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Hearth & Home December 2016

Fireplace Stone & Patio, Omaha, Nebraska.

BARBECUE: A Memorable Year

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Soft? Terrible? Crazy busy? The barbecue business was all of those things but, on average, retailers had a good year.

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Dan Farrell Andy Tuohy &
Brian Graf
Wayne Swaney Roy Phillips
Rob DeMassa Tom Parks Dan Marguerite Harold Gorny
Chuck Hemwall Larry Traylor Matthew Bourlier Stephen “Ruff” Ruffatti
Peter Alesci Will Hanson Steve McMillen Chris Papageorge

Heating up. That’s how most retailers would describe barbecue sales in 2016. In some cases they’re back to pre-recession levels, but even if not, most retailers say sales have been climbing back up over the past few years. Retailers across the country report consumer confidence is higher and shoppers are coming into their stores well educated (thanks to doing online research), prequalified, and ready to buy.

Retailers are confident too. They’re investing in their stores again, improving displays, expanding showrooms outdoors, and growing product offerings. Many have incorporated cooking classes and other experiential events into the marketing mix to add excitement, start culinary conversations, and create an additional revenue stream to grow their business.

Many retailers report that the Outdoor Room segment has become the cornerstone of their barbecue business. Whether they get involved in design-build, or simply supply the built-in grills and components for landscapers, contractors or other partners’ projects, outdoor kitchens have been the area of greatest growth for many.

But while these are growing trends, they are not universal truths. Outdoor kitchens are catching on beyond the Sunbelt, but some Northeast and Midwest retailers say their customers still have not embraced the concept.

Some retailers report traditional barbecuing and smoking are extremely popular in their stores; others say they can’t get the fire going in that segment. Sales of pellet grills are growing like gangbusters at some dealers; infrared is a hot seller for others. Perhaps most surprising, after decades of rapid-fire growth – a phenomenon that still continues for some – a number of retailers are reporting charcoal kamado sales were way off this year.

Whether these trends will deepen next year remains to be seen, but there is another issue looming in the distance that is beginning to cause some retailers angst. How will they replace aging and downsizing Baby Boomer customers, when next-generation Millennials have much smaller budgets and a propensity to comparison shop (often on their cellphones, while standing in the store). Nonetheless, most retailers are very bullish about their barbecue business in 2017.

Here’s a more in-depth look at what’s cooking across the country.

Dan Farrell
Bar-B-Que Barn
Arlington, Massachusetts

“I hate to say it, but business was terrible in 2016,” says Dan Farrell, co-owner of Bar-B-Que Barn in Arlington, Massachusetts. “For the first time in 10 years our sales were down, off between three and five percent.” He attributes part of the phenomenon to a slump in Big Green Egg sales, a line he’s had success with for two decades.

“There’s a lot of competition out there now; they’re available everywhere,” he says. He’s hoping strong sales during the traditionally good Christmas season will help offset some of the losses.

Farrell has noticed a declining trend in another pillar of his business: replacement parts. “People aren’t fixing their grills anymore,” he says. However, he says the family-run store’s long-established reputation for providing quality products, good value, and excellent customer service brings people back to replace their grill, even if it’s 15 years later.

A bright spot has been an increase in customer inquiries about outdoor kitchens. “Percentage-wise it’s still very small in terms of sales, but we’re seeing more interest in built-in grills and components,” he says.

The Weber Alliance dealer has some trepidation over the brand’s extensive announced changes, unsure how price increases and other modifications might impact sales in 2017. One thing he’s certain will help boost barbecue sales next season: a cold and snowy winter. “It creates pent-up desire to get outside, and we usually see a bigger pop in spring.”

He says with a laugh: “I’m praying for snow.”

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Rob DeMassa
Outdoor Design & Living
Fairfield, Connecticut

Sales were up seven percent this year at Outdoor Design & Living in Fairfield, Connecticut, with much of that in outdoor kitchens, according to business manager Rob DeMassa. “The trend has just reached our area and is now exploding,” he says. “Customers are in a very positive mindset and are coming in ready to move ahead with projects,” according to DeMassa. “We don’t get a lot of tire kickers.”

Landscape designer-owner Chris Palmer incorporates six outdoor kitchen vignettes in the 1,500 sq. ft. showroom he opened about six years ago. While initially they sold mostly modular islands, recently people are requesting custom masonry islands with a stone exterior, granite top, and a clean, modern aesthetic. Most customers build in a gas grill (they carry Napoleon, Twin Eagles, and Delta Heat), refrigerator, and combo trash/recycle pullout, although sinks are also popular.

