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They're all hat, and no cattle

Grill Column

barbecuersI HEARD that clever expression the other day when a local sportscaster was asked his opinion about the state of "America's team" - given the football team's lackluster performance against its opponent the previous day. He went on to say how great the team should be, given the talent of the players, but clearly the greatness wasn't evident on the field where it counted.
     Remind you of anything else in the news these days? We've heard that the recession is over. Great! Housing starts are up more than 10%. Great! But the general consensus seems to be that greatness won't be evident to retailers until consumers feel more secure about their jobs.
     So given the fits and starts of the economy, what's an outdoor living retailer to do when peak grilling season is in the rearview mirror? You try to stay in the game.
     Roughly 60% of grill owners use their grills year-round. Now is the time to shift your selling strategy to take advantage of cool weather activities and events, such as tailgating and Thanksgiving.
     Tailgating season is in full swing, and while some barbecuers are searing steaks in stadium parking lots, many more are at home grilling up good eats for friends and family. So first and foremost, be sure to display flags, banners and other paraphernalia that support your local high schools, colleges and professional football team.
     If your town has rival high-school teams, hold an outdoor grilling event at which visitors can support their favorite team. Set up and decorate a table in each team's colors, and sell something as simple as a pulled pork sandwich and soda at each table - be sure to be smoking the pork on a grill/smoker in front of the store. (Produce copious amount of smoke to help draw attention!)
     Proceeds could go to each high school's athletic program. For the team that raises the most money? You agree to hang their team banner at the front of the store for a week. Local media and the schools themselves would likely promote the event, which would drive traffic to your store. Be sure to create a special display of grills and smokers in-store, and "prop" them with bags of wood chips/chunks, seasonings, barbecue cookbooks, and other items that can give you add-on sales.
     Thanksgiving is another perfect time for promoting outdoor cooking. For eons, those who prepare Thanksgiving dinner have had to get up at the crack of dawn in order to get the baking done because an oven is only so big. Consider placing a sign in the window or a banner over the front door in October that declares "We can make Thanksgiving dinner easier" to draw visitors in. Then show your customers how a ceramic cooker, pellet grill, smoker or fryer can free up oven space and streamline cook time.
     Demonstrating these products is a surefire way to successfully promote them for "turkey day." Whether you do the demo yourself or invite a chef from a well-known local restaurant to do it, be sure to grill, smoke or fry more than turkey so that you show off the versatility of the product. Veggies, baked potatoes and even biscuits or pies can be turned out of an outdoor cooking station. (I have an electric smoker. After my turkey is finished cooking and resting, I use it to keep my casserole dishes warm!)
barbecuers     Plugging in or firing up a turkey fryer? Have other nibbles on hand to prepare and pass out to those curious consumers who come by to see the goings-on. Fried mushrooms, hush puppies, chicken wings and other small bites of food are easy to work with and don't require much more than toothpicks and napkins for serving.
     There is no doubt that many outdoor living retailers are struggling to find greatness. Leveraging consumers' year-round grilling habits can be a way to keep feet in the store as things slowly swing back to solid ground.
     After all, when the cattle show up, don't you want to be the one wearing the hat? Stephanie Richardson has been promoting the grill industry for more than 20 years. She publishes an online newsletter at www.

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