Subscribe eNews Send Us Files Login

Hearth & Home July 2015

Ideas That Work!

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Here’s some tips to grow your grill and outdoor kitchen sales.

We’ve all heard the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That may be true in some instances, but imagine how much better our businesses might be if we shook things up a little.

Whether it’s that once-a-month demo with the same menu, or the tendency to always display certain products in the same location, we can all fall into a business rut. It’s easy to keep doing what we’re doing, especially when what we’re doing is yielding pretty decent results.

These fresh, practical and easy-to-implement merchandising and marketing ideas are proven to help jumpstart sales. Try one or two to grow your grill and outdoor kitchen sales now.

Big Green Egg.

Sweet Smell of Success

It’s scientifically proven that aromas affect behavior. Since two French scientists determined that the relaxing scent of lavender lengthened the amount of time customers spent in an establishment, shopkeepers, restaurateurs and hoteliers have been using aromas to get people to linger longer and buy more.

We don’t know if the hunger-producing power of the aromas of burning charcoal and cooking woods has been scientifically studied, but we know it works. Doug Sanicola, president of Outdoor Elegance in La Verne, California, cooks hot dogs on Big Green Eggs on Saturdays, not to feed people, but to generate the aroma.

“The smell is a big motivator and gets people interested,” he says. “We sell more grills that way.” Other retailers swear that simply burning a charcoal grill, pellet grill or smoker every day outside their store gets people salivating for barbecued and grilled foods, and that leads to sales.

No cooking necessary. No advanced planning, no tending, no shopping for food. Just fire up that grill every day and, even if it’s gas, burn some aromatic cooking woods. Let the smoke do its work to influence buying behavior.

This Is No Turkey

Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association research shows that 11 million U.S. households use their grill or smoker on Thanksgiving day. People are increasingly realizing that grilling, rotissing, smoking or frying the turkey outdoors produces an unbeatably tasty bird, and it frees up oven space for all those sides and pies.

More backyard chefs would probably love to try it, but don’t feel confident enough to risk a main-course mishap with a dining table full of holiday guests. Teach them how and you might just sell some grills, smokers, rotisseries, accessories and fuel in the process.

  • Host cooking classes and demos during the month of November, on grilling, smoking and/or frying a turkey.
  • Run a Hot Line the week or two leading up to Thanksgiving, and answer customers’ questions on the subject via phone or email.
  • Offer free delivery of grills, smokers, charcoal, cooking woods, pellets, a filled propane tank, sauces, rubs, brines, cedar planks and accessories in return for a donation to a local food bank.
  • Offer to make a donation to the food bank yourself for any grill, smoker or fryer purchased in the month of November.
  • Promote your Hot Line, cooking classes/demos, and food bank donations via your website, e-newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, and traditional advertising. Besides potentially boosting November sales, the promotion yields year-round benefits by positioning your store as an outdoor cooking authority.

Food Truck Following

Want to attract Millennials and help build a base of young customers for your store? Tie in with food trucks. Food trucks are hot today, and a National Grocers Association-Supermarket Guru consumer survey shows nearly 60 percent of those who patronize food trucks are age 39 and under.

Some food trucks have fiercely loyal fans who will seek them out no matter their location. If your store has its own parking lot, invite a food truck (investigate local regulations first) that specializes in barbecued or grilled fare to come once a week or once a month.

Consider having the food truck stay through the dinner hour so you can stay open for late-night shopping (see next tip). To help identify and get contact information for barbecue food trucks in your area, search on

On food truck day, provide picnic tables for patrons to sit and eat, and take advantage of the crowds by conducting your own demos. Distribute flyers announcing your store’s upcoming cooking classes, demos, store news and promotions. Hand out coupons for a freebie such as a sample bag of wood chips or a bottle of sauce, or a discount on a purchase – something that gets them into the store to redeem.

To appeal to younger Millennials’ budgets, showcase some moderately priced, smaller-footprint grills alongside the aspirational grills and outdoor kitchens. Promote the food truck schedule on your website and on a banner outside the store every day.

Extended Hours

Rethink 9-to-5. A study reported in the Downtown Reporter, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg Business Week says 70 percent of all brick-and-mortar consumer spending is done after 6 pm. That’s because many people are now at work between the old-school 9-to-5 hours, according to retail consultant Roger Brooks. The same holds true for Sunday hours.

If you’re closed when they’re ready to shop, “they’ll head to Walmart or other places that are open,” Brooks says. “(Independent retailers) who extend their shopping hours are seeing huge increases in sales as a result. People spend their money at the end of the day. Are you open?”

As small business owners – staffed by mainly family members in many cases – it’s difficult to think about giving up a day off or dinner at home. But extending your operating hours is really important to retail success.

Grillmaster’s Garden in Zionsville, Indiana.

The Magic of Merchandising

Good merchandising increases sales. A North Carolina retailer says, “Our sales went up when we put plastic steaks on the display grills and wine in the outdoor wine refrigerators. My advice is, if it burns, burn it; if it uses water (such as a fountain or bird bath), put water in it. Put as many accessories as possible in display islands to show options.” This simple and easy-to-implement concept helps people envision how the products work – and it works at increasing sales as well.

Child’s Play

Want to sell more grills and outdoor kitchens to families? Get the kids involved! Studies show kids are increasingly influencing family purchase decisions – particularly when it comes to what’s on the menu. A study by the children’s cable television network Nickelodeon, shows 71 percent of U.S. parents solicit or consider their kids’ opinions when making purchases. Another study by the Association for Consumer Research shows children’s influence is greatest among higher-income families.

Savvy barbecue retailers might consider holding kids’ cooking classes on grilling basics, smoking 101, grilled pizza, fire pit desserts and more. Get kids craving the flavor and fun of outdoor cooking, and sales of grills, smokers, pizza ovens, fire pits, and related accessories to their parents just might follow.