After increasing fire pit displays from one to seven in the showroom, DeMassa says sales of those products have “really picked up.” Napoleon gas fire pit tables have been popular in the nearby beach communities, while Breeo’s wood-burning pits sell well for inland suburban homes. Pizza ovens – particularly tabletop models by UUNI – are gaining momentum, but charcoal-fueled grills still have not caught on in the store. “We sell only one or two kamados a year; we’re not seeing the trend,” says DeMassa.

For 2017, they are investing in a new outdoor display area for outdoor kitchens and hearths. They also will continue to partner with architects, builders and designers, and seek out opportunities created by new construction in the area.

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Chuck Hemwall
East Coast Energy Products
West Long Branch, New Jersey

Chuck Hemwall, owner of East Coast Energy Products, two miles from the Atlantic Ocean in West Long Branch, New Jersey, says he’s happy with two- to three-percent growth in 2016. “We had a little spurt right after Superstorm Sandy when people were rebuilding,” he says. “Since then we’re creeping back up. It’s not the glory days of 1995, but we’ll take it.”

Hemwall says sales are shifting from the freestanding grills that were his company’s mainstays for nearly 30 years, to high-end, stainless-steel, built-in grills and components (Solaire by Rasmussen, and Summerset are his best-sellers), which grew almost 10%.

Danver’s modular, stainless-steel islands are popular with waterfront homeowners because of their durability, but typically the retailer specs, supplies and installs outdoor kitchen equipment for architects, masons, landscape architects and contractors. “Staying out of the design headache is better for us,” he says. “This has become a nice part of our business.”

Big Green Egg sales grew 10% this year, and although Alforno pizza ovens are not big sellers, Hemwall says they add a “Wow Factor” when people walk into the store. He also shows smokers, but says traditional low-and-slow smoking has not caught on with his customers. “They’ll come in and price check, but then buy a cheap smoker online or at Home Depot. When they’re new to this style of cooking, it’s hard to convince them to spend $2,000.”

In 2017, he’ll ditch traditional advertising, instead dedicating one of his 12 employees to social media, digital advertising, and strengthening their presence on sites such as Angie’s List, a growing source of referrals. Hemwall also plans to update their website so it’s device-friendly.

“Today, people start shopping on their cell phones,” he says.

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Peter Alesci
NYC Fireplaces & Outdoor Kitchens
Maspeth, New York

In the six years since the Alesci family began offering barbecues and outdoor kitchens at NYC Fireplaces & Outdoor Kitchens, in Maspeth, New York, they’ve experienced steady growth every year. “We are extremely busy,” says partner Peter Alesci. The showroom has minimal walk-in consumer trade, but works extensively with architects, developers and designers on luxury, rooftop, outdoor kitchen projects throughout the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The store has its own 1,000 sq. ft., rooftop outdoor kitchen showroom, as well as indoor vignettes where high-end grills from Twin Eagles, Lynx, Wolf, Fire Magic, Bull, Kalamazoo and other brands are displayed. According to Alesci, customers are requesting both gas and charcoal grills (often a Big Green Egg), as well as icemakers and refrigerators, in their outdoor kitchen islands, and “quite a few” are opting for pizza ovens. Alesci says they have installed a number of Brown Jordan modular kitchens, but they mostly build their own custom islands.

While open-flame appliances are allowed on rooftops, they are often restricted on high-rise balconies, according to Alesci, so the retailer offers high-end electric grills to accommodate those customers. Gas fire pits and fire tables face similar restrictions, limiting sales to rooftop projects or buildings with backyard gardens.

For 2017, they anticipate another good year. “We are working with architects and designers on projects that are two years out,” says Alesci. “We have many projects in the pipeline, so we expect continued good growth. Our biggest source of business is referrals, so as our network grows, so does our business. It says we’re doing something right.”

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Andy Tuohy & Brian Graf
Grill & Hearth
Palm Coast, Florida

After 20 years in business, Andy Tuohy and Brian Graf, co-owners of Grill & Hearth in Palm Coast, Florida, expanded into the space next door and doubled the size of their store this year. Business has been good the past few years, says Tuohy, up 15 to 20% since 2014.

“We’re not back to pre-recessionary levels when people were spending ‘fake money,’ but sales have been up across the board in fireplaces, grills and outdoor kitchens,” he says.

