Buckets of Ideas
By Lisa Readie Mayer
Competition is fierce these days. Small, independent barbecue retailers have to contend with low-ball Internet sellers, Big Box stores, and increasingly, dealers in unconventional channels such as appliances, butcher shops, and garden centers, that are now selling grills. Then there are the customers; they have growing expectations about in-store experiences, while at the same time demanding the best deals.
But, as the saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We know retailers are a tough breed.
With that in mind, it might help to shake up your marketing with some new promotions, exciting events, and compelling social media content designed to get shoppers in the door and start your cash registers ringing.
This latest in our ongoing series compiles a baker’s dozen of clever marketing ideas from smart retailers. Some are from barbecue dealers, others are plucked from different industries, but all are field-tested, practical, and implementable. We hope they will inspire you to try something new, and make it easier to compete in a tough environment.
Promote DIY Weekend Projects
Looking for a way to build a Millennial customer base? Host do-it-yourself workshops. The generation that grew up watching HGTV gets inspired on Pinterest, and learns how-to lessons from YouTube, and is not DIYing to save money. Rather, Millennials enjoy the experience of creating, and the opportunity to personalize a project.
According to Coinstar’s Do It Yourself Home Improvement Survey, 40% of Millennials tackle DIY projects because they find them fulfilling. The study also finds that the generation likes projects to be completed quickly – 80% say they have an “urgency to complete” the task.
HPC Fire Inspired offers Ready-to-Finish gas fire pit kits. The round, square, octagonal, or rectangular pits are pre-assembled with a burner, propane-tank access door, ventilation panels, and a Hardiboard shell that’s ready to finish with any noncombustible brick, block, tile, or stone.
You can host in-store workshops for purchasers (or prospective purchasers) on how to finish the fire pits. A bonus: The kits come with a free, downloadable BILT app with easy, step-by-step, interactive, 3-D instructions for customers to refer to when they’re doing the project.
EP Henry, a manufacturer of paving stones and retaining-wall products, offers simple wood-burning backyard fire pit kits that can be completed in a weekend. Available in several different sizes, shapes, and stone finishes, the kits include all necessary stone blocks, caps, copper fire bowls, grates for wood and cooking, a mesh spark dome, as well as an installation guide.
Other do-it-yourself workshop ideas: make-and-take homemade sauces, marinades, spice rubs, and flavored oils; a pre-holiday DIY gift workshop on smoked salt, nuts and cheeses; a patio herb planter that makes a handy grill-side companion.
Take it Outside This Thanksgiving
According to HPBA, 14% of grill owners prepare at least part of their Thanksgiving dinner on a grill or smoker. With some promotion and a little guidance, that rate could be even higher among your customers. Starting in October, push the benefits (#1 flavor; #2 frees up oven space; #3 bragging rights…) of cooking the bird outdoors. Cook and sample turkeys every weekend, and include kamados, smokers, pellet grills, and gas grills in the rotation. Hold Thanksgiving-themed classes covering different techniques – spatchcocked-and-grilled, grill-roasted, rotissed, smoked, and/or fried turkeys, as well as side dishes on the grill. Stock up on brine mixes, roasting racks, thermometers, and other related accessories. Promote, promote, promote through in-store signage, your website, and social media.
Grill Brush Buy Back Promotion
With problems surrounding low-quality grill brushes frequently in the media, barbecue retailers have seen sales boosts from grill-brush-replacement promotions. In the spring, hold a “Grill Brush Buy-Back Week,” a tongue-in-cheek promotion promising a $5 certificate (or other offer) toward the purchase of a new grill-cleaning accessory for every old, gnarly grill brush turned in; no questions asked.
Educate your customers – in store and through social media – about grill brush safety and alternatives to flimsy grill brushes. Display a selection of wood paddles, metal grid scrapers, nylon scrubbers, grill wipes, and other non-bristle cleaners, in a prominent spot with attention-grabbing signage. Mimic law-enforcement officials and announce the final results, noting how many dangerous grill brushes the campaign “got off the streets,” while sharing a photo of the collective cache on social media.
