It's Party Time!
By Lisa Readie Mayer
Break out the balloons, fire up the charcoal, and crack open your best bottle of barbecue sauce – it’s National Barbecue Month!
Decades ago, the Barbecue Industry Association, the trade organization that later teamed up with the hearth and patio trade groups to become the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), petitioned Congress to declare the month of May “National Barbecue Month” to formally kick off the peak grilling “season.” Although, a lot has changed since then – including the notion that there even is a barbecue “season” (we all know people cook outdoors year-round) – the event is still celebrated annually. Not that barbecuers, or barbecue retailers, for that matter, ever need an excuse to party, but since there is a legitimate reason, you might as well get onboard, get in on the fun, and use the occasion to create excitement and boost sales in your stores.
We’ve compiled a list of 31 marketing promotions, activities, events, social media post suggestions, and other ideas to celebrate National Barbecue Month – one for every day on the May calendar. Pick a few that you think might appeal to your customers, or implement them all. With a little planning and effort, the ideas on this list might just get customers in the door, increase sales, and build excitement that will last the rest of the year.
Woody Pro by Great Scrape.
1. Just like fire-safety groups encourage changing home smoke detector batteries when the clocks change, barbecue retailers should get behind a “Change Your Grill Brush” campaign during National Barbecue Month. It’s a good chance to remind consumers about grill-brush safety, and an opportunity to introduce new alternative products for grid scraping and cleaning.
“Make the analogy to changing a toothbrush or smoke detector battery,” suggests Ben Street, brand manager for Broil King. “In addition to grill-safety issues, there is the fact that the grill brush touches the grill surface, and we eat food from that grill surface. It can get gross.” Create a #ChangeYourGrillBrush hashtag and promote it on social media. Build a prominent grill-cleaning products display in your store. If you can get customers to come back into the store to buy a new brush or other grid cleaner every May, who knows what else they might buy while they’re there!
Backyard Barbecue Store, Wilmette, Illinois.
Photo: ©2018 Karen I. Hirsch Photography. www.karenihirsch.com.
2. A 2018 survey for Slickdeals found that food tops the list of impulse purchases for 71% of U.S. adults of all ages. The same study revealed that Americans make an average of 156 impulse purchases every year. With that in mind, display barbecue sauces, rubs, seasonings, and specialty food products prominently near the check-out counter and feature them in store demos and cooking classes.
3. According to the HPBA’s research, one of the biggest difficulties home grillers face is determining when food is done. One way to ensure meat is cooked to the optimal temperature – and prevent wasting money by ruining an expensive cut – is to use a grill thermometer. This month, promote thermometers – from basic instant-reads to high-tech, Bluetooth-enabled, remote digital devices – in your store. Address customers’ timing concerns, incorporate thermometers in grill demos, cooking classes, and on social media posts, and teach people how to use them.
Partner with an animal shelter.
4. Encourage people in the community to visit your store to drop off pet food, pet toys, blankets, sheets, and towels for the local animal shelter. If you have a large parking lot, you could even invite the shelter to hold an adoption event in conjunction with your fundraiser. Send a press release with info about the event to the local newspaper, radio, and television stations, and community bloggers, to publicize the event, and ask the animal shelter to promote it on their website and social media.
5. May 5 is Cinco de Mayo, a day that commemorates the Mexican Army’s unexpected victory over the French in the 1862 Battle of Puebla. Although it’s not widely celebrated in Mexico, it’s a big deal in the U.S. This year it falls on a Saturday, making it the perfect opportunity for holding a fiesta at your store. Make it part of your regular Saturday demo, or hold it one evening as an invite-only customer appreciation event.
6. Grill dishes such as fajitas, quesadillas, jalapeño poppers, and black beans and rice using accessories such as griddles, cast-iron skillets, pepper roasters, Dutch ovens, and seasonings. Rent a frozen margarita machine and play mariachi music to add to the fun.
Doug Sanicola (middle) promoting an Outdoor Elegance Thanksgrilling event with a local radio station.