Tuohy says grills at mid-level price points such as AOG and Delta Heat are doing the best in their store. Premium-priced models have been the last to rebound, but they recently sold several to customers replacing grills ruined by Hurricane Matthew. They are seeing growth in Big Green Egg sales, as well as a trend to include both an Egg and a gas grill in outdoor kitchens. The retailers took on Green Mountain pellet grills this fall in response to customer requests, and sales have been brisk out of the gate.

New construction projects in the area have fueled growth of the store’s outdoor kitchen business. They offer design-build services, creating islands in-house, and they’ve also experienced growth in supplying grills and components to other contractors.

Thanks to the expanded and upgraded showroom, Tuohy says they have been able to improve their four outdoor kitchen displays, along with all other displays in the store. “Better displays have definitely driven sales growth in both indoor and outdoor linear fireplaces,” he says.

The retailers will focus on finishing their remodeling project in the first quarter of 2017, according to Tuohy. He says despite the increasingly frustrating challenge of Internet competition, he expects business to be up again in the coming year.

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Tom Parks
Coastroad Hearth & Patio
Shallotte, North Carolina

“This past year was really strong for us, particularly in our Outdoor Room business,” says Tom Parks, vice president of Coastroad Hearth & Patio in Shallote, North Carolina. The difference? “I was so busy training our hearth installers, I needed to hire someone to take over design responsibilities,” he explains. The move was a good one. “We easily doubled our Outdoor Room business in 2016,” Parks says, adding they have installations scheduled through at least January. “I didn’t realize it, but I was a tourniquet on that part of our business. Once I got out of the way, we were able to really expand our sales.”

After years of mostly custom design-build work, this year Coastroad started offering high-end, prefabricated, modular outdoor kitchens made from stainless steel, aluminum, and polyethylene. “Plug-n-play units are much less time consuming and easier to execute, so we are able to take on more projects,” Parks says.

He says gas grills still rule with customers, but more are requesting both gas and charcoal grills in outdoor kitchens, a trend he credits to HGTV and the Food Network. He says ceramic kamado sales were very strong this year, and pellet grills remained a small-but-steady category thanks to a loyal customer base. Despite a flurry of interest in pizza ovens a few years back, the category has not gained traction in the store.

Parks plans to emphasize traditional, low-and-slow barbecue in the store next year, and will attend Memphis in May to check out trends in equipment and techniques. He believes the store’s outdoor kitchen sales have the potential to double again in 2017, assuming they can keep up with production. He also plans to reprise his every-Friday demos, something he let slide this year because he was too busy.

“They help validate us as an authority on grills and outdoor kitchens,” he says.

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Larry Traylor
Hearth & Patio Shoppe
Midlothian, Virginia

“Election years generate uncertainty among our customers, and 2016 has been no exception,” says Larry Traylor, owner of Hearth & Patio Shoppe, in Midlothian, Virginia, about 1.5-hours from the nation’s capital. “We used to be booked four weeks out; now we’re one week out.” He says grill sales were “quite soft,” with Big Green Egg taking the biggest hit, down 50 to 75%. Other traditionally sizable segments, including outdoor kitchens and fire pits, declined this year, as well.

Positives, according to Traylor, include Saber Grills. “We’re the only dealer in town and they fly out of here,” he says. The store commits considerable selling space to accessories, woods and charcoal, and does well with ongoing sales of those consumables.

Traylor has spotted a trend in which Baby Boomer customers are downsizing, but Millennials are not replacing them at the same sales levels. “It’s hard to get new, younger customers to spend what we’re used to Baby Boomers spending. They can’t afford high-end product, or they’ll compare prices right on their phone in the store, and end up buying online or at Lowe’s,” he says. “Sometimes I wonder if we should stay a high-end shop, but after 29 years in business, we’ve seen ups and downs, and trends come and go. We’ll weather this storm too.”

To help in that effort next year, Traylor plans to add pizza ovens to the mix, and will put a display oven out front. He is also considering adding another moderately priced gas grill line, along with pellet grills. He will look to boost his alliances with landscape architects and builders to grow his outdoor kitchen business.

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Will Hanson
4 Season Outdoors
Austin & Dallas, Texas

“We are crazy busy 10 months of the year,” says Will Hanson, partner with his brother Philip Hanson in 4 Season Outdoors with locations in Austin and Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas. The business specializes in custom outdoor kitchens, offering in-house design and project management services, as well as premium grills and components from Bull, Lynx, Primo, Big Green Egg, Memphis, and Traeger.