At the very least, it gets parents into your store and exposes them to your selection of premium grills and outdoor kitchens. According to Christian Kurz, VP of research, insight and reporting at Viacom International Media Networks, the takeaway from the Nickelodeon study for retailers and marketers is, “Understanding family dynamics when it comes to decision making is key to unlocking family budgets. Given the power of kids’ influence over purchase decisions, marketers would be remiss to exclude kids from advertising (and promotions).”

What junior wants, junior often gets!

Que Starter Pack bundle from
Smoke ‘n’ Fire, Overland Park, Kansas.

Bundle Up

To sell more barbecue grills, tools, accessories and related gear during the holiday season, try promoting “bundles.” This modern take on gift baskets combines related items in a themed collection, so instead of selling one item, you sell several.

According to USA Today columnist Rhonda Abrams, bundles offer retailers a way to increase sales, and help customers solve gift-shopping dilemmas, a convenience she says people are willing to pay for. Try a Low-and-Slow-Barbecue bundle featuring a smoker, cooking woods, rubs, a rib rack and a smoking cookbook.

A Grilled Pizza bundle might include a grill-top pizza cooker or pizza stone, peel, cutter and cookbook. A seafood-grilling bundle could have a fish basket, grill topper, cedar planks, oversized fish spatula and cookbook.

Abrams recommends creating bundles at different price points, wrapping them in attractive containers – try a charcoal pail, a couple of (clean!) pizza boxes, or stacked on top of a large fish-shaped serving platter – and displaying them prominently during gift-giving season.

Bundles work the rest of the year, too. Any time someone buys a grill, you can bundle it with a grill cover, brush, tool set and some basic accessories at a price slightly less than buying each item individually. Offer bundles and you’ll see more product move out the door.

Build an Email Address Book

Collect email addresses when people check out and use Constant Contact to communicate and continue your relationship with them online after the sale.

Jack Wills Outdoor Living, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Photo: ©2013 Bluespeed Av.

Rental Income

An Arizona retailer offers a “Rent-to-Own” program for his kamado cookers. Customers who are considering a kamado, but are still hesitant to buy, can rent one for $75 to $100 per week. If they end up purchasing the grill, he’ll credit the rental amount toward the purchase price. He says the program has been successful at growing kamado sales.

Other retailers say this rent-to-own concept also works with pizza ovens. Still others rent out fire pits, patio heaters, and catering-sized grills for block parties, graduation parties, weddings and other big events.

House Calls

No room for cooking classes? No problem. Toronto retailer Febian Frempong of Sobie’s Barbecues, hosts private demos and cooking classes in people’s backyards. Customers invite a group of friends over, and the retailer and staff teach basic grilling, searing, smoking and rotissing techniques, or customize the lesson to whatever the customer would like to learn, such as ribs, brisket, plank-grilling, etc. Frempong incorporates sauces, rubs, tools and accessories into the class because, “This is very important to us because it leads to sales of these products.”

Research Ready

Studies show the majority of people start their product research online before ever stepping into a store. Once they do go to the store, a growing number are taking their smart phones with them to check out the product’s online consumer reviews and comments right on the spot. In addition, according to Carter Harkins and Taylor Hill of Spark Marketer, most people find a business’s website through a Google search.

Be prepared by updating your online presence. Is your website current, easy-to-use and informative? Are you on Google Places, a free online listing with pertinent information about your business that would come up when someone searches for a barbecue store nearby? Are you listed on the “dealer locator” pages on all of your suppliers’ websites? Neglect your basic Internet presence and you could be missing the chance to attract customers to your store, not to mention potential sales.

Try a few of these “fixes” and you just may find that, even if your business model “ain’t broke,” it might get even better.


Companies Mentioned

More Stories in this Issue

July at the Mart

When you arrive in July for the Preview Show, the first thing you’ll see will be a park-like setting where concrete and cabs used to be. An area 15-by-150 ft. next to the river is now reserved for grass and seating.

» Continue

Moving Forward!

By Tom Lassiter

Terri Lee Rogers is a determined runner and CEO whose steady management of OW Lee has consistently earned the praise and approval of specialty retailers.

» Continue

Pioneers in Design

By Bill Sendelback

Smart and persistent marketers Niels and Alyce Wittus have been introducing North Americans to European hearth product design for almost four decades.

» Continue

Today 2015

By Richard Wright

For the fifth year, Maxine Lauer, CEO of Sphere Trending, shares her (painstakingly acquired) knowledge of trends that are affecting your business.

» Continue

Tomorrow 2016

By Richard Wright

If you’re in the patio business, the toughest decisions you make all year involve fabrics – color, texture, pattern. Maxine Lauer explains what consumers will be looking for next year.

» Continue

Niche Player

By Richard Wright

During the ’90s, Pat Moynihan made a highly respected name for himself as president of Waterford Irish Stoves U.S. Today he has his own line of wall-mounted gas fireplaces – the Sólas line.

» Continue


By Charles Vernon

Charles Vernon, former CEO of Gloster Furniture who retired this past September, discusses his very successful career (there’s a surprise at the end).

» Continue

2015 May Business Climate

In early June, Hearth & Home faxed and emailed a survey to 2,500 specialty retailers of hearth, barbecue and patio products asking them to compare May 2015 sales to May 2014. The accompanying charts and selected comments are from the 203 useable returns.

» Continue

Parting Shot: Room of Curves

By Richard Wright

The client wanted an over-the-top outdoor living space designed as an outdoor movie theater,” says designer Ryan Hughes. “It includes a fire feature, a television, and a water feature flowing behind the television into a planter with agave plants.”

» Continue