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Hearth & Home April 2017

Culinary-inspired concert by Gourmet Symphony in Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.
Photo Courtesy: ©2017 Gourmet Symphony.

Some Things New

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Want to attract more customers to your store? Here’s a dozen creative ideas to help you grow your barbecue business.

“Try, try, try…just a little bit harder …”

— Janis Joplin

Charles Kettering, an engineer, inventor, holder of 186 patents, and the director of research at General Motors for nearly three decades, wisely said, “People are very open-minded about new things as long as they’re exactly like the old ones.”

He’s got a point. Our intentions are good; we come home from trade shows reenergized with lots of new ideas to grow sales, but then life gets in the way. Implementing those new ideas gets put on the backburner as focus shifts to putting out fires and getting through the week. It’s easier to stick with marketing promotions that are tried-and-true – or none at all – because it’s “what we’ve always done” and “it’s always worked before.”

But getting new customers in the door is more important – and more difficult – than ever for brick-and-mortar retailers in today’s competitive climate. Sometimes it takes shaking things up with new and different marketing promotions to increase traffic and jump-start sales.

We’ve compiled practical, easy-to-implement, tested marketing ideas from retailers all across the U.S. Some are in the barbecue business and some are not, but all concepts could be applied to retailers of grills and Outdoor Room products.

These creative new approaches might just help you connect with a broader audience, grow your customer base, and increase sales. Some might be worth a try, because, in other often-quoted words – these from renowned UCLA basketball coach John Wooden – “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.”

Make Music

As part of its community outreach programs, bookseller Barnes & Noble regularly invites local elementary, middle school and high school bands to perform at stores, and donates a portion of purchases during the event to the group. Furniture retailer Raymour & Flanigan offers a similar program, and even serves refreshments during the concerts. Gourmet grocery chain Central Market, with nine stores in Texas, takes it a step further, hosting live music in their stores every Thursday through Sunday with performers ranging from school marching bands and youth orchestras, to professional musicians in every genre from jazz to Big Band to Brazilian to country.

Not only do these concerts create a fun experience for shoppers in the retailers’ stores, they pack the house with band members’ parents, relatives and other supporters who buy merchandise.

Groupmuse in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Photo Courtesy: ©2017 Groupmuse. Jill Wheeler.

Professional classical musicians also are looking for alternative performance venues in an effort to ditch their stuffy reputation and gain a broader, younger audience to offset an aging and declining fan base.

Groupmuse ( is a growing, Uber-like, online platform that links classical performers with people who wish to host small, pop-up concerts in their living rooms. Interested attendees learn about the event and the location via the app and pay $10 each for the show; proceeds are turned over to the musicians.

In the Washington D.C. area, Gourmet Symphony ( brings classical musicians to restaurants, backyards, living rooms and other non- traditional locations for intimate live performances that combine music, food and wine in a relaxed atmosphere. The idea is catching on in other communities.

Music is a natural fit for barbecue retailers. Consider hosting a school band or youth orchestra for a fundraising event. Try an after-hours pop-up concert at your store with a local bluegrass, country or rock band; demo your grills and serve samples during breaks between sets. Or consider hosting a “‘Que and a Concert” cooking class with a classical music performance. These innovative events could open up a whole new audience for both retailers and musicians.

Be a CSA Pick-Up Point

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a type of farming where consumers buy “shares” to help support a local farm, and in return, receive a portion of the harvest during the growing season. As the farm-to-table movement surges and fuels consumers’ desire to have a connection to the growers and makers of their food, the CSA concept has grown to over 6,000 farms in the U.S., according to

Your store could be a pick-up point for a CSA, bringing in hundreds of new customers each week to get their boxes of produce. California retailer Miner’s Ace Hardware is such a location for Talley Farms CSA and has seen weekly foot traffic soar at its seven locations.

You could merchandise the pick-up area with skewers, cedar planks, perforated grilling racks, seasonings, and even cookbooks on grilling vegetables, such as “The Gardener & The Grill” by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig. Conduct demos on pick-up day to give customers recipes and ideas for grilling or smoking the produce in that week’s box. Further connect with the group by offering exclusive cooking classes for CSA members. For a list of CSA farms near you visit

Create a Meetup Group

“Meetup” is an online platform that connects people with others in their area who share a common interest, goal or cause, so they can get together, in person, to do what they love to do. The concept is similar to a book club, but for lots of different interests and topics. There are currently 29 million Meetup members who belong to 263,000 groups, created around specific interests as varied and wide-ranging as skiing, marathon training, yoga, professional networking, craft beer tasting, vegan cooking, playwriting, and dining out for brunch or brick-oven pizza.

Creating a Meetup group around an interest in traditional low-and-slow barbecue, grilling, smoking, live-fire cooking, or competitive barbecuing would be a great way to connect with a highly targeted community of potential customers. Your store’s Outdoor Room display or cooking class area would make an ideal location for the meetings, and your outdoor cooking expertise makes you an ideal host.