The company hosts cooking classes three weekends a month for new grill owners, and partners with local craft breweries, distilleries and wineries on other classes and events. “We are culinary-driven and believe educating customers improves satisfaction with their grills and outdoor kitchens and ultimately leads to referrals to friends,” says Hanson. The retailer also regularly incorporates accessories, thermometers, sauces, and spices into cooking classes, generating sales of those products.

Hanson has recently added two complementary business segments – synthetic turf lawns, an increasingly popular water-saving alternative to natural sod; and dark-sky-compliant outdoor lighting. “We are really good at finding niche businesses,” he says. “You’ve got to be diversified.”

With 11,000 new homes expected to be built in the Austin area in the next three years, Hanson anticipates growth in all three business segments next year and for the foreseeable future. In addition, he plans to expand cross-marketing efforts in 2017, building an outdoor kitchen display offsite at a distillery partner, to hold monthly cooking classes there.

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Wayne Swaney
Fireplace, Stone & Patio
Omaha, Nebraska

Pellet grills were “extremely hot,” with sales up 72% this year at Fireplace, Stone & Patio in Omaha, Nebraska, according to retail sales manager Wayne Swaney. “They’re appealing because they offer great flavor, but they’re so easy to use. You just set them and walk away.” Thanks to word-of-mouth buzz, he says the Traeger, Green Mountain, Louisiana, and Memphis pellet grills he carries are “dominating” kamado grills.

“(Kamados) didn’t draw a lot of traffic this year,” he says. The retailer carries 20 species of pellet cooking woods, bringing customers back for repeat business.

Swaney says sales of built-in grills for outdoor kitchens were up 20% this year. While the company offers prefabricated islands, as well as complete design-build services for custom outdoor kitchens, the past two years have seen a trend-shift to supplying grills and equipment on others’ projects.

Thanks to great weather in the spring and fall, gas fire tables and fire pits (Napoleon, Housewarmings Outdoor, Outdoor GreatRoom Company, UniFlame) were up 30% in 2016, with the greatest success at upper-end price points. “Our customers are moving away from custom-masonry fire pits, because they can put a fire table on their patio instantly,” he says.

The store hosted its first cooking class this fall – a Barbecue 101 session with champion pitmaster Chris Marks – and also invited employees to sit in. “Educating employees about barbecue techniques helps them be more authoritative as salespeople,” Swaney says.

He already plans to host at least two more classes in 2017, and believes, if the weather cooperates, his outdoor kitchen-related business will continue to grow. As for pellet grills, “We may not be able to sustain the same percentage of growth, but based on the trend, I think they’ll continue to do well,” he says.

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Dan Marguerite
Backyard Barbecue Store
Wilmette, Illinois

Dan Marguerite, owner of the Backyard Barbecue Store in Wilmette, Illinois, will start the New Year in a new space that’s double the size of his old store just across the street. In 2016, sales were up five percent overall at his 13-year-old business. “We’ve been seeing steady growth,” he says. “Consumer confidence is strong.”

The retailer offers a wide selection of gas grills (Weber, Napoleon, DCS, Kalamazoo, MHP, Fire Magic, AOG) in price points from $200 to $15,000+, and is seeing a rising trend in sales of built-in grills and components for outdoor kitchens. He does not offer design-build services, but sells the equipment to landscape-architect partners “who have been very busy this year.”

Marguerite sells “a ton of Big Green Eggs,” and is seeing “a surge in requests” for pellet grills (he offers Green Mountain and Memphis). He says his pizza oven sales are small but steady; it’s a category he hopes to grow by adding new lines in 2017. Barbecue accessories are “a big part” of Marguerite’s business, particularly thermometers, gloves, sauces and rubs, all of which are spotlighted in his grilling classes. He sold “a few” gas fire tables this year, but says fire pit burners are better sellers to landscape partners who use them in custom pits.

His outlook is positive for 2017. The larger new space will allow Marguerite to expand his outdoor kitchen displays, add product lines, and even incorporate a small craft brewery. Thanks to a larger demo cooking island, he will be able to accommodate more private events and plans to offer more cooking classes.

“We’ll see what happens after the election, but I expect sales to continue strong because people like to be outside. (In light of our expansion), it better be a big year, or I’m in trouble,” he says with a laugh.

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Matthew Bourlier
Bourlier’s Barbecue and Fireplace
Royal Oak, Michigan

Matthew Bourlier, third-generation-owner of Bourlier’s Barbecue and Fireplace in Royal Oak, Michigan, relocated the store four years ago, tripling showroom space, introducing new products, and adding outdoor kitchen design-build capabilities. Sales of outdoor kitchens took off, accounting for 10% of his business in 2016. Another notable trend that he noticed was a dramatic increase in pellet grill sales (Bourlier carries Green Mountain and Traeger brands).

