World’s Largest Barbecue Store?
By Lisa Readie Mayer
There are retailers who are in the barbecue business, and there are retailers who are IN the barbecue business. There is no question Santos Grill Shop is IN the barbecue business.
The store has over 400 grills on display, with gas, charcoal, pellet, kamado, electric, and smoker models well represented. It offers an extensive selection of fuels, tools, accessories, ingredients, and other gear, as well as a roster of services such as grill cleaning, maintenance, repair, and rentals.
There is a cooking school with a packed calendar of grilling classes, and another large, dedicated space for hosting private parties, corporate events, and team-building workshops. The staff of 54 is made up of passionate and experienced barbecue enthusiasts who are eager to help customers select the right equipment and learn how to use it.
Santos Grill Shop bills itself as the world’s largest barbecue store, and although other retailers also claim to hold that title, there is no disputing this is one big, bad barbecue business.
Oh, and one more thing: Santos Grill Shop is located in Cologne, Germany.
How such a place came to be in a country known more for the bratwurst cooked on grills than the grills themselves, is an interesting story. In 2005, Rui Santos was interested in buying a gas grill, but was dissatisfied with the selection of barbecue equipment available in Germany. He took matters into his own hands and founded Santos Grill Shop later that year. (In late 2016, Daniel Schellhoss, a self-described serial entrepreneur who sold his former IT business to Bosch, joined Santos as a shareholder, co-CEO and managing director.)
|L to R: Daniel Schellhoss, Rui Santos, the two owners and managing directors of Santos.|
Initially, Santos operated a very small retail store and online business, selling only a few gas grills. He visited barbecue stores in the United States, and attended HPBExpos; in Europe he attended Spoga trade shows – something he and Schellhoss continue to do – to learn more about outdoor cooking products, get ideas, and meet vendors.
By 2011, the business had outgrown its space, so Santos relocated to a former industrial ironworks facility with several buildings on the premises. One building holds the 20,000-sq.ft. retail shop; another serves as a warehouse. Two other buildings are used for the barbecue school called Santos 800, and an event location, known as Santos B3. The old structures were completely renovated to serve the burgeoning business, but still retain the original exposed-brick walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, open ductwork, and other industrial design elements.
The enterprise is entirely devoted to barbecue. The over 400 grills in the showroom run the gamut of grilling techniques, fuels, sizes, and price points. European and American brands are well represented, including Weber, Napoleon, Broil King, Sunstone, Fire Magic, Cadac, Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, Monolith, Traeger, and more. The company also has its own branded line of Santos gas grills, available in three models. The line, produced in Asia, is sold at “very attractive price points,” according to Schellhoss. “We carry all the leading brands that are relevant for the German market. We always look for new trends and brands, and very often, we are the first to introduce them to Germany.”
Schellhoss points out that, while Germans have traditionally preferred charcoal grilling, interest in gas is gaining in popularity. “Today, we sell many more gas grills than charcoal,” he says. Kamados, too, are a growing trend in Germany, according to Schellhoss, and the category is very popular in the store. He notes that unit sales of smokers and pellet grills are still small, but increasing fast.
“The trends are coming from North America to Germany,” he explains. “We have the mainstream customers who saw a gas grill at the neighbor’s place and want to have one too. We also have the barbecue experts and enthusiasts looking for their second or third grill to do traditional barbecuing, smoking, and other techniques.”
|Santos showroom with gas grills.|
In addition to grills, Santos Grill Shop carries a wide selection of grilling tools, accessories, spices, rubs, sauces, cookbooks, charcoal, pellets, wood chips, and chunks. The retailer handles American and European accessory brands, as well as a number of products under their own Santos brand. “We are the market leader in Germany with our pizza stone accessories, and our Santos barbecue thermometer with built-in radio,” says Schellhoss. “We also have our own branded Dutch ovens and other cast-iron barbecue accessories. Cast iron is a big trend in Germany.”
One U.S. trend that has not yet had much of an impact is outdoor kitchens, but even that category appears to be gaining some traction. Schellhoss says 99% of the grills they sell are freestanding units on carts, but recently they have sold a number of outdoor kitchens with built-in grills for high-end homes in Germany.
He notes that, as in the U.S., customers who buy outdoor kitchens often include both charcoal and gas grills. “People travel to places like Florida and see outdoor kitchens there and like the idea, although the weather in Germany is not that great,” he says.
