February News: BBQ, Big Bucks & Bling
By Lisa Readie Mayer
Photos Courtesy: ©2018 Cowboy Charcoal.
Step aside guys. Gals are getting a lot more comfortable cooking on the grill. In fact, a recent Weber GrillWatch Survey showed a 25% increase in women manning the family barbecue. But it’s not just in the backyard where women are taking over the tongs. Women are increasingly leading teams as head pitmasters on the barbecue competition circuit.
One of them is Shannon Turner. After getting a peek into the world of competition barbecue while she and husband Brian helped out on a friend’s team, Shannon decided to start her own team about four years ago. On team Muttley Crew BBQ, named for the couple’s assemblage of six rescue dogs, Shannon takes the lead as pitmaster, while Brian plays a supporting role. Encouraged by a few top-10 finishes in some of the four competition categories – chicken, ribs, pork and brisket – in their first year on the circuit, the team was hooked.
Today, the duo from Apex, North Carolina, competes in about 25 Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS)-sanctioned contests a year, mostly in the Southeast. Shannon, who works in regulatory affairs at a pharmaceutical company during the week, cooks on a Stump’s Smokers gravity-feed smoker, fueled by charcoal and either hickory or apple wood chunks. She says the smoker’s gravity-feed design produces consistent results without constant monitoring, so while other teams are awake all night tending to their cookers, she can sleep.
|Shannon Turner’s winning steak dish on display.|
In 2017, Shannon says, something seemed to click, and the team’s barbecue “started tasting really good.” Muttley Crew BBQ’s first major victory was at the Festival of Discovery barbecue competition in Greenwood, South Carolina, last July, where they bested 90 teams to be named Grand Champion and take home the $3,000 purse. The team went on to win two more Grand Championships and three Reserve Grand Championships throughout the remainder of the summer and fall.
Shannon’s successful finishes accrued enough KCBS points to land her among the country’s top 10 women’s teams, and earn a spot at the second-annual Cowboy Charcoal Fire & Ice Women’s Championship Barbeque Series during the World Food Championships last November. The all-female competition was launched by Cowboy Charcoal, a leading brand of natural, hardwood-lump charcoal now owned by Duraflame, in conjunction with KCBS, to spotlight some of the country’s top women pitmasters and to fill a gap in the male-dominated sport of competitive barbecue.
“I was not able to have any men on my team at Fire & Ice,” recalls Shannon, “so my husband could not participate.” Instead, she enlisted her sister, Michelle Jordy, to help. “This was the first time my sister had ever competed. She had come to a couple of contests before, but it was more of a social thing.” Despite never having cooked together, and a case of the jitters for Michelle, the sisters pulled off an impressive entry for the first leg of the competition, the Fire & Ice Grilling Challenge.
Shannon prepared charcoal-grilled filet mignon cuts of wagyu beef topped with a composite butter made with chives, blue cheese and garlic. The steak was accompanied by grilled hasselback potatoes with blue cheese and pepper jelly, and grilled asparagus with a splash of white balsamic vinegar. The dish was awarded points by a panel of judges based on execution, appearance and taste.
|$3,000 “Fire & Ice” diamond pendant.|
For the second part the women’s contest, Shannon competed in the World Food Championship’s traditional KCBS-style barbecue competition, where her entries in the chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket categories were judged on appearance, taste and tenderness. When the total points from the two portions of the competition were tallied, Shannon had earned bragging rights to the title of best female pitmaster, as well as some very nice prizes.
She took home $4,000 in cash, a $3,000-value “Fire & Ice” diamond pendant, and a $2,000 gift certificate to redeem for more diamond jewelry. “I traded in the diamond studs I won last year for my eighth-place finish at Fire & Ice, and majorly upgraded,” Shannon says with a chuckle.
Tina Cannon of The Pit Crew BBQ took second place, and Candy Weaver of BBQr’s Delight took third place in the competition.
“It is truly phenomenal to see the level of creativity, planning and precision that goes into each and every dish,” says Chris Caron, chief operating officer of Duraflame. “Shannon Turner is a fierce competitor, and we were so proud to name her the winner of (our 2017) competition. We hope that Shannon, alongside the other amazing women in this series, will continue to inspire female and male pitmasters alike to join the competition circuit, and take their talents to the next level.”
Shannon expects to compete in 20 to 25 competitions this year, including the prestigious American Royal contest, a first for her team. “I love this hobby,” she says. “It’s given me an opportunity to travel to different places, meet wonderful people, and it’s great for a husband and wife to do together.”
To fan the growing interest among women in both home-grilling and competition barbecue, retailers should strive to be a supportive and educational resource. You might offer women’s-only barbecue classes, and ladies-night events with grilling demos, equipment try-outs, tasting samples and wine. If there is interest in competitive barbecuing among your female customers, consider hosting a workshop with an experienced woman pitmaster, such as Shannon Turner. KCBS is a good resource to help identify women pitmasters in your area. You might even host a small-scale women’s-only grilling or barbecue competition for customers.
