A Travelin’ Man
By Richard Wright
The trip began in July of 2014 and ended in February of 2015 after covering almost 20,000 miles. The traveler was Rick Baker, Brand & Sales manager for Alfresco Home. His mission was to introduce the company’s new Fervor grill, and the Fornetto oven, to the specialty retail network throughout the U.S. – and a bit beyond.
Hearth & Home caught up with the weary road warrior a few weeks following that product’s introduction at the HPBExpo in Nashville, Tennessee.
Hearth & Home: What did you have for transportation during your trip around the country?
Rick Baker: “It was a Nissan van, what they call a high-top van that I could stand up in. It was a great little vehicle. I had it set up with one Fornetto oven and two Fervor grills with accessories. I also carried my marketing materials, catalogs, finish samples, burners and valves; all the stuff that you see on the grill I carried with me.”
What did you do about venting?
Baker: “I never started any of them up. They were strictly for show. I did have a small propane tank with me so I could demonstrate how the burner works, but I never cooked on any of them.”
Do you feel that hurt your ability to sell?
Baker: “No, it didn’t matter. It was fantastic actually. It was great.”
So you had enough bells and whistles to discuss with retailers?
Baker: “Absolutely. As a matter of fact, all my grills are shipping now (end of March). They are going to be in about 100 different stores here in the next week or so. It’s going to be great. But not being able to cook didn’t hurt at all.”
How did this idea for a road trip come up?
Baker: “I think it was an idea that both Joseph (Cilio, owner) and I had. We had a few grills ready for me to start preselling back in June of 2014. We knew the HPBExpo was coming up in March, so we had eight or nine months to prepare for the show. However, I did have those samples. We thought, why wait for the show to introduce it? A lot of retailers buy in October, November and December for the following year. We decided not to wait.
The only way we could do it was to show it. So how could we show it? We had to take it on the road. I got elected to take it on the road. I was the guy (laughs).”
Well, you probably spend a lot of time on the road anyway, right?
Baker: “Yes, and it turned out it was the right decision because without doing it we would have had our introduction at the HPBExpo, which ended after the first week of March, and then the season would have been upon us. At that point, getting it on store floors would have been a hard thing to do. So I did a lot of pre-selling prior to the HPBExpo, and that was the right thing to do.
“It was about a six-month trip. Of course, there were times when I had to be elsewhere. Alfresco Home has an open house at the end of June that takes up two weeks; then there’s the July Preview Show that takes a week; in September there’s the Casual Market, and that’s another week.
“Being able to stay home a week every now and then was important to my family. Then there were holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. So it was about a six-month process; I was out about 20 days per month.”
You must have a very patient, understanding wife.
|Icon 455 GS-SW Fervor barbecue.|
If I were you I would buy her some nice gift, like a trip somewhere.
Baker: “We’re going to Aruba in another month. She reminds me of it all the time.”
Where did the trip start? In what city and state?
Baker: “It actually started in Chicago, because that’s where I had my grill samples. I went from Chicago and headed east into Indiana, Michigan and northern Ohio. I wanted to hit the markets where I thought I would get the biggest bang right out of the gate, and that was New York and Long Island, where the population is located.
“From there I went down into Kentucky and Tennessee. I was in Indiana and then headed back toward Chicago and then went west through Iowa, North Dakota and Nebraska. I took Interstate 80 west and went into Denver, Salt Lake City and then up into Oregon. I even went into Vancouver, Canada.
“It was interesting to get stopped by the Border Patrol when I was driving with a Florida license, with a van rented in Chicago, with Texas license plates (laughs).
“From there I went back through Oregon all the way down to southern California, and from there worked my way back east through Arizona, into New Mexico and Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and then back up to Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina into Tennessee, back into Ohio again and then up into New York. I finally ended it at the Alfresco Home headquarters in Philadelphia in February of this year.
“That’s almost 20,000 miles.”
A bit more and you would have equalled the circumference of the earth – 24,901 miles.
