inside the house to charcoal ash pans that make it easy to remove ashes. Products that increase cooking space, improve searing, offer more flavor via sauces, mops, sops, marinades and rubs all help bring customers back into your store more frequently and add to your bottom line with handsome margins. If you aren't carrying these products, chances are you are shortening the time that people will spend browsing when they visit you and less browsing means fewer impulse sales.

Time to bone up at HPBExpo

There are hundreds of new products you should be reviewing to select the ones that will add excitement to your barbecue and outdoor living array and to boost your sales in 2008. The best way to check them out in a time- and cost-efficient manner is to participate in the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Expo.

In addition to visiting manufacturers on the show floor, you can see products in use in the extensive outdoor burn area. There are seminars to help you improve your operations from increasing profitability to learning new marketing techniques. Make your reservations now and don't miss HPBExpo in Atlanta, Feb. 27–March 1. It needs to be at the top of your priority list because it will be the best investment you can make to ensure that 2008 will be a great year for you.

Outdoor cooking demonstration draws a crowd at last year's HPBExpo.

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