7. National Barbecue Month is an ideal news “hook” to generate local television, radio, and newspaper coverage. Email the newspaper food editor, TV assignment editor, or radio host or producer to propose “What’s New in Barbecue” segments where you could be interviewed as a barbecue “expert” to discuss the latest grills and accessories; provide grill-cleaning and maintenance tips to get ready for summer; demonstrate new recipes and techniques; or discuss the growing popularity of outdoor kitchens and Outdoor Rooms.
Cosmopolitan by Sunset Bay Outdoor.
8. Pinterest-inspired Do-it-Yourself weekend projects are trending. Offer DIY kits for building fire pits, outdoor serving islands, pergolas, raised herb garden planters, and other relatively simple projects. One example is the “DIY Outdoor Kitchen Kit,” from BBQ Coach. The compact box includes all the sections of steel framework needed to assemble a four-foot prep and serving island. The pieces easily screw together to form the island framework; then DIYers add fiber-cement board and veneer of their choice purchased from any home-improvement store. Host free DIY classes or info sessions to inspire your customers and/or guide them on assembly.
The PT-60 by Maverick Industries.
9. According to a J.D. Power study, much of the smart-technology in today’s cars goes unused because car owners don’t know how to use it. The same could probably be said for smart barbecue grills and app-enabled, remote, digital thermometers. Though in theory they aim to make grilling easy and foolproof, in reality these products can be confusing and intimidating, especially for Baby Boomers, for whom technology is not as intuitive as it is for younger generations.
Take a cue from Quirk Ford, a dealership in Quincy, Massachusetts, that hires high-school kids to teach customers about the high-tech features in their newly purchased vehicles. You probably don’t need a team of teenagers, but if you sell smart grills and thermometers, consider holding a Tech Session this month to teach customers how to use their smart grills and thermometers, and download the apps. The more comfortable customers are with their smart grills and accessories, the more they’ll use them and the more satisfied they will be.
10. National Shrimp Day (May 10) – use social media to promote this food holiday by posting photos and recipes for grilled shrimp kebabs, shrimp boils, shrimp and grits, cedar-planked shrimp, and other classic shrimp dishes.
Barbecue event at Santos Grill, Germany.
11. Instead of a Christmas party, treat your employees to a National Barbecue Month party. Whether you host the party at a restaurant or hire a professional chef or catering company to grill up a fabulous meal in your store’s outdoor kitchen, it’s a great way to show how much you value your team. (They will likely appreciate being appreciated at a less hectic time of year!)
12. The New York Times recently ran an article about the pleasures of “Weekend Project Cooking,” the type of weekend cooking that requires a little extra effort or is an opportunity to master new techniques. Summer is the perfect season for “Project Cooking,” and National Barbecue Month is the perfect time to introduce your customers to the concept.
Remind them you have the gear they need to accomplish their culinary projects, whether it’s mastering smoked brisket; learning to cook whole fish, paella, or clambakes on the grill; making pizza in a pizza oven; cooking steaks over a live wood fire; rotisserie-roasting a pork loin, beef roast, suckling pig, or a couple of chickens; slow-cooking ribs in a barrel grill; or roasting potatoes, onions and squash directly in the embers of a fire pit. With a little in-store merchandising creativity and social media posts about the “Outdoor Cooking Project of the Week,” you might see growth in sales of accessories and specialized grills.
Cast-iron Dutch Oven by Big Green Egg.
13. According to the “Weber GrillWatch Survey,” 45% of consumers grill dinner on Mother’s Day. The other 55% are likely making Mom breakfast in bed. Appeal to both camps by suggesting families “Barbecue Mom’s Breakfast” on Mother’s Day! Propose preparing eggs, bacon, pancakes, cinnamon rolls, and even cocktail ingredients on the grill using accessory products such as griddles, bacon racks, cast-iron skillets, Dutch ovens, and baking stones. Encourage customers to post photos of the family grilling breakfast for Mom, tagging your social media accounts.
Cold beer and a hot grill.
