Best Barbecue Store?
By Lisa Readie Mayer
Photos: ©2017 Karen I. Hirsch Photography. www.karenihirsch.com.
He only moved across the street, but specialty barbecue retailer Dan Marguerite is already miles ahead in terms of customer attraction, engagement, and in-store experience. He’s also ahead in sales, on track for 20% growth this year.
The owner of the Backyard Barbecue Store in Wilmette, Illinois, has been one of the country’s most innovative and forward-thinking barbecue retailers since opening 14 years ago. He was an early adopter of cooking classes, believing that customers who were better skilled at outdoor cooking would be more satisfied, use their grills more often, buy more equipment, and refer their friends.
He quickly embraced the Outdoor Room concept, dedicating space at his original store to outdoor kitchen displays. He was also among the first to promote his store as an event space for private parties, group dinners, and corporate events.
A progressive marketer, Marguerite has always fostered partnerships with other nearby businesses, and regularly teams with the local butcher shop, home-theater retailer, micro breweries, and others on cross-promotions and classes. He understands the benefits of establishing relationships with top-notch landscape architects, interior designers, architects, and other specifiers. He also works with designers, homebuilders, and other industry trade groups, hosting their meetings in his store.
Strategies such as these have helped turn the Backyard Barbecue Store into a premiere destination for quality grills, barbecue accessories, outdoor kitchens, and outdoor cooking classes in the Chicago area. But a lack of space restricted Marguerite from implementing other creative ideas and maximizing the store’s growth potential.
|For years, Marguerite has been actively promoting outdoor kitchens, as this display shows.|
When a carwash across the street from his original 2,400 sq. ft. store went up for sale, Marguerite started pondering the possibilities.
“I thought it would be really cool to have a space with garage doors that we could open in summer for great flow between indoors and outdoors during cooking classes and events,” he says. That idea, as well as the prospect of doubling the square footage, convinced him the building would be a great spot to relocate, so he bought it.
From the windows of his old store, Marguerite watched the interior demolition, redesign, and build-out of the new space take shape over six months, before finally opening in the new-and-improved 5,000-sq.ft. location on January 5 this year.
Designed with a rustic-meets-industrial aesthetic, the store features lots of natural materials, including exposed brick, natural stone, reclaimed barn wood, and hefty, distressed barn beams, contrasted with poured concrete, industrial lighting, corrugated metal, and exposed ductwork. For good measure, he brought along a few signature elements from the old store, including several whimsical light fixtures fashioned from the lids of Weber Kettle grills.
When he talks about the look and functionality of the new space, Marguerite beams with pride. “My favorite part is the giant beamed ceiling,” he says. “I just love it.”
So, apparently, do his customers, who have been “wowed” by the upgraded store. Suppliers, too, have been impressed by the new space.
“Dan and his store are unique in the industry,” says Kelley Curry, Chicago area account manager for DCS by Fisher & Paykel. “His product knowledge is second to none; he’s honest, hardworking, and has great customer service. His approach to retailing is next-level.”
“The new store is amazing,” adds Melissa York, vice president of Marketing for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet. “We’re so happy for Dan and his team and what they were able to accomplish. The store really captures what an outdoor living space should be, and makes it easy for clients to envision their dream outdoor kitchens.”
|Bar stools are positioned around a demonstration area, ready for customers.|
Creating the Experience
Serving as Outdoor Room inspiration is an eye-catching vignette that takes center stage on the sales floor. The display features a pergola positioned over a bluestone “patio” and an L-shaped outdoor kitchen. The stone island with bar-height dining ledge is outfitted with a built-in DCS gas grill, Big Green Egg kamado, refrigerator, drop-in beverage cooler, keg refrigerator, and access doors.
A Summer Classics outdoor dining set and bar stools provide seating under the pergola and at the island. The space also features low-voltage lighting and several models of outdoor heaters. “We wanted it to look like you’re walking into a beautiful backyard,” says Marguerite.
Displays such as this have helped Marguerite’s store become a mecca for the Outdoor Room in the Chicago area. He leaves the design work to landscape architects and designers, but collaborates with many of the best in the area. These specifiers use the store as an idea showroom for their customers. Marguerite contributes advice, and sells grills and other outdoor kitchen equipment for many projects in both suburban backyards and downtown-Chicago high-rises.
The Outdoor Room category has been in steady growth mode for the retailer and, thanks to a mild winter, it started even earlier this year. “We’re seeing outdoor kitchens become more elaborate,” he says. “Today, it’s very common to include both a gas grill and a charcoal kamado, and we’re even getting more inquiries about Kalamazoo’s gaucho-style, live-fire grill. People want water-tight garbage units, and they’re interested in drop-in coolers. We now sell as many of them as refrigerators.”
As for island bases, Marguerite says modular outdoor kitchen cabinetry from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, Challenger Designs, and Napoleon, are popular in downtown rooftop installations where weight is an issue. “But in the suburbs,” he adds, “the majority of people want custom stone islands.”
He says the new, larger retail space will allow him to display more outdoor furniture – he carries a limited selection from Summer Classics – and he anticipates sales growth in that category.
|The store is stocked with some of the best brands of gas grills, pellet grills, kamados and smokers.|
While the Backyard Barbecue Store is where many in Chicagoland turn for $150 Weber Kettle grills, it is likewise the destination for outdoor appliances on the opposite end of the price continuum. Marguerite has dedicated a prominent corner of the store to the Big Green Egg, one of his perennial best sellers. The department features Eggs built into two different cart tables, as well as a full complement of the brands’ accessories. Marguerite also carries grills by Weber, DCS by Fisher & Paykel, Fire Magic, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, Modern Home Products, Good One Smokers, Memphis Pellet Grills, and Green Mountain Pellet Grills.
