The Carys of Wichita
By Lisa Readie Mayer
|Kathy Cary, owner, and Jessica Williamson, Operations manager.|
How did Don Cary get into the barbecue retail business? “It was my wife’s idea,” he says. “It all started with her saying, ‘Let’s open a little barbecue store.’”
Eight years later, that little barbecue store, All Things Barbecue, in Wichita, Kansas, is on the “Inc. 5000 List” with 212% growth over the past three years and $6.4 million in revenue for 2016.
By the time the store opened in 2009, the Cary family had already cut its barbecue teeth as the owners and manufacturers of Yoder Smokers, the rugged, charcoal-, wood- and pellet-fueled steel smokers made in Yoder, Kansas. The brand is currently smokin’ hot among backyard and competitive barbecue enthusiasts.
But, early on, the family discovered that whenever they would demo the smokers at the state fair or outdoor-living shows, they would be bombarded with questions from customers: Where can I get fuel? How can I buy the sauces and seasonings? Where can I learn to use the smoker?
Hence the suggestion to open a retail store.
After some research trips to other barbecue retail meccas in the U.S., Cary, his wife Kathy, and daughter Jessica Williamson, opened All Things Barbecue in Wichita’s historic Delano district, a vibrant downtown section known for arts, entertainment, dining and shopping. The store initially carried Yoder offset smokers, of course, as well as Weber grills, and a large selection of barbecue accessories, sauces, rubs, spices, and fuels.
Within 18 months they had outgrown their space, so Cary bought three adjacent buildings, originally constructed in 1911, 1920 and 1948, two blocks from their original location on the opposite side of street. Starting with the “newest” building, they gutted each space, even replacing all wiring, plumbing, and sewer lines. “The oldest building had knob-and-tube wiring,” he recalls. “It was more of a museum than a viable retail space. We invested a lot of time and energy figuring out how we wanted to use the space, and a lot of money renovating it; more, in fact, than we paid for the properties.”
They relocated into the first building when it was finished in 2013, and finally took over the entire space when all renovations were completed in November 2015. Today, the 15,000-sq. ft. building features rustic brick walls that contrast with exposed metal beams and other industrial design elements. Inside the store is a large retail display area, as well as a kitchen classroom and event space. Outside is an expansive patio, partially covered by a soaring, solid-roof pavilion that acts as additional space for teaching, events and displays.
Yoder pellet cookers outsell other types of grills in the store, 10 to one, according to Cary. “They are a whole different ballgame for our store,” he says. “We give them a lot of attention, so they are much bigger than everything else.”
The balance of grill sales is evenly split between charcoal and gas grills, he says. The store carries gas grills from companies such as Alfresco, Delta Heat, Twin Eagles, Fire Magic, Weber, and Napoleon; the latter has become a “significant brand” for the store since 2013, according to Cary. All Things Barbecue stocks charcoal- and wood-burning grills from Yoder, Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, Primo, Hasty-Bake, Portable Kitchens, and others, as well as pizza ovens from Chicago Brick Oven, Uuni and Forno Bravo.
|All Things Barbecue’s staff chef Tom Jackson working the Kamado Joe.|
Among the store’s 300 SKUs of grilling accessories is a vast selection of sauces, rubs, injections, marinades, tools, gadgets, thermometers, and other gear, as well as a large variety of lump charcoal, split wood, chunks, chips, and wood planks. They even have a section devoted to professional knives, Yeti coolers, and other outdoor-living gear.
One thing Cary swore he’d never sell – patio furniture – was added to the mix two years ago. “We now have 50 sets on the floor and it will represent about a quarter of our business,” he says. “Never say never, or you’ll live to eat your words. One thing about retail, you don’t want to fasten anything to the floor. Everything changes – customers, vendors, the product mix. That’s what makes it fun and challenging, but you must constantly evolve and improve.”
He says outdoor furniture is bringing new people into the store, but many of the sales have been to existing grill and outdoor kitchen customers. “People want to buy from people they know and trust,” Cary says.
The Carys began “putting toes in the water” with outdoor kitchens while still in their first location, and they have seen the category grow “little by little” each year. Project involvement can range from advising a do-it-yourself customer; to supplying equipment to designer and contractor partners; to overseeing a comprehensive design-build effort with support from engineers at the Yoder factory.
There are currently four outdoor kitchen displays at the store that Cary plans to rip out and replace at the end of the year. He says Alfresco is his biggest-selling premium brand, thanks to “very cool stuff that really appeals to high-end buyers.” The store also does well with Delta Heat for outdoor kitchens, and increasingly has been building in a lot of “good-value” Napoleon grills.
He says he has started to pay attention to modular, stainless-steel, outdoor kitchen cabinetry, and offers Napoleon Oasis, Danver, and Nature Kast brands. “It’s beautiful stuff,” he says. “It’s expensive, but you don’t have as much labor, so the actual cost difference is not that great. It wasn’t something I thought I’d be interested in, but like I said, everything in retail changes and you have to be willing to adjust. I’m ordering Danver and NatureKast islands for display. You sell what you show, so talk to me a year from now; I think we’re going to see growth in these higher-end cabinets.”