It’s easy to start; go to to search for any related groups that might already exist in your area, and for instructions on creating your own group. Group organizers must have a Meetup subscription (usually around $12 per month). Depending on the activity or the expenses involved in group meetings, organizers may charge a fee to attend; others are free.

You determine the meeting schedule – weekly, monthly or whatever works best – and choose whether the session is run like a cooking class, or is more of a gathering to cook together and share ideas and techniques to learn from one another. Either way it could lead to more customers and sales.

Going to the Dogs!

Americans are unabashedly devoted to their pets. They spent more than $62 billion on them last year, a figure that has grown annually since 1994, according to the American Pet Products Association. People are buying everything from designer doggie sweaters to organic shampoo products to luxurious daycare and spa treatments, and they are increasingly seeking out better-quality, all-natural, GMO-free, nutritionally sound food for their furry family members.

Tap into this high-spending crowd by hosting a monthly “Yappy Hour” at your store. Attendees can bring their leashed dogs and relax in your Outdoor Room display, while you conduct a demo grilling class on dog-appropriate grilled foods, and share hot-off-the-grill treats for canines and their humans.

Add a do-good element and collect donations of money, canned dog food, and old blankets, towels and sheets for a local animal shelter. Promote the event through your own website and social media, ask the shelter organization to promote it, and seek out local television and newspaper publicity before and after the event.

S’more, Please!

Tie in with Girl Scout Cookie sales season (March) or National S’mores Day (yes, there is such a thing; this year it’s August 10), and hold a S’mores Benefit Cookoff for local Girl Scout troops, their families, and community members. This year, the Girl Scouts of America is introducing a new s’mores-inspired cookie, so local troops would probably be eager to tie in with you to help promote the new flavor and kick-off cookie sales.

The BBQ Equipment Store in Hampstead, Maryland, invites local Girl Scout Troop 10205 to set up a stand outside the store.

You benefit by bringing a new group of potential customers to your store (where kids go, so go their parents), and having an opportunity to spotlight your charcoal grills, fire pits and accessories.

In addition, a s’mores contest would be a relatively easy and inexpensive way to get your feet wet in hosting a competition event, and is a fun, community-oriented promotion that might garner some local publicity. Host one contest for girls and a separate one for adults (troop leaders, parents, customers, the mayor, local officials, area business owners).

Contestants prepare their s’mores at the event, and judges (a local bakery owner, restaurant pastry chef, newspaper food editor, Girl Scout Council executive) select the winners in several categories, such as best classic s’more, most unusual, most gourmet, etc. Give each Scout participant a Girl Scout S’mores “Fun Patch” ($2.50 per patch on; award prizes to the winners in each category (gift certificates to your store for adult winners); and/or make a donation to the local Girl Scout council or the winning girl’s troop.

Steve Rogers of The BBQ Equipment Store in Hampstead, Maryland, invites local Girl Scouts to set up a stand outside his store to sell cookies every year. You could do this for several weekends leading up to the contest, rotating different troops each weekend, to build excitement for the contest.

Hold an Event at an Odd Hour

Colleges pack their arenas for “Midnight Madness” events to kick off the ceremonial start to NCAA basketball season. A New Jersey pub opens at 9 am for a watch party with Bloody Marys and breakfast food for the annual NFL football game broadcast from England’s Wembley Stadium. A retail store holds a “Moonlight Madness” event with special pricing and appetizers from 6 pm to midnight one night during the holiday shopping season. The common denominator: These events are held at odd hours, making them unexpected, different and fun.

Barbecue retailers could hold a customer-appreciation “Summer Solstice Event,” starting (or ending) at midnight on the first day of summer (this year it’s Wednesday, June 21). Set up a tent in the parking lot, conduct demos, ask VIP customers to grill their favorite appetizer to share, offer promotional pricing on accessory products, have prizes or giveaways and encourage customers to bring a friend.

Tours and Tie-ins

Premium appliance dealer Pirch holds “Sourcing Saturdays,” a cooking class that starts out by sourcing fresh organic produce at a local farmer’s market, and then finishes with a class at the store where attendees learn “what to look, feel, shop, and taste for” when selecting fresh produce, and how to prepare a farm-to-table feast with the bounty.

Steak class at The Backyard Barbecue Store in Wilmette, Illinois.

Barbecue retailers could host a guided group outing at a local farm, farmer’s market, commercial fishery, or butcher shop, for part one of the class, then return to the store for a grilling lesson. Or follow the lead of Dan Marguerite, owner of The Backyard Barbecue Store in Wilmette, Illinois, and invite the expert to your store to co-teach the class.