14. Cheers to National Craft Beer Week (third week of May)! Tie in with a local craft brewer on a “BBQ and Beer-Tasting” dinner or cooking class at your store. Invite the brewmaster to talk about the beers, while you demonstrate the grilled and smoked food pairings.
Weber’s Original Kettle Barbecue Toy.
15. Best way to build a customer base? Start ’em young! Max Lavoie, co-owner of BBQ Quebec, sells dozens and dozens of toy grills a year at his four stores in Canada. Mini grill replicas (most also come with play food and tools) include Weber’s Original Kettle Barbecue Toy; Little Tikes Cook ’n Play outdoor kitchen; Little Tikes Backyard Barbecue Get Out ’n Grill; and Step2 Fixin’ Fun Outdoor Grill and Pizza Oven. Have the toys available for sale, and display a model or two in a “kids’ corner” of your store to occupy little ones while their parents shop.
Work Sharp Culinary.
16. Host a “Cook Sharp” knife-sharpening event to help customers get their tools in summer-ready form, while increasing traffic in your store. You could hire a local knife-sharpening expert to set up shop in your store for a couple days, and charge customers a break-even fee to have their knives and kitchen shears professionally sharpened. Or, if you sell knife-sharpening devices, invite customers to bring in one of their own knives to test-sharpen on a demo model.
If you don’t sell them, culinary knives and knife sharpeners are an excellent complementary category for barbecue retailers who offer cooking classes. Countertop knife sharpeners from Work Sharp Culinary range in price from $70 to $235 MAP, are easy to use, have models that automatically set the proper sharpening angles for the specific knife, and can even be used for scissors and serrated knives. A knife-sharpening promotion could be turned into a monthly event, and even combined with a cooking class on basic knife skills.
Culinary-inspired concert by Gourmet Symphony in Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.
Photo Courtesy: ©2018 Gourmet Symphony.
17. Tie-ins with arts organizations help expose your store, products and services to high-income patrons, and could lead to sales of premium grills, outdoor kitchens, and other Outdoor Room products. Grill and cookware retailer and cooking school, The Kitchen Window in Minneapolis, hosts “Cooking with the Choir,” a series of evening cooking classes that pairs the menu to selections performed by the MPLS imPulse Choir.
New Jersey restaurant Surf BBQ teamed with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra to host a “Barbecue & Brahms” event. Concert-goers paid for an alfresco dinner of smoked ribs, chicken, brisket, and sides on the concert hall’s patio prior to the orchestra’s final performance of the season. Cross-marketing events such as these could be music to your ears (or is that the cash register ringing?).
Canned food donations.
18. “Do Good” the entire month. Rob Schenz, owner of Specialty Gas House in Columbus, Ohio has collected thousands of pounds of canned goods for food pantries in his community through a unique promotion. Schenz offers customers a 10% discount in exchange for a donation of 10 non-perishable food items. He says the Ten-for-Ten promotion has been a win-win-win. Needy people in the community are being helped, customers are happy to get a discount, and the program has tipped the purchase decision toward his store on many occasions.
A cooking class for Millennials.
19. Want to start building relationships with Millennials? Hold a cooking-class brunch. Brunch is a staple of the Millennial lifestyle; studies show nearly 50% say they regularly enjoy brunch as a social occasion. Brunch is also among the generation’s most Instagramed occasions. Nearly 60% say they like to try new flavors at brunch, so feature a menu of creative grilled dishes like shakshuka, huevos rancheros, Dutch baby, and cocktails such as mimosas with grilled oranges, or Bloody Mary’s with smoked tomatoes (just don’t forget the avocado toast!).
Choose dishes that are colorful and Insta-worthy, and encourage attendees to post away. Be sure to showcase a variety of entry-level-priced grills, accessories, and Outdoor Room elements to appeal to this generation as they begin to purchase homes. Since Millennials appreciate quality and value, be sure to emphasize that the high-quality, long-warranted grills you sell are superior to “disposable” grills sold at Big Box stores. Building relationships with this cohort now will pay off for years to come.
