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Demos help sell grill products at HPBExpo and in stores

The barbecue industry's biggest trade show of the year, HPBExpo, is only a few weeks away and demand for exhibit space in the Outdoor Burn Area continues to escalate in 2008, as it has in recent years.

The Burn Area has become increasingly popular because manufacturers recognize that being able to demonstrate the performance of their products is certain to increase sales. Attendees at the show are equally enthusiastic about witnessing product performance and being able to compare one model or manufacturer to another. If you are attending Expo, chances are you'll spend as much of your time talking to vendors outside as you will indoors.

Let's translate the concept of demos to your own business. No doubt you've been told for as long as you've owned your store that one of the keys to increased grill sales is maintaining an aggressive demonstration schedule. You know the technique works because at trade shows you find yourself drawn to grill manufacturers that demonstrate, giving you more confidence in their products once you see them perform, learn more about the features and taste what's been cooked on them.

Do you host demos regularly?

So, what does your demo and cooking class schedule look like for spring 2008?

If you demo frequently, especially on weekends, you should immediately see results that accrue to your bottom line. At least some of your more experienced sales people probably can be trained to do routine demos at your store. They need to be enthusiastic, articulate, knowledgeable about your products and comfortable with barbecuing. However, you may wish to engage a celebrity chef for occasions such as participation locally in charity fund-raising events, a fair, home or builder's show or even a big holiday weekend when interest in barbecuing is especially high. There are a number of options for finding a suitable chef and, regardless of his or her expertise, some training on the specific brands of grills and accessories that you want to promote will be required.

The search is on

Start by reviewing your local restaurant chefs. Are any of them known for their barbecue fare? Or is there a highly regarded restaurant chef who would be interested in brushing up on his or her barbecue skills in order to help you out? How about a champion competition barbecuer who is reasonably accessible and who might jump at the chance to perform on your behalf? Cookbook authors whose names are highly recognizable sometimes make appearances on behalf of a manufacturer or retailer. Karen Adler and Judith Fertig, the BBQ Queens, come to mind, but there are a number of authors willing to cook for you. Remember, the exposure will be good for the local chef, the blue ribbon barbecuer or the author, as well as for you.

Here are some things to keep in mind when planning barbecue demonstrations:

  • The aroma of barbecued food will attract lots of people. But the chef needs to concentrate on conveying all the features and benefits of the grill, with chatter about the food secondary.

  • Have copies of the recipes you are demonstrating to hand out to those who express interest.

  • A demo is intended to educate consumers and help you sell product. Don't let it turn into a feeding frenzy where people grab and go without listening to your messages.

  • Serve small portions; you're not providing lunch.

  • I know very successful distributors who do, however, provide dinner. When they set up a date to deliver a new grill, they tell the customer to invite friends over for dinner and they prepare it by demonstrating how to use the new grill. They say inevitably this generates at least one or two more sales.

  • If you sell a variety of accessories, use some of them in your demos. Knowing how to use them will almost surely spark sales and you can even feature a “special” on the “accessory of the week” or month.

  • Packages of any sauces or seasonings which you sell in your store that are being used in the demo, should be very visible in the demo area so people realize they can buy them.

  • Consider having a drawing to win the accessory being promoted or a cookbook or some sauces and seasonings. It will give you sales leads that you can follow up with a mailing or phone call.

  • Have a book signing by your celebrity chef if that person is a cookbook author.

  • Invite the local newspaper food editor and any local magazine editors, as well as appropriate TV reporters or radio personalities to stop by when your demonstrator is a celebrity. They are looking for unique stories.

  • And, of course, promote the fact you'll be conducting demos in your newspaper or radio advertising as well as in the store for several weeks prior to the event. If you are demonstrating at another event, promote that as well via signage in the store inviting customers to attend the event.

Next month we'll explore ideas for conducting and benefiting from barbecue cooking classes.

Building a relationship with one or a few local chefs can help when scheduling demos to attract customers. Pictured above is a cooking demonstration by Big Green Egg.

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