“People love how easy it is; pour in the pellets, set the controls, and press start,” he says. “People are coming in asking for pellet grills. It’s shocking how much research they’ve already done before they even walk in the door.” He is considering adding a premium pellet grill line next year.

The pizza ovens from Lynx and Fontana Ovens & Grills he introduced in 2015 also gained traction this year. “We’re not selling a ton,” Bourlier says, “but having some affordably-priced units gets people to look at the category.”

He does a “huge” service business, offering both repairs and annual tune-up/clean-up services, and does well with barbecue accessories and solid fuels, carrying six brands of lump charcoal and a dozen varieties of cooking wood pellets. Ceramic kamado sales, however, were “very soft” this year, according to Bourlier, who carries Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, and Primo.

Bourlier expects continued growth in both outdoor kitchens and pellet grills in 2017. Although he demos every Saturday, lack of space has prevented him from tackling more structured cooking classes. He hopes weather-related declines in 2016 fire pit sales – typically, a category that does “phenomenally well” in his store – will reverse next year.

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Steve McMillen
Hartville Hardware
Hartville, Ohio

Hartville Hardware, Hartville, Ohio, always had a grill department, but about a year ago the retailer gave it much more prominence by converting an underutilized, 3,000 sq. ft. greenhouse area to “The Grill Zone.” Although the move would dedicate greater floor space to displays, expand product offerings, and provide room for cooking classes, it was not without risks, according to seasonal manager Steve McMillen.

“Previously, grills were in a prime, front-and-center location, but the new area is more remote in the store,” he said. Fortunately, sales increases of over 30% in grills and 13% in accessories this year, erased any concerns. “The growth has been phenomenal,” McMillen says.

The retailer added Traeger pellet grills and Saber infrared grills to the full lines of Weber and Big Green Egg grills already on the floor. He is considering adding an offset barrel smoker and possibly another gas grill to the mix next year. Although fire pits did well in the $500 to $700 range for gas and $100 to $200 for wood, outdoor kitchens have not caught on. “The concept is not really big in our area,” says McMillen. “People who are interested, are going to landscapers.”

Cooking classes have become a business boon. The store offered 18 hands-on grilling classes this past summer, held on typically slow Wednesday nights, with a $20 admission fee. They also regularly hold free, brand-specific “Your Grill and You” classes to teach customers how to use their grills. “These have been very successful at bringing in new homeowners and other young people who might be new to grilling,” he says.

Despite some concerns about changes Weber plans to implement in 2017, McMillen expects to see increases across the board next year. He will also expand class offerings, and build on some of the other innovative promotions started this year.

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Roy Phillips
Cal-West Resort Living
Murrieta, California

After “dabbling” in barbecues and prefabricated islands over the past seven years, Roy Phillips pressed the restart button on the category at Cal-West Resort Living in Murrieta, California, a few years ago. The operations manager of this 25-year-old, family-owned spa, barbecue, patio, and hearth business is extensively remodeling the 12,000 sq. ft. showroom, adding multiple new outdoor kitchen vignettes. He replaced his previous grill lines with Napoleon, Delta Heat, Twin Eagles and Big Green Egg, and formed an alliance with a custom outdoor kitchen builder. “Prefab doesn’t work in southern California; everyone wants custom,” he says.

He’s already seeing results. “We were really happy with sales this year,” he says. He attributes the success, in part, to referrals from manufacturers’ online dealer-locators. He says the store’s monthly cooking demos, beefed-up marketing efforts, and a display of manufacturers’ banners out front have all improved in-store traffic. Besides grills and outdoor kitchens, Phillips says sales of cast-aluminum fire pit tables, fire rings, and fire glass have grown.

He expects to build on this success next year by expanding accessories, adding a pellet grill to the lineup, and increasing the frequency of cooking demos. Phillips says if all goes as planned, he anticipates a 20 to 25% jump in sales for 2017.

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Harold Gorny
Red Rock Fireplace & BBQ
Sedona, Arizona

“Consumer confidence is improving and custom homebuilding is coming back, so it was a very good year for us,” says Harold Gorny, owner of Red Rock Fireplace & BBQ in Sedona, Arizona. The retailer was busy working with architects, designers and contractors, supplying product for outdoor kitchen projects in new-construction high-end vacation homes. He also saw an increase in their in-house, outdoor kitchen design-build services for backyard remodels this year.

