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Christmas in July

Barbecue is a year-round business

Stephanie RichardsonStephanie Richardson
Just a few weeks ago i was having a fairly typical, crazy retail day. Then my chef mentioned that she was making Christmas in July sorbet. What? Nevermind that she was using Christmas melon to make a cool, refreshing sorbet, but far more important - when did July get here?
     A few days later, I began hearing and seeing commercials for back-to-school goods. Yeesh. Where does a year go?
     I really shouldn't have been surprised. After all, I was at market last month buying gift items for the holidays. But after a few days in Dallas, I was back into the day-to-day routine of triple-digit high heat and summer vacationers. So I went about my business, working to generate foot traffic from tourists, trying to increase repeat visits from locals, trying to increase the amount of the average sales ticket, ordering inventory, etc.
     Then this whole Christmas melon thing started. And I went from hearing Sinatra's "Summer Winds" in my head, to Crosby's "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas."
     In short, I got nudged into sitting down to develop the purchasing and promotional plans for the next six months.
So you know what that means for the barbecue business? Loads of opportunity.
     It's actually quite exciting when you consider that 62% of grillers are heading to the backyard year-round - which is up 6% from 2009, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. That means, while July 4, Memorial Day and Labor Day are the most popular BBQ holidays, there are plenty of groceries landing on the grill the rest of the year.
     I think that bodes well for the fourth quarter. It means that not only is Christmas gift -giving just around the corner, but before we get there, we have months of tailgating and smoke cooking activity to take advantage of, and of course Thanksgiving. (And here's another tidbit of info from HPBA - charcoal grillers are loving the idea of putting the bird on the barbecue - about 15% are doing it, which is up about 6% from 2009.)Christmas
     First up is tailgating. So now's the time to put pen to playbook and make a game plan for a spectacular tailgating promotion. There are loads of great portable grills now that meet customers' needs in both performance and price. Consider building a display that includes high-quality, meant-to-last, stainless steel models with ample cooking space, infrared burners, griddles and more. (More HPBA info - consumers say that an easy ignition system and a large grilling surface are most important qualities in a gas grill). Add colorful, more affordable grills that are versatile, yet fold up and fit compactly in an SUV or car trunk. Some grills mount on the back of a vehicle with companion coolers or tables that provide work space. Remember to include accessories. All will boost the bottom line.
     A bigger-than-life, eye-catching display for smoke cooking would work well, too. There are so many variations of smoke cookers on the market now - it might be worthwhile to hold a seminar for customers to show off the variety and variations in each category. Be sure to serve food that has been smoked on one of the grills.
     Christmas is an event unto itself and there are lots of items one can use to generate foot traffic and boost sales, ranging from gift baskets to gargantuan barbecue grills. All should be nestled under promotional mistletoe, such as banners, barbecue ornaments and, of course, festive lights. And it all should be supported with a great ad and PR campaign - and demos - and maybe a book signing or two. Or perhaps a customer appreciation day with live music and food and drinks.
     I could go on and on about preparing for Christmas, but we're into August now, and I know we have a little time to plan. Or do we?
     Seems to me that this might be the time to use the old melon.

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