Showcase outdoor living experience to boost grill sales
Colors, demos, cooking classes add fun elements
Cinde W Ingram -- Casual Living, 3/1/2013 2:00:00 AM
Showing a range of products to help consumers envision their outdoor living experience is one of the keys to effective merchandising that will keep grill sales hot.
Incorporating color to spice up showrooms, using lifestyle photos and videos while also offering demonstrations and/or cooking classes are other ways dealers successfully promote the fun families can expect at home with their barbecue grills, outdoor furnishings and other related products.
The outdoor living experience has become increasingly popular, affordable and more closely tied to home entertainment during the more than 15 years Jim Ginocchi, president, Coyote Outdoor Living, has been involved in the barbecue industry on both the retail and manufacturing sides. Ginocchi's career includes merchandising work for Home Depot Supply's outdoor living area and for Barbecues Galore, which at the time had 82 retail stores. Now he's leading the launch of Coyote Outdoor Living's hybrid grill line and grill accessories at this month's HPB Expo.
Homeowners are "extending their true living space outdoors," Ginocchi said. He credits HGTV and other home improvement TV programming as well as magazines that illustrate the outdoor room lifestyle, which has grown well beyond its simple start of inviting friends over to grill hot dogs and hamburgers.
Coyote Outdoor Living advises its distributors and dealers to sell the whole experience in merchandising the product. "The fi rst thing is planning your display properly, meaning incorporating your outdoor living features into your existing display of whatever you're selling," Ginocchi said. For example, a consumer sitting in an outdoor chair should be able to see a grill, an outdoor kitchen island, outdoor lighting, pool, spa or fire features nearby. "In a merchandising setting, they can basically say, ‘Wow, this is what my whole outdoor experience will feel like,' " he said.
"Make your displays interesting," is the No. 1 merchandising tip from Cameron Mitchell, president of Barbecue Country in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. "There's nothing worse than being excited to purchase the grill of your dreams only to walk into a store and be disappointed by what you see. Barbecues are generally stainless and/or black in color. Bring vibrant colors to the table and you will see a marked difference in how your product is perceived.
"Don't forget the ‘wow' factor," Mitchell added. "You may not sell many or perhaps they can be thought of as lease improvements, but have something in the store that makes people drop their jaw and just say ‘wow.' It doesn't have to make sense or necessarily be functional, it just has to be fun, exciting and get people talking."
Showing a variety of product adds interest to displays. "Having only one or two brands of grills makes you look conservative and in today's competitive markets, you need to be flashy," said Gary Bertassi of Grillers Hall of Flame in Old Indian Orchard, Mass. "Representing at least six brands will give you a bit of pizazz."
That concept is also clear at Bassemier's Fireplace & Patio in Evansville, Ind., where an interior designer brightened the walls with a variety of colors. "One wall goes from a taupe tan to the next wall that is almost a red," said James Bassemier, secretary/treasurer. "We carry Big Green Egg, Weber, BroilMaster and we get Bull Outdoor Products through our islands. With Weber, we took all the different color doors and we mounted them on the wall so we don't have to have each individual grill in that color and yet people can see it. We've got a nice selection of accessories, and the grills are displayed with Big Green Egg lights (sort of like Christmas lights) that are run all over. We show videos and we have all the utensils lying out on the grills so that people can pick them up and handle them."
DEMOS, CLASSES WORK
While displays that attract attention and encourage hands-on interaction are vital, demonstrating the grills was Bassemier's top tip for effective grill sales. Since his father, John Bassemier, founded the retail business in 1968, conducting demos has been a constant effort. "We've got a demo Weber and three or four demo Eggs that are outside all the time," the younger Bassemier said. "We transport them sometimes and do off site cooking events. We team with some of the news stations and do outdoor backyard parties for the weather (division), where we provide dinner. We have sponsors and we feed people. That gets a lot of attention.
"We do cooking schools that sell out like crazy," Bassemier said. "We have people who would rather come here than go out to dinner."
Barbecue Country conducts product demos throughout the spring and summer, along with a few winter sessions. "After all, barbecuing is a year-round event," Mitchell said. "In addition to our store events, we support many of the local charities by heading out on the road and cooking for golfers at the turn or providing lunches to our inner city residents that may not otherwise enjoy barbecued food."
During the off -season, Barbecue Country's staff takes turns cooking meals for each other once a week. "This provides an excellent opportunity to experiment with different foods, cooking methods and technologies offered in the industry," Mitchell said. "Our sales team can then share with each customer in real time some of their cooking hints, tips and recipes they have gleaned throughout the fall and winter months."
Dan Shimek, CEO and president of the Outdoor Greatroom, agreed grilling demonstrations are a successful tool for selling barbecues. "Give the dealer retail staff the opportunity to cook o n the grill so they can best use their sales skills," he said. "Whenever possible, cooking on the grills is a big plus."
Mitchell stressed the importance of product selection. "You don't have to carry every brand or every model within a brand," he said. "Just provide the customer with as many options as you can. Consumers are quite sophisticated, and can handle quite a bit of information coming at them at once. Ensure that you have enough selection to satisfy everyone from the backyard pro to the accomplished chef."
