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Training turns up the heat for grill sales

Stephanie RichardsonStephanie Richardson
THERE SEEMS to be some reluctance on the part of specialty retailers to carry barbecue grills these days. This column is the second of three that will attempt to "bust" some of the more common myths associated with entering or staying in the grill-selling business.

Myth 2: It's too difficult to train staff to sell premium grills
     If you're at all handy, you know that having the right tool for the work makes the job easier. It turns out that the same principle holds true in a service business.
     These days, when consumers are buying smarter, it's critical that retailers consider every tool in their toolbox to ensure that they're working at peak performance - and that includes the sales staff. It may take some time and effort, but those who have made a point to create in-store "barbecue experts" have been handsomely rewarded with smarter customers and increased sales.
     There is plenty of support for retailers looking for it, and much of the help is available from grill manufacturers themselves. But retailers also need to be proactive about their training program and have a positive attitude when trying to sell high-end barbecue grills.
     Doug Pryor, sales and marketing director at Twin Eagles, says manufacturers and retailers share the responsibility of simplifying the process of educating the sales team.
     "It's our job to teach them (retailers) to sell high-end grills - not just ours, but all high-end grills," Pryor said. "Then we provide support for our own products through written and verbal information, POP pieces and in-person training."
     But retailer attitude plays a part as well, he adds, and it's easy to spot those with a negative attitude who don't want to make the effort.
     "Most specialty retail stores that I go into are competing with big box," Pryor said. "They're selling patio furniture, fireplaces and whatnot. But they say they can't compete when it comes to selling grills. I tell them to do the same

Texas Star Pellet Grill CompanyTexas Star Pellet Grill Company moves premium grills outside the store’s entrance for special events, such as preparing for this one day sale.
thing they're doing with their other primary lines - because big box is selling patio furniture and fireplaces and whatnot." He adds, "if you have the attitude of ‘let me put a grill on the floor and see how it goes' - don't waste your time. It would be like the BBQ guys deciding to sell patio furniture and putting one set in the corner."
     That kind of directness is prevalent among those who believe strongly in barbecue grill education for sales staff.
     Mike Kempster, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Weber, also offered advice to those retailers who aren't providing grill training at their businesses. "I would tell them to just go ahead and lower their prices because if their staff isn't trained, what more can consumers use to compare except price? It seems to me that it would be better to invest in training rather than lower your prices."
     Kempster added that an experienced sales staff gives specialty retailers the ability "to offer a core competency that big box has difficulty getting and maintaining."
     In fact, Weber is so devoted to making the training process easier and more accessible for its retailers, it recently opened the Weber Grill Academy training center in Chicago. Larger than its former facility inside the Merchandise Mart, the Academy includes a showroom, a lecture hall and a grill-inside kitchen that is designed to train the trainers. "We train our sales reps and other Weber associates to become professionals at training," Kempster said. "We do the features/benefits story, trial closes to demonstrate how to get the consumer to buy the day that they're in the store, how to sell add-ons, and more." Then the reps go out to train the retailers.
     "We recognize that retailers are busy and have lots of demands on their time, so we're very proactive about keeping in touch with them to offer our help," Kempster added.
     It is sometimes lack of time that forces training to the bottom of the priority list. But a positive attitude seems to be critical. Bruce Bjorkman at MAK grills played off Pryor's comments. "If you make it hard to train your staff, then it will be hard," he said. Bjorkman suggests streamlining the process by having one barbecue "expert" who knows the industry, its idiosyncrasies and the nuts and bolts of the products. Then make that person responsible for training the people in that department. In addition, he recommends that store owners keep on top of training with monthly meetings. "Not every employee has to be an expert, but every employee should be knowledgeable," he said.
     Bjorkman also wants retailers to know that teaching staff how to sell barbecue grills, or even how to barbecue, may be a big part of adding to the bottom line, but there are other important aspects as well - including day-to-day attitude. "Your attitude toward customers travels downhill to your employees, and if you think customers are a pain in the butt, so will they," he said.
     One retailer that takes training to heart and relies on outside sources as well as instore procedures is Fleet
Twin Eagles’ SalesTwin Eagles’ Sales and Marketing Director Doug Pryor encourages teaching sales teams to sell high-end grills in classes like this one.
Plummer in Greensboro, N.C., where they "sell a ton of grills," according to Jim Reitzel, manager of the Fireplace and Grill division. He said they have long-standing relationships with some of their manufacturers, including Broilmaster, Solaire and Weber. "We get excellent support. If I need something, I usually get it that day," he said.
     But Fleet Plummer doesn't count only on its reps for support. They have their own in house way of doing things, too, which helps the staff relate (sell!) to customers.
     "Around here, everyone is a cook," Reitzel said. "Everyone has an EGG. Everyone has a gas grill. Because we know that half of sales is in the experience. You know how it is - you take 10 minutes to talk about the product, and the rest of the time talking about the brisket you made last weekend."
     Another retailer that strongly believes in in-house know-how is Rick Martin at Texas Star Pellet Grill Co. He offers his employees "great deals" on the pellet grills that he carries, and encourages them to grill often at home. It is especially important for his sales staff to have hands-on knowledge about the product, because he finds that his customers who aren't familiar with pellet grills need an education about the technology. "You'd better know how to answer the questions, because if you can't answer the questions, they're going to walk out."
     Martin also understands the value in a staff that cooks on a pellet grill frequently. "It is imperative that we know how to cook because ultimately, we're selling food," he said. "We're selling the sizzle." He adds, "That's where big box falls. They don't have the expertise, so everything has to be sold on price."
     So if you're one of those retailers who think it's too difficult to train staff, you may be leaving money on the table. Most manufacturers have the tools to help you, and they are ready, willing and able to do so. But you can sharpen your own tools, too - consider having a few folks on staff that can cook a mean brisket on the weekend.

     Stephanie Richardson has been promoting the grill industry for more than 20 years. She publishes an online newsletter at www.TheBarbeQuer.com.

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