During his “Steak Class,” Dan’s local butcher discusses different cuts of steak and butchering techniques, followed by a lesson from the grill chef on how to best cook each cut. Other experts to partner with might include a local artisan cheese maker, craft brewing company, a winery, distillery, or cigar store. Both partners should promote the event to their customers, doubling the impact of their marketing efforts.

Create an Attraction

New England-based Jordan’s Furniture is a purveyor of fun experiences, along with sofas and bedroom sets. Each of the chain’s six locations offers an added attraction, ranging from the relatively simple – a made-to-order, old-fashioned doughnut counter, and a holiday enchanted village display – to the extreme – an IMAX theater and an indoor-adventure ropes course. The goal of each attraction is to help draw customers in and keep them shopping longer.

Department store Macy’s employs the same concept with its annual Flower Show at its New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco locations. The elaborate, themed floral displays boost store traffic and sales significantly during the two-week show period.

Hearth and barbecue retailer Gary Bertassi, owner of Grillers Hall of Flame in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts, has a year-round “Barbecue Museum” in his store that displays a collection of antique and unusual grills, vintage grilling accessories, and other barbecue-related memorabilia. The attraction has received considerable publicity and is fun for customers to check out what’s new in the rotating collection.

Barbecue museum at Grillers Hall of Flame in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts.
Photo: ©2017 Stephanie Pierce Photography.

Do you have an unusual collection of your own to display? Or could you partner with the local historical society to host an exhibit of historical photos or vintage sports memorabilia from the hometown team? Or could you invite the local garden club to create a springtime floral show in your Outdoor Room display and hold their annual plant sale in your parking lot? The goal is to create an “attraction” to help your store become a destination stop, increase traffic, and keep customers lingering once they’re there.

Atypical Traffic Builders

Sonic, a fast-food drive-in chain with roller-skating carhops, prides itself on being “pioneers of the atypical.” It created a “Happy Hour” to help fill the lull between the lunch and dinner rush, offering half-price drinks and slushies, and 99-cent snack-sized items from 2 to 4 pm, attracting after-school snackers and folks looking for an afternoon caffeine fix.

Sonic also added an unusual item to its menu – large bags of ice. What a smart and innovative idea; Sonic already has ice for beverages, so selling it in bags is an easy, high-margin menu extension. Being able to order bags of ice at the drive-through or drive-in is convenient for customers, who often order a burger or a milkshake while they’re there, further boosting sales.

How could your store be a “pioneer of the atypical” by offering an unusual product, a value-added convenience, or an off-beat promotion?

Turn Gifts into Gold

At holiday time, set up a stocking-stuffer station with a selection of sauces, rubs, gadgets, thermometers, smoker boxes, wood chips and other appropriate stocking-sized items. Display larger gift items as well, including cookbooks, grilling accessories, rotisserie kits, aprons, and barbecue gloves, as well as bags of “coal” for those on the naughty list.

Place big red bows on smokers, kamados, pellet grills, and tailgating grills on your sales floor to remind shoppers they make excellent gifts. Add an incentive to gift card purchases by rewarding gift card buyers with their own certificate or special offer to be redeemed in January. Offer the convenience of on-the-spot, free gift wrapping.

A customer buying a grill at Hartville Hardware in Ohio receives a discount card good for 10% off accessory purchases.

Pop-up Shops

Consumers – in particular, Millennials – have a growing desire to know where, how and by whom the products they buy are made. Respond to that interest and attract Millennial customers by sourcing locally made products, such as small-batch bottled rubs and sauces; cooking woods from nearby orchards or farms; and local-artisan-made fire pits, outdoor furniture, and garden sculptures.

Display them in a “pop-up shop,” kiosk, or other designated area within your store, and include information about the people and story behind each brand. Ask these vendors to feature your store on their website and in marketing efforts, to expand awareness about your products and services to their customer base.

Millennial-targeted furniture retailer West Elm does this effectively, custom-curating products from artists and artisansnear each of its 70 stores through its “West Elm Local” program. Some locations even invite non-profit groups to display and sell handmade products in-store as a fundraiser.

For instance, West Elm in Red Bank, New Jersey, periodically hosts Oasis TLC, a school and residential program for autistic young adults, for a fundraiser sale of the students’ paintings, handmade soaps and handwoven tote bags. The non-profit organization, in return, promotes the event to their supporters, and community- minded West Elm gets free publicity and new customers.

Keep Them Coming Back

When a customer buys a grill at Hartville Hardware in Ohio, they receive a discount card good for 10% off accessory purchases for an entire year. The offer has been very successful at bringing customers back into the store, according to seasonal manager Steve McMillen. Since the program was implemented, accessory sales are up over 12%.

More Stories in this Issue

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In Praise of Innovation

On Friday, March 3, the 17th Annual Vesta Awards were held at Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. As usual, the event began with a wine reception sponsored by Schott Robax.

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Success Story

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2017 February Business Climate

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