The entrance to the Taste of Chicago, a premier outdoor food festival showcasing the diversity of Chicago’s dining community.
20. May is the start of outdoor festival season in many parts of the country. Whether a music festival, food festival, farmers’ market, house-and-garden tour, or other hometown event, local festivals are great ways to gain exposure for your business beyond store walls, and position you as a community supporter. Look to your vendor partners for marketing co-op funds to help with booth fees, demo products, and/or manpower. Ben Street of Broil King says, “We encourage independent dealers to get involved in the community and will help them out when they partner with or participate in local events. It’s a great way to build relationships.”
21. Start a DIY Pig Roast service for your customers’ upcoming summer picnics and parties. Roger Mooking’s Cooking Channel show, “Man, Fire, Food,” featured a service where the business owner delivered the cooker, fuel, electric rotisserie, and the dressed-and-seasoned pig to the customer’s home, set everything up, and the customer took over from there (mostly collecting the accolades from appreciative guests). This could become a nice complementary service to grow your business. The concept would work for DIY pizza parties, too. You deliver a portable pizza oven, all the necessary tools, dough and fixins, fire it up and let the customer be the backyard hero.
22. Similarly, The Kitchen Window in Minneapolis has developed a successful business renting “Party Kits” that come with the outdoor cooking appliances, pans, accessories, and recipes needed to make paella, jambalaya, lobster bakes, crawfish boils, teppanyaki, wok stir fries, or other unique outdoor cooking experiences. The store drops it all off, sets it up, and customers cook. The store also offers the option of ordering sliced, diced, and pre-prepped ingredients for the feast, or even hiring their chef to prepare the food and conduct an interactive outdoor cooking class as part of the party entertainment. May is a good time to promote this service, while your customers are planning summer parties for graduations, rehearsal dinners, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, Independence Day, and more.
23. Hold a “Kick-Off to ’Cue Season Contest” and invite customers to share a photo showing how they’recelebrating National Barbecue Month. Create several categories – such as family barbecue, selfie, food photo, kids grilling – and award winners a nominal prize, maybe a cool new grilling accessory, cookbook, complimentary grilling class, or gift certificate to be redeemed in your store. Then reveal the winning photo entries on your social media platforms.
24. Camp Comfort, a bed-and-breakfast “glamping” resort near San Antonio, Texas, offers guests the option of ordering (with a week’s notice) a $48 “BBQ Kit,” containing two filet mignon steaks, foil-wrapped potatoes for baking, Caesar salad fixings, and a single-use bag of charcoal for cooking on the camp’s onsite grills. Are there vacation-home rentals, Airbnbs, bed-and-breakfasts, or other summer vacation destinations in your community where this might work?
Dedicate a day or two this month to researching and reaching out to appropriate landlords, proprietors, rental agents, or property managers to tell them about your BBQ Kit services. Besides steaks as the featured protein, you could also offer cedar-planked salmon, beer-can chicken, or other options that would include any necessary grill accessories and seasonings to prepare it. While you’re at it, you might be able to sell grills to the property owners for guests to use.
BBQ Quebec’s sauce and spice products.
25. Consumers increasingly want to know where their food is coming from and where, how and by whom the products they buy are made. Start a regular “Meet the Maker” feature on your website, blog and social media platforms telling the stories behind the individual products you carry. Whether it’s a small-batch barbecue sauce produced by an indie company from an old family recipe, or a Made-in-America grilling accessory invented and manufactured by a military veteran, or a sustainable charcoal starter made from recycled sawdust scraps and packaged by handicapped workers, these stories are worth telling and help customers feel good about the products they’re buying. It also establishes you as a retailer who thoughtfully curates the products you sell. Start today, and continue to spotlight a new product every couple weeks as part of an ongoing series.
L to R: Jeff Stith, Will Cleaver and Stan Hays, co-founders of Operation BBQ Relief.