Bertassi recommends that dealers support their brands by knowing all of the strengths and, especially, the weaknesses. "Customers are more apt to believe you if you are realistic in meeting their expectations," he said. "If the grill manufacturer you represent has some models in their lineup that you feel are inferior in quality or performance, don't display them just to make the manufacturer happy. It's your customer who must be happy and they won't be happy if you don't support what you are selling 100%."
"Select a grill line that is not competing with the big box stores," Shimek said.
A prominent display with signage and video is also key to merchandising product, Shimek said. "Use great photos in all displays. These photos include people cooking, having fun and delicious looking food," he said. "Use of videos can be both educational and informational. How to cook the perfect steak, etc. Videos can be used in many online venues and social media outlets and give a lot of bang for the buck."
Ginocchi stressed the importance of focusing on the customer's experience in terms of products that pop. "When people are in that vignette of outdoor living, you want to make sure you have the biggest bang for your buck in terms of what you are displaying," he said. "For example, not just rolling up a kettle grill or a grill on a cart, you want to make sure you have products that are specifically tailored for grabbing attention. Pick a few products that somebody's going to pick up or when they pass it in an outdoor vignette, they're going to say ‘I need that.' Products that people don't see every day at Mr. and Mrs. Jones' house. Everybody wants to be a little bit different in their own outdoor kitchen. So when you're merchandising, the dealer needs to set their floor a little bit different from everyone else."
Coyote is addressing that by introducing products, such as an unusual drop-in cooler and a hybrid grill that basically is a split-hood grill with half charcoal/half gas. For effective merchandising, dealers should differentiate by offering product lines that have not just visual meaning, but are functional to consumers. "You can have products that are cool but that no one would actually use or you can have products that are very cool and that people immediately see a use for their everyday life," Ginocchi said.
UP FRONT IN SEASON
Grills are oft en positioned in the front of the store during prime season, but it's also important to have grills represented during the off -season. "The consumer needs to be aware product is available so putting it right out front is a good way to do that," Shimek said.
Ginocchi said, "If you're a retailer and you're trying to push barbecues this year, get that in the front of the store. Depending on what season you're in - whether the spring to summer season, Father's Day, Fourth of July or Super Bowl weekend - emphasize grilling and the outdoor kitchen use. I've been to hundreds of dealers across the country. My best experience has been the dealer showroom that is not static, the dealer showroom that is fluid with seasons, product and time.
"You really have to know y our customer, know where your foot traffic is and know the seasonality of your store," Ginocchi added. "If you're first-and foremost an outdoor furniture store and you have an alcove in the back left corner of grills, some people may not even know you carry grills. If you incorporate the grills into your vignettes, then people know you're a full-service store."
At Bassemier's, demo grills are in permanent displays outside the store while other demos are positioned near the entrance.
Grills are positioned throughout Barbecue Country's location. "Merchandising is to a large extent based on the layout of your store as you can only work with what you have," Mitchell said. "Our concept allows customers to move throughout the store with ease while providing a clear view to each of the major brands and accessory categories."
Mitchell cautioned other retailers about trying to show too many products in a too small space. "Many pundits in the industry talk about having accessories part and parcel in any grill display. There are cases where that makes sense, but not always," he said. "Sometimes you just want to showcase a grill for what it is - a beautiful piece of equipment that should stand on its own. Don't overcomplicate the equation with clutter."
"We display grills throughout the store - in every nook and cranny," Bertassi said. "No matter where you are, you are in sight of some reminder that ‘ours' is a grill store. Every grill is outfitted with fake food, barbecue sauces (are shown) in their condiment racks. We have tools hanging from their tool hooks and wall and mobile racks with cookbooks, tools, aprons, barbecue sauces, chips/chunks/charcoal and whatever a barbecue would like to tinker with. And barbecuers love to tinker."
In addition to its large variety of grills and accessories, Bertassi's Hall of Flame includes a "living museum" on its walls and upper shelves to thrill visitors with a dose of the past and present. Consumers get in contact regularly and arrive with a sense of destination to see the display, which ranges "from old hibachis to Henry Ford's model T and A grills" along with vintage aprons, towels, posters, tool sets, books and a huge selection of vintage comics.
Besides entertaining consumers and history buff s, Bertassi said his staff know grill products fully.
"We regularly visit the big boxes and price warehouses (at least twice a month in season) to ‘tear apart their grills, piece by piece' so we can see the strengths and weaknesses of what they are offering the consumer," he said. "We bring that information back and, while being completely honest, are prepared to support our line of grills by knowing more about the competition's brands than our customers will ever be able to know."
Ginocchi advised dealers to focus on the consumer experience while in the display. "It's very critical to integrate an outdoor living type of experience, but to keep the display area clean. Keep the traffic area around it clear so you can walk all the way around it and see all the pieces. Utilize the space the best you have, pick a line that has a bunch of different products that can fit into the space you have and make sure you have full literature on all the products that are also available in that line."
Live demos, literature, website and videos add to the effectiveness of merchandising grills, Shimek said. "Videos are a great way to educate and also entice the viewer," he said. "There is nothing better than showing mouth-watering food cooking on an open grill."
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