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Year-round barbecuing offers lucrative sales opportunity

When I began working for the barbecue industry, not many households owned outdoor cooking equipment. All grills were charcoal and most were simple inexpensive braziers without lids, used only during nice weather and then infrequently. The foods barbecued were limited to hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks and occasionally chicken. Retailers didn't need to make multitudes of decisions about what products to carry, nor consumers about which ones to buy.

It's amazing how much our lifestyles have changed and how important barbecuing has become. Today eight out of 10 households own an outdoor barbecue grill or smoker, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. And the options both retailers and consumers are faced with are mind-boggling. Grills are fueled by charcoal briquettes or natural lump charcoal, wood chunks, wood pellets, propane (LP), natural gas or electricity. Virtually all of them have lids, even portable grills, so barbecuing is not weather dependent. It is not remarkable for grills to cost $500 to $1,000 or even $5,000 to $10,000.

One of your challenges is to qualify customers so you can present the products most appropriate to their needs, simplifying their decision-making.

Forget barbecuing on special occasions only, more than 60% of today's grill owners use their grills year-round. Nearly half cook out once to twice a week, averaging 25 cookouts during the peak summer season. To capitalize on these lifestyle changes, plan special promotions to bring customers into your store for holiday shopping, Super Bowl preparation or winter barbecuing, not just for Memorial Day or July Fourth.

For instance, at Thanksgiving lack of sufficient oven space is always a problem. Encourage moving the turkey outdoors to be cooked on the rotisserie, smoked or deep fried, freeing up the oven for side dishes and desserts. Create a sweepstakes to build traffic, offering a free turkey, deep fryer, grill or smoker to the winner. Promote drip pans, vertical turkey roasters, seasonings, marinades and injectors, turkey fryers, charcoal or propane which may need replenishing at this time of year. Demonstrate smoking or frying a turkey on several weekends prior to the holiday. Better yet, bring in a local celebrity chef to do the cooking, which may attract more media attention.

Why not start in November to remind customers that with 80% of households enthusiastic about barbecuing, a holiday gift for outdoor chefs is appropriate for virtually everyone, including women, more of whom are wielding the tongs these days.

Most households now have two working adults who lead hectic lives, thus staying home on weekends is a treat. Americans like casual and what could be more relaxed than entertaining outdoors? Everyone can wear blue jeans, kids are included so it's quality family time, using disposable or dishwasher-safe dishes makes clean-up easy. Promote deck protectors that mitigate damage to the decks and patios that represent substantial homeowner investments, as well as outdoor appliances like patio heaters, fire pits and chimineas to keep guests comfortable on chilly evenings. Suggest wood planks, flavored wood chips or pellets to enhance the flavor of food. If you carry unbreakable dishes and glassware, remind customers about their safety advantage.

The No. 1 reason for barbecuing is the distinctive flavor of the food, but it's also fun for everyone, even the host who can stay involved with guests while preparing the meal.

Surprisingly, the primary foods cooked years ago on charcoal braziers are still the ones cooked more often today. But the repertoire has expanded dramatically. As have opportunities to create new, add-on and impulse sales. If someone has a gas grill, sell them a charcoal or electric smoker. Make grilling easier for today's lighter eaters who concentrate on stir frys, grilled vegetables and fruits, and endless varieties of fish and seafood. Sell them on the convenience of using specialized fish grids, woks, seasonings and cookbooks. Whole and half pizza stones or alternative accessories designed to keep the crust crisp, pans in different shapes and sizes for cornbread, biscuits, cobblers and pies make baking in the grill a breeze.

Barbecuing is not just for summer anymore! Promoting it 12 months a year will boost your sales and your profits.

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