“I feel I have to cook on a grill first before I carry the brand and feel comfortable selling it,” he says. In fact, he cooks a lot. In addition to the grills he uses at the store, the retailer has three charcoal grills, a gas grill, and a pellet cooker in his backyard at home.
“Dan doesn’t carry 25 lines; he carries the brands he believes in and spotlights each,” says Curry. “He’s great to do business with.”
“Dan has been a strong partner to Kalamazoo for more than a decade,” adds York. “He really understands our brand and what makes our products distinctive.”
Four big-screen TVs are hung throughout the space, both as a suggested amenity for Outdoor Room customers, and so guests at private events can catch the latest sports action. The TVs are displayed through a cross-promotion partnership with the home-theater retailer down the block. Marguerite refers interested customers there, explaining that, “He’s the expert in that area; it’s not something I want to mess with.” One of the TVs is hung over a working stone fireplace that anchors a section of the store devoted to RH Peterson Co. gas logs and outfitted with comfortable patio seating.
To appeal to the growing number of customers interested in cooking over solid-fuel, Marguerite has added a “Charcoal Room” in the new store. It houses 10 varieties of charcoal, a huge selection of wood chunks and chips, and an arsenal of charcoal chimneys and other solid-fuel lighting products.
Since grilling pizza is very popular with his customers, there is a sizable freestanding display of pizza-making products, including pans, peels, cutters, and cookbooks, along with tabletop ovens and accessories to convert a kettle grill into a pizza oven. Wall-mounted, distressed-wood racks hold a large assortment of rubs, sauces, seasoning products, and barbecue cookbooks.
“We have so much more room here to display product, and now we can do it in creative ways,” says Marguerite. Case in point: Distressed wine barrels make clever merchandisers throughout the store, spotlighting sauces and accessory products. Low wooden tubs hold bags of smoking wood chips and other impulse items. A long, slim, wooden shelf suspended near the ceiling holds upscale Yeti Coolers, novelty tailgating grills that look like baseballs, footballs, basketballs and soccer balls, and portable Weber Q Grills in every available color, to maximize vertical display space.
Cooking at the (former) Carwash
Adjacent to a garage-door wall is an indoor grilling station for demos and classes. A DCS Liberty Grill – it does not have a hood, making the cooking surface visible from all sides – and a high-Btu sideburner are built into the stone island that sits beneath a commercial ventilation hood. The island is surrounded on three sides by a bar ledge and stools for class attendees to watch the action.
Another working outdoor kitchen, used for cooking classes, demos, and events, is located outside on a patio in front of the store. This area features two Big Green Eggs, a Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet Hybrid Grill, and a Kalamazoo Pizza Oven, all built into masonry islands. There is seating for 40 indoors, and with the garage doors open in warmer months, the out-front patio becomes overflow space during events.
Depending on the season, Marguerite currently offers between two and four classes a month at $50 each, and most sell out. He says Big Green Egg how-to classes are his most popular. Held quarterly, they cover how to light, manage the temperature, and cook using a variety of techniques on the ceramic kamado. He also hosts grilling classes on a wide range of other topics, including steaks, fish, pizza, and competition-style barbecue, as well as seasonal themes such as cooking the Thanksgiving turkey, and Mardi Gras grilling with étouffée and Bananas Foster.
“Dan is very knowledgeable about food and cooking,” says Curry. “He’s constantly experimenting and shares his knowledge with customers – everything from tips and techniques, to what kind of wood chips to use with specific foods.”
“We are excited that the larger space will allow us to hold more cooking classes, and events like NCAA March Madness parties, and other private parties,” Marguerite says. “We expect to do 150 events a year, including off-premise catering events. Now everyone who walks in the store wants to host a party here.”
Marguerite has plans to diversify even further to grow sales and boost revenue. He has obtained a liquor license, allowing him to serve beer and wine at classes and events, and has added a bar to the sales floor. He currently offers a selection of wines, as well as seven craft beers on tap, but soon hopes to add the Backyard Barbecue Store’s own signature brews to the rotating selection.
He has applied for licensing to open an on-site craft brewery and, once approved, will hire a brew master to handle those operations. “We’re about a year off, but it should really enhance the experience at the store,” he says. “What goes together better than barbecue and beer?”
With the brewery in place, he expects to bump up the number of craft beer dinners and wine-pairing events he holds at the store. “These non-instructional events have become really popular and we plan to expand those,” he says.
Behind the scenes is a prep kitchen anchored by a Cookshack pellet smoker, used to prepare barbecue for catering both on-site events and off-premise private parties. This summer he plans to start serving lunches in the store on weekends. “We’ll offer a simple menu with pulled pork, brisket, and other traditional barbecue items, along with grilled pizza from the Kalamazoo pizza oven,” he says.
Though the staff has expanded to 10 employees, Marguerite remains hands-on. He credits his wife Melissa for being a creative force behind the new store’s design and merchandising displays. And, when all-hands-on-deck mode is required for in-store events, Melissa, as well as the couple’s 24- and 26-year-old daughters, Emily and Madeline, pitch in to help.
“After 14 years, I still enjoy going to work,” Marguerite says. “The business is like the son I never had. I love it.”
Curry believes this big-thinker is only beginning to hit his stride. “Dan has incredible vision and has taken barbecue retailing to the next level,” she says. “You don’t see his innovation too often in specialty barbecue stores – or any retail store for that matter. I think we’re going to continue to see great things from him for a long time.”
Store Name: Backyard Barbecue Store
Location: 535 Green Bay Road, Wilmette Illinois
Owner: Dan Marguerite
Year Established: 2003
Web Site: www.backyardbbqstore.com
Phone: (847) 251-2272
Number of Stores: 1
Number of Employees:
Gross Annual Sales: N/A
Av. Sq. Ft. of Building Space: 5,000