Cary says cooking classes have been a big part of the store’s success, and a gateway to building relationships with customers. Although he didn’t originally intend to offer private parties and corporate events, Cary says cooking-class attendees loved the space, atmosphere, and food quality so much, they began requesting classes. (There’s that willingness to adapt, again). The store also added monthly, Friday-night dinners to sell-out crowds.
|All Things Barbecue, grill and cooking showroom.|
Cary estimates more than 10,000 people have attended an All Things Barbecue class or event since 2011, when classes were first offered. While topics that range from brisket to breakfast to holiday birds on the grill are draw enough, attendees have traveled from Florida, Oregon, California, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Montana to take how-to sessions on using a Yoder smoker. All classes are taught by the store’s chef, Tom Jackson, and sometimes visiting chefs and pitmasters.
Cary says they’ve learned through experience that January through May, and fall through the holiday season, are the best times to host classes; summer and back-to-school seasons are hardest because customers’ schedules are already packed. Though the store charges a fee to attend, Cary says the classes are essentially a break-even to low-profit endeavor. “We might make a little something, but the biggest payout is we make friends and gain customers for life,” he says.
All Things Barbecue also creates free, fun experiences that regularly draw crowds to the store. A Kamado Joe Block Party, held earlier this year, had a line of attendees 80 to 100 deep waiting to sample the street tacos being cooked on the kamado grills. Its Yoder Block Party event in October, announced on social media with only one-week notice, drew 400 people.
The free event sampled 16 menu items, including salmon, pulled pork, brisket, tri-tip, pork loin and “white-tablecloth mac and cheese,” demo-ed by the store’s staff and winning pitmasters on a variety of Yoder smokers. They also invited a local craft brewery to serve samples, gave away Yoder hats, and offered a promotion for 100 lbs. of free pellet fuel with every Yoder smoker purchase.
|All Things Barbecue’s staff chef Tom Jackson teaching at the 2017 Outdoor Living Show in Wichita, Kansas.|
“The most fun thing from a sales perspective,” according to Cary, “was that people who had been looking and thinking about buying, came and pulled the trigger. We also had owners who brought friends and used the fun atmosphere to educate them about Yoder smokers. They acted as our salespeople.”
All Things Barbecue has five fulltime employees dedicated to marketing, including sons Justin Cary and Josh Cary. The store advertises in local newspapers, magazines, and on television and radio, with each outlet playing a different but equally important role in the mix, according to Cary. “We buy ads on programs that my wife and I watch, like morning shows, news stations, and Fox sports. We are the demographic of our customer.”
This traditional advertising is supplemented with extensive social media efforts, including a dynamic website, Facebook and Instagram posts, and a vast array of how-to videos, recipes, food photography, and other educational content. Justin Cary, a professional photographer and videographer, shoots all photography and video production onsite in the cooking-class kitchen. Josh Cary writes the store’s informative blog called “The Sauce,” and hosts barbecue and grilling podcasts with staff chef Tom Jackson.
This extensive digital footprint of recipes, how-to techniques, and other educational content attracts consumers researching online and leads them to All Things Barbecue’s online store, a channel the retailer has embraced and excelled in. “I believe being good at e-commerce and being good in brick-and-mortar retailing are two totally different conversations; they’re two totally different businesses,” says Cary.
“A good retailer must constantly watch every category, have the right customer demographic to maintain and grow sales, and create compelling and value-added in-store experiences. Retailers must be particularly careful about which vendors to partner with. You have to choose good vendors who won’t let you build the brand and then open another dealer next to you. Good vendors also police the iMAP.
“With online, it’s all about content,” he continues. “Everyone thinks it’s cheaper to be an online retailer, but that’s not necessarily the case. To do it right, the investment is great. You have to create the content that brings people to the website. We are shipping from our warehouse, so we have to have substantial inventory.
“When you first start out selling online, you share staff (with the store), but when you grow to the point where you can’t do that any longer, you need to build staff for both areas of the business. My wife Kathy and daughter Jessica started the store and handled it all in the beginning. They took care of the retail sales, and if something sold online, they packed it and shipped it.”
According to Cary, to be a good brick-and-mortar retailer it’s critical to identify people who have a passion for cooking and entertaining, bring them into the store, and add value through experiences. “It’s cliché, but true,” he says. “When you offer education, build relationships, and create a buzz about your store, people want to buy from you.”
Store Name: All Things Barbecue
Address: 818 W. Douglas Ave., Wichita, Kansas 67203
Number of Stores: One
Owners: Don and Kathy Cary
Key People: Jessica Williamson, Justin Cary, Josh Cary
Year Established: 2009
Web Site: www.atbbq.com
Phone: (316) 440-3950
Number of Employees:
Gross Annual Sales:
Sq. Ft. of Building Space: 15,000
Gross Annual Sales: $6.4 million