The store’s barbecue school has been a huge success and major revenue-generator for the business. Nearly 40,000 people attended classes in 2017, according to Schellhoss. They offer 15 different courses, usually three daily on weekdays, and six classes every Saturday and Sunday. Class topics include Beginner Basics, Burgers, Steaks, Fish, Smoking, Appetizers, Christmas Dinner, and others. The courses are taught by staff members, all of whom are trained chefs, but the store also has welcomed special guest instructors, including television celebrity-barbecuer DivaQ from Canada. Each four-hour, paid class includes all food and drinks.
Santos Grill Shop offers corporate team-building classes, client-appreciation events, and other business entertaining for up to 500 attendees in a dedicated event venue. The space has also hosted numerous birthday parties, weddings, and other private functions since opening last year. All events revolve around barbecue.
If the group is small, the event might include a hands-on instructional class with dinner served afterward. If the group is large, there might be a demonstration class conducted by Santos chefs, with a barbecue buffet to follow. Schellhoss says, “At these events, the question most frequently asked of the chefs is, ‘Why does the steak look and taste like charcoal when I do it at home, and not when you do it?’”
|Santos 800 barbecue school and event location.|
The store benefits from a robust marketing effort, consisting of print ads in local magazines and in-flight magazines for all German airlines; TV spots; and social-media campaigns (they have 50,000 Facebook followers). Word-of-mouth referrals from one customer to another is an important part of the marketing mix.
The store is known for creating experiences that draw customers. Schellhoss says they expect 3,000 customers to attend their annual season-kick-off event on March 17. Last year, Santos’ daylong “Sommerfest,” held with the support of some of its bigger vendors, featured music, grilling demonstrations, competitions, and amazing food; it drew 1,200 paying guests.
This month, to build on the momentum, the retailers have opened the Santos Grillpark. The idea, according to Schellhoss is that, every Saturday, and Thursday evenings, customers will have the opportunity to bring their own food and cook it on any or all of the charcoal, gas and electric grills in the Grillpark, with Santos professionals on hand to offer guidance, instruction and advice.
“Usually potential customers surf the web and read reviews online in order to find out which barbecue to purchase,” explains Schellhoss. “In our store we already offer the chance to touch and feel 400-plus different grills. This year, we go one step further to help customers find out which grill is the right one for them. It’s like a test drive.”
Customer service is clearly at the heart of this operation. In addition to the Grillpark, and other customer support available in-store, via telephone hotline, and by email, Santos Grill Shop launched its own YouTube channel this year. It features instructional videos on how to install a gas grill, maintain a grill, and a host of other topics. “We are honest and really customer-service oriented, and we do a good job,” says Schellhoss. “We are respected as a trusted advisor, and customers know we will not rip them off. That is important to people in Germany.”
So important, in fact, that the store has become a legitimate destination experience. “People come from everywhere in Germany, and even abroad, to visit us,” Schellhoss says. “We have customers driving 200 miles one way to visit our store, take a barbecue class, and spend the rest of the weekend in Cologne, which is a nice city in Germany.” The store even tries to assist visiting customers who are traveling a distance, by listing nearby hotels and tourist attractions on its website.
“We have customers taking a day off to visit us,” he continues. “They spend the whole day here, take photos of our store, and work with a consultant to help find the right barbecue equipment for them. In Germany, the grill purchase is very much about quality, the emotions, and the experience. In U.S. stores, the approach seems to be more pragmatic; it’s more about selling the barbecue equipment.”
It seems they are on to something. Santos Grill Shop enjoyed 15% growth in 2017; Schellhoss predicts continued in-store and online sales gains this year. He and Santos are interested in opening stores in other cities, and are even considering franchising the concept.
Interest in grilling and barbecuing has clearly gone global, and Santos Grill Shop seems to have mastered the secret sauce.
Store Name: Santos Grill Shop
Address: Cologne, Germany
Owners: Rui Santos, Daniel Schellhoss
Year Established: 2005
Web Site: santosgrills.de
Phone: +49 221 – 630 722 147
Number of Stores: 1
Number of Employees: 54
Gross Annual Sales: “We do not disclose that number. We grew 15% in 2017, and we are very profitable.”
Sq. Ft. of Building Space: 20,000 retail, plus warehouse, cooking school and event space
Lines Carried: Santos Grills, Weber (World Partner), Napoleon (Diamond Dealer), Broil King, Fire Magic, Sunstone, Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, Monolith, Brennwagen, Rumo BBQ, Traeger, and more