Baker: “(Laughs) Around the world with Fervor. I would see an account as early as 9 a.m. before the stores opened. That would continue all day until 4 or 5 p.m. I had a huge map of the United States. I knew how much travel time and how many miles it was between cities. A lot of times I would drive four or five hours after my last call, until 9 or 10 pm. If I had to, I would get up early in the morning to drive another two or three hours getting to where I needed to be the next day.”
Were you trying to call ahead and set up all these appointments, or just stopping in?
Baker: “I had confirmed appointments for over 130 retailers, many with multiple stores where I did additional presentations; my sales team set up those appointments. I saw an additional 15 to 20 retailers without appointments. Over the six-month period, about 40 retailers purchased our Fervor grills with accessories; one distributor purchased a full container totaling about 450 grills. What I found is that the better dealers are the ones that are always looking for something new, something different that they can add to their mix.
“Since the HPBExpo, we have sold grills to more retailers and opened another new distributor in Canada. Counting accessories, our sales totaled over $400,000 during the trip. Indications are that we will sell close to 2,000 Fervor grills this year, with dollar sales over $2 million at cost.
“After becoming a Finalist in the Vesta Awards program, I expect the Fervor brand to exceed our expectations for the first year. Already, we are making plans for next year’s models.
“By the way, Dean’s Stoves in Connecticut, the store that won your Vesta Hearth Retailer of the Year award in Nashville, bought at the Expo. We were really happy to have him as a new account.”
How many units are required for your opening order?
Baker: “Three. The grills come packed three to a pallet in any combination. The pallets are shipped free, so there is no freight expense to the dealer.”
Refresh my memory. What are the price ranges for the Fervor?
Baker: “We have four units. The MAP begins at $999 for the entry-level grill; the most expensive is $1,899 and that’s a six-burner unit. That’s the one that won the Finalist award in the Vesta Awards program.”
That’s the absolute sweet spot in the industry, isn’t it?
Baker: “Oh, it’s great. Fantastic. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this grill line. It took about a year-and-a-half to do all the marketing and research so that we could position it correctly, so that we could price it correctly, so that we could offer value to the end consumer.
“The bottom line is that consumers want food that tastes good. We wanted to give people an opportunity to experience restaurant-type cooking at home. I’m glad we spent all the time we did up front. We wanted to make sure we had the right grill for the American market.
“We also make it easy for the customer to buy cool accessories. As you know, one of them was also a Finalist in the Vesta program. The Fervor and its accessories are just something refreshing, smart, easy and friendly.”
|L to R: Joseph Cilio, owner, and Rick Baker, Brand and Sales manager for Alfresco Home.|
Both the Fervor and the Fornetto are manufactured by a company in Australia. What’s the name of the company?
Baker: “Our supplier has been making grills for nearly 50 years, and we’re so glad to be associated with them. It’s called Garth Living. It’s a family-owned business that was the first to introduce barbecue grills to Australia. We’ve got a great partner.”
Was the Fervor an existing product in Australia, or did you create it for the American market?
Baker: “We were involved with it from the beginning. I can show you some paper drawings on napkins that we did a year-and-a-half ago. Right from the beginning to having the finished results, everybody worked so hard to make it happen. I’ll bet we saw 30 or 40 retailers, barbecue grill guys, and told them we wanted to build a grill for the U.S. market. They gave us all their input and we listened.
“We even had some professional chefs come in to tell us what they were looking for and then, of course, some consumers, what they wanted. We built it from the ground up. We started with cart models this year; next year we’re going to grow it into built-in units.”
Now, how do you put yourself and all your reps in a similar stand-up van on a regular basis?
Baker: “We’ve already talked about it. I’m not sure exactly how we’re going to do it, whether we’re going to equip our sales reps with it, or have a few vans and then go from one territory to the next, from one sales rep to the next sales rep. You know, one would take it, drop it off and then the next day I would take it and drop it off, and so forth. We could work our way around the country.
“That’s the next plan I’m working on right now.”