“There are definitely more women pitmasters now,” Shannon says. “We keep our eye on the details, and are a supportive group that’s always willing to help each other. We are a force to be reckoned with on the competition circuit.”
|Note that each step leading to the spa is of a different shade of Trex product.|
Show & Sell
By Richard Wright
Photos Courtesy: ©2018 Sacramento Bee.
Build it and they will come (customers, that is).
Back in May we spoke with Buzz Homsy (owner of five California Backyard stores in the Greater Sacramento area, one Nevada Backyard store in Reno, plus management of the huge Casual Classics buying group) about a vignette that had been erected in one of his stores (see “Vignette with Variety,” Hearth & Home, July 2017, page 86).
Inspiration for the vignette actually came from Homsy’s nephew, David Ghiz, owner of Imagine Backyard Living in Scottsdale, Arizona, a store with six gorgeous vignettes built by a local landscaper (see “Re-imagining Retail,” Hearth & Home, July 2017, page 68).
Homsy mentioned the vignettes to his landscaper, Mark Chester of Capital Landscape in Sacramento, who visited Ghiz, loved the vignettes, and returned to Sacramento with excitement in his eyes and a desire to create such a vignette in Homsy’s store.
If this were a basketball game it would be Homsy to Chester to Ghiz, back to Chester to Homsy. Got it?
The concept was to show customers how much could be done in a relatively small amount of space – in this case, 959 sq. ft. Within that space, Homsy and Chester put in a Jacuzzi spa, a burlwood counter for dining, an outdoor fireplace, a barbecue and island, bar-height chairs, a pergola with a deep-seating sofa, a portable fire pit, low-voltage lighting, live plants, a putting green, a stone planter, a water element, and an outdoor fan.
At the end of the July article in Hearth & Home, we promised to return to Homsy when the season was over to see how well the vignette had performed.
Hearth & Home: OK, Buzz, tell us how well the vignette did in selling product.
Buzz Homsy: “Fantastic! Mark Chester of Capital Landscape had invested $58,000 in creating it, and the last time I talked to him he had sold in excess of $250,000 worth of contracts to people who have small homes and saw that they could do a compact job in a small backyard. Half of them bought a Jacuzzi hot tub, and the other half just went for some of the beautiful things that Mark put in the vignette. So he is smiling.”
That’s pretty darn impressive, isn’t it?
Homsy: “Yes it is. On the other hand, Mark has advertised in home magazines in this market for 39 years, so from my standpoint, we got a flow of people that perhaps would not have come to us. They came just to see the display. I can’t trace that to actual sales because of weather and a late start here.
“I think we’re maybe up 2.5% over the prior year, but our hot tub business is three times what it was last year. Plus we can’t build outdoor kitchens fast enough. We’re still out seven weeks, and during the season we had to go to 12-week delivery. Our grill business is up 13.5%.”
How did you work the financial end with Chester? Did you get a cut out of what he sold?
Homsy: “Our people got a commission for qualifying the customers who came in; I think it was something like $250 for qualified leads. Then Mark made the profit on what he sold.”
So your store didn’t make money from sales of products brought in by the landscaper?
Homsy: “No, We did it mainly for sales of hot tubs.”
Well, that’s a nice big-ticket item that doesn’t take a lot of unit sales to show a decent profit.
Homsy: “You got that right, and it keeps the salespeople happy and content.”
Do you find that there is much service work to do with spas?
Homsy: “Yes, there is. Despite the education we give the customer at start-up, there are a lot of blank spots. Of course, we have our own service company that will go out during warranty, and also on service calls to help people.”
|The burlwood counter for dining with bar-height chairs overlooking the spa.|
That’s absolutely good news; a little advertising, a good display and sales will follow. There’s no magic to it.
Homsy: “No, in order to provide separation between ourselves and the competition – in addition to providing quality service – we put customers in a mood setting around what we’re trying to sell, whether it be a trellis, a gazebo, or a backdrop of a circulating waterfall. It’s necessary to have the whammy when they come in the store.
“Brick and mortar is tough, especially with the furniture stores trying to get into the (patio furniture) category, which I think has cooled off some, but it’s still there.”
No doubt the furniture stores remain competition, but, in my view, the larger competition comes with manufacturers doing a lot of business through Internet sellers. That’s almost impossible competition to go up against, isn’t it?
Homsy: “Absolutely! It’s terrible. We really have no idea what we are losing, especially to the younger folks. They don’t shop anymore. They are on their cell phone or they’re Googling something. If they find something that is within 5% of another price, they order it – and we’re done, we’re finished.
“But we use the Internet to our advantage. ‘Have you been on line?’ is part of our initial presentation and used to qualify our potential customers. That is where product training comes in. There is no substitute for touch and feel, especially of the comfort ride our furniture gives to people. We appeal to the senses on the spot.
“This is also where our Casual Classics-branded furniture works well since it cannot be shopped on the web, and our retail prices of the line compete favorably with web prices. So the Internet is a qualifying tool that launches our presentation, and we win in the majority of the cases.”