Gorny said his customers mostly go for the convenience of gas grills (he sells and services Alfresco, Twin Eagles, DCS, Viking, TEC, Delta Heat, and Napoleon), but increasingly, they are also requesting a charcoal kamado as a second grill in outdoor kitchens. Gas fire pits have become another key business area, especially fire tables and fire rings for custom projects. Gorny also created several fire pits for a nearby hotel this year.

There was one unusual and unexpected revenue center in 2016: the localized problem of pack rats. “Many of the homes in our area are second or third homes, so they’re not occupied year-round. Pack rats love to build nests in those grills. They eat the wiring and make a mess all over the cooking grid,” Gorny explains. The store saw expanded service business courtesy of the pesky rodents, as well as sales of new replacement grills.

While Gorny “doesn’t worry about” year-over-year percentage increases or decreases, he believes signs look good for 2017. He plans to stick with the status quo; resume parking-lot pizza demos on Saturdays, and continue to stock cooking woods, sauces and accessories that are not readily available in Big Box stores. Another message he’ll keep driving home: Don’t buy grills online because you won’t get anyone to service them locally.

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Stephen “Ruff” Ruffatti
Ruff’s Barbeque Shoppe
Golden, Colorado

Sales have grown every year since Stephen “Ruff” Ruffatti opened Ruff’s Barbeque Shoppe in Golden, Colorado, a decade ago. But thanks to the smoking trend catching fire, sales have exploded at the store dedicated to cooking with wood and solid fuels; it’s up anywhere from 35 to 50% each of the past three years. Traeger pellet grills are Ruffatti’s biggest sellers, followed by Big Green Egg and Horizon offset smokers.

He says about 70% of new customers are gas grillers who buy a pellet grill for occasional use as a smoker, but after discovering the flavor benefits and ease of use, it often becomes their primary grill. “People love the convenience and flavor. They become so passionate, they tell everyone how great it is,” he says. “They become my salespeople.”

Besides word-of-mouth recommendations, Ruffatti’s smoking and barbecuing classes also bring in customers and grow sales. Classes emphasize techniques and tools that make cooking over solid fuel simple and easy so people will do it more often. Ruffatti generates sales of woods, seasonings, and accessories such as jalapeno pepper racks, rib racks, and porcelain chicken “thrones” by incorporating them into classes. “Selling the grill starts the relationship with customers,” says Ruffatti. “But grills have small margins. I built my business and feed my family on ongoing sales of fuel and accessories.”

The self-proclaimed “tech-challenged” retailer will enlist help from family members to boost his social media presence in 2017. He will continue with radio advertising, which he says has been “surprisingly successful,” and plans to host his second annual “Traegerfest” cooking and sampling event in his parking lot. As for sales predictions, he says, “The sky’s the limit! The potential customer base is huge; we’ve barely scratched the surface of the market for cooking over wood.”

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Chris Papageorge
Atherton Appliance & Kitchens
San Francisco, California

In 2014, Chris Papageorge, outdoor specialist at family-run Atherton Appliance & Kitchens, with two locations in the San Francisco area, began offering Kalamazoo Gourmet modular outdoor kitchens. “In Southern California, outdoor kitchens are huge, but here in northern California, the concept is not as prevalent,” he says. The category has taken off and turned into a significant source of year-round business.

“We were busy in January, February and March working with architects, designers and other specifiers, and we were busy in September, October and November delivering outdoor kitchens before the holidays,” he says. “They have really extended our sales season. We dedicated 1,000 sq. ft. of showroom space to outdoor kitchens, and have put a big push behind them in the last year.”

Papageorge says, besides a built-in gas grill, customers want power sideburners, storage doors and drawers and, increasingly, beverage centers, countertop pizza ovens, and sinks. What’s not been popular: charcoal kamado grills, and high-tech, digital “smart” grills.

The retailer is big on creating “Product Education Experiences,” small-group personalized education sessions to teach customers how to use products, even providing steaks, salmon and vegetables for test drives. “The sessions involve cooking and tasting, but we don’t use the word ‘demo,’” Papageorge says. “That has a Costco connotation. We’re not just about lining up for a free sample, but about creating an experience.”

The appliance retailer expects another good year in 2017, with continued growth in outdoor kitchen sales as part of home-renovation projects. They will also be offering more cooking classes, team-building programs, and charitable events. They will add a wood-burning oven display to the showroom, and an outdoor display space for outdoor kitchens and to host classes and events.

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