26. Support Operation Barbecue Relief (OBR). This nonprofit sends volunteer barbecuers to communities ravaged by natural disasters to cook and serve hot, nourishing barbecue meals to first responders and displaced residents. Since it was founded in 2011, the organization has served nearly 1.8 million meals at 44 disaster sites in 24 states, has amassed a roster of 6,500 volunteers, and co-founder Stan Hays was named a top-10 finalist for the 2017 CNN Hero of the Year Award. It’s a worthy charity for barbecue retailers to get behind and an ideal way for you and your customers to give back.
Promote OBR in your store, on your website, and in social media all month long. Consider holding a fundraiser – maybe a cooking class or special dinner with the proceeds going toward OBR, or enter customers who donate to OBR into a drawing to win a grill or basket of accessory products (ask vendor partners for donations). According to OBR, a $20 donation provides 20 hot, barbecued meals during a disaster, so your efforts could have a significant impact.
Grilling hot dogs.
Photo: ©2018 JRLPhotographer.
27. Tyler Selhorst, Channel Marketing manager for Weber Grills, says “Dollar Dog” fundraisers are effective at increasing store traffic, generating excitement, and raising money for local charities. Tie in with your local animal shelter on a “Dollar Dog Days” fundraiser at your store. Charge customers $1 for a grilled hot dog, $1 more for the fixings bar, and another dollar for a treat at the S’mores Station, with all proceeds donated to the shelter.
National Hamburger Day (May 28).
28. Celebrate National Hamburger Day (May 28)! According to a Beef Industry Check-off survey, nearly half of all Americans eat hamburgers once a week. The HPBA’s studies show burgers consistently rank at or near the top of list of most popular grilled foods. So, this year, it seems only fitting that National Hamburger Day should fall on Memorial Day, likely the biggest burger-grilling occasion during National Barbecue Month. Posting a burger recipe and mouthwatering photo on your social media platforms would be a fine way to mark the occasion. But if you want to amp it up, consider hosting an “Homage to the Hamburger” event where participants could cook and taste all types of burgers, such as those made from traditional ground beef, short ribs, turkey, lamb, pork, salmon, and even veggie-burgers.
Pique interest even more by including a blind taste test of some of the new plant-based, meatless, look-alike burgers, such as the Impossible Burger, the Beyond Burger, and the 50-50 meat-mushroom blended burgers that proponents argue reduce impact on the environment, along with calories and fat.
Memorial Day barbecue.
29. HPBA’s 2017 research study shows 60% of grill owners cook out on Memorial Day, the second-biggest grilling day of the year after the Fourth of July. But we certainly know that Memorial Day is about much more than celebrating the unofficial start of summer. We pause to honor the sacrifices our military veterans have made to allow us the freedom to enjoy the simple, all-American pleasures of a backyard barbecue.
A Grilling club.
30. There are book clubs, knitting clubs, wine clubs – why not a grilling club? According to the latest HPBA research, nearly 20% of consumers consider grilling and barbecuing their hobby. If you’ve got customers who passionately pursue outdoor cooking as a favorite hobby, they might be interested in gathering at your store for a monthly meeting to swap stories, share recipes, and learn new techniques. You can get involved in running the group, or simply offer your store as a meeting place and let members plan and organize the meetings. Like most clubs, there would be a new topic or theme each month (for example, a comparison of reverse-searing versus traditional sear-first-then-finish-over-indirect-heat methods), with each member taking a turn to grill their signature dish that will be served to the group.
BBQ Chicken Dinner at Green Acres Outdoor Living in Easton, Pennsylvania.
31. Green Acres Outdoor Living in Easton, Pennsylvania, hosts an annual, two-day, family-friendly Expo where attendees can purchase a $6 BBQ Chicken Dinner ($5.50 for those who register and pay online in advance) complete with sides and drink, before checking out the store’s huge selection of grills, outdoor furniture, pergolas, sheds and other outdoor living products. Local Amish-made Shoo-fly Pie, Whoopie Pies, Sticky Buns and other desserts are also available for purchase. The store promotes the Expo on its website, and through direct emails, reminds customers the event is, “not only fun for parents and children alike, but also a great opportunity to check out new products and start that backyard project you’ve been saving for!”