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Industry moving from challenge of surviving to thriving

grill column


The pace for renewal is set by Mother Nature each spring. As trees come to life with new foliage and early flowers burst forth with the first bright colors following a bleak winter, everyone feels optimistic and hopeful that good things are in store.

Traditionally, the outdoor living industry eagerly looks forward to this time of year, recognizing that its peak selling season is just around the corner. There is a great deal of anticipation that the 2010 season is going to be better than the lackluster year that is behind us.

While most Americans still do not buy into “the recession is over,” many agree there are hopeful signs for improvement on the horizon. Retailers, manufacturers and marketing mavens are feeling somewhat more optimistic about the season ahead and are seriously questioning what they need to do to thrive in what will likely still be a rocky year.

As Peter Drucker said, “We have to accept what we all know to be elemental – that taking a defensive position can at best only limit losses. And we need gains.”

While you can’t do much to change the economy, you can adapt your business practices to make the most of an unpredictable marketplace. Start by conveying an optimistic attitude, which affects both your employees and your customers, and do a thorough evaluation of your company’s weaknesses to see where improvements can be made.

What to expect?

  • The economy to be stagnant at best.

  • Consumers will still spend cautiously.

  • Lower and moderately priced products that offer good value will outsell the high-end luxury products.

  • Technology is key to running an efficient business, so evaluate what technology will improve your operations in these challenging times.

  • The climate for lending is not apt to improve – commercial and industrial lending is still tapped out.

  • Inflation should not be a problem in 2010, but likely will rear its head in 2011, so be prepared.

  • Business activity in the country is spotty from growth to decline so one cannot generalize nationally.

How to thrive?

  • Be prepared for … anything. The year will still be filled with uncertainty.

  • Some of your best ideas for marketing will come from your salespeople who are in touch directly with the customer. Be sure marketing and salespeople communicate.

  • The marketplace has changed drastically. Do you really know who your best prospects are today? Should that change your product mix?

  • Cross-train employees so there will always be someone who knows every job. Allow them input on decisions to keep them involved. Consider more flex time and vacation schedules. Treat them to lunch occasionally -- even if it is eat-in, it reminds them you appreciate their contributions.

  • Evolve the way your organization is run by communicating with owners of other companies in the area. Learn new strategies that are working for other CEOs.

Barbecue industry specifics

  • This will likely be a slow recovery for the outdoor living category which has been adversely affected for the past several years, so don’t expect an instant turnaround.

  • As a manufacturer, can you move quickly to ramp up production or warehouse inventory when retailers outsell what they initially ordered?

  • As a retailer, are you taking advantage of growth in after-market replacement parts for those consumers who are putting off purchase of a new grill?

  • Don’t cut advertising and promotion but find creative ways to make your dollars go farther. You need to keep your brand name in front of consumers. Use publicity which is usually inexpensive. Plan more co-op activities (tie in with a local butcher, for instance) to stretch dollars.

  • Remember when planning your inventory that lower price points and products with fewer bells and whistles may be your biggest sellers. Consumers expect more features for less money – they are searching for value.

  • Unique products are probably good bets to fill out the products you carry – pellet grills, those with sports team colors and logos, portables that have an infrared feature, etc.

  • Many consumers will probably still plan less exotic staycations and do more near-home travel. Promote portable grills for these occasions.

  • The tremendous growth in tailgating offers wonderful opportunities for selling grills and accessories.

  • Find manufacturers who will put significant effort into partnering with in your marketing & promotion activities. You want to do business with those thinking long term and wanting to build a strong relationship.

  • Look like you are in business and prospering – have sufficient grill models on the floor to be impressive, don’t skimp on advertising and promotion, change displays regularly.

  • The building and remodeling industry indicates home remodeling is picking up substantially so think outdoor rooms again – but value-priced products may be the key.

  • Now is the time to really push cooking classes and frequent demos to increase traffic, educate prospective buyers and to establish you and your company as the barbecuing experts.

  • Surviving has been the mantra of the barbecue industry but thriving needs to become the new normal.

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