What Steven Says…
When barbecue oracle Steven Raichlen talks, people (i.e. your customers) listen. You should too. His widely read blog BarbecueBible.com is required reading for grilling and barbecuing enthusiasts, and a go-to source for recipes, techniques, tips, arcane barbecue facts, and product information.
Consider setting up a “What Steven Says…” display in your store that spotlights whatever he’s featuring on his blog. For instance, if he’s talking ribs, you might showcase barrel smokers, pellet grills, kamados, rib racks, sauce mops, rubs and sauces, wood chips, charcoal, and rib cookbooks.
If he’s posting about cold-smoking salmon or cheese, create a display with smoker boxes, pellet tubes, wood chips, and pellets that help customers cold-smoke on their grills. You should be prepared to talk with customers about the featured technique, recipe, or product – so if that means brushing up on your skills, do your homework first.
Burgers with the Big Guy
You’ve heard of Breakfast with Santa, why not Burgers with Santa? A family-friendly burger-cooking class that includes a meet-and-greet with the “Big Guy,” is sure to be a popular alternative to the typical pancake events. For dessert, offer a make-your-own custom s’mores buffet. This unique experience is fun for the kids, but it’s also a great way to get their parents and grandparents into the store to remind them that grills and accessories are perfect for gift-giving. To drive home the point, top grills with big red bows; tie ribbons around cookbooks and thermometers; and display ready-to-go accessory gift packages around themes such as pizza on the grill, ribs, and kabobs.
Gift Card Giveback
Another tried and true holiday-season promotion: the gift that keeps on giving. For every $50 gift card a customer buys, they get a $5 gift card (or $10 on a $100 card purchase) to spend on themselves in the store in January. Your customer will appreciate the freebie, and it’s a good way to drive traffic during a slow season for barbecue sales.
One Canadian retailer holds “Community Cookouts” throughout the summer season. Local sports clubs, school teams, volunteer groups, and other non-profits are invited to schedule one of the weekly events and hold a barbecue fundraiser at the store. The organization invites its members, sells tickets, and keeps the proceeds, and the retailer provides the food – a hot-off-the-grill selection of meats, pizzas, and light bites. Guests mingle in the store’s indoor and outdoor displays, and receive a discount on any merchandise purchased at the event and throughout the following week. According to the retailer, it’s good for the community and great exposure for the store, usually resulting in sales, both at the event and down the road.
Make Loyalty Alluring
Research shows it costs six to seven times more to gain a new customer than to keep a current one, and increasing customer retention just 5% increases profits at least 25%. Loyalty Clubs are a great way to strengthen relationships with current customers, ensure return visits to your store, and grow sales.
Reward regulars with free product after a designated number of charcoal, pellet, or gas fuel purchases. The same can be done with sauces, seasonings, rubs, and other consumables, or after taking a certain number of cooking classes. Offer members-only perks such as priority registration periods for cooking classes, and early access to storewide sales.
Invite members to exclusive, in-store V.I.P. events, and offer tips, recipes, and other useful content through club emails. Follow the lead of car dealers and retain customers through what could be years-long lulls between major purchases, by offering annual maintenance and ongoing repair services.
Besides retaining customers and growing sales, loyalty clubs have another benefit for retailers: access to important and useful customer information. Collect email addresses, street addresses, birthdates, and any other facts you think might be important, on the enrollment form to gain insight into your customers and help you market to them more successfully.
Annual Service Contracts
Create a recurring income stream by offering an automated, annual, service-contract program with a pre-season home visit for grill inspection, clean-up, and tune-up. Homeowners with outdoor kitchens could have the option of contracting an end-of-season winterization service, as well. Besides supplementing the bottom line with the service fees, these visits are a way to uncover other needs, such as replacement parts, a new grid-cleaning accessory, stainless-steel cleaner, a new grill cover, or maybe even a new grill, thereby growing product sales. These items could be carried on the truck and sold on the spot, or ordered and paid for during the visit and delivered or shipped to the customer after the call.
Introduce information about the service program whenever a customer buys a grill or outdoor kitchen, promote it on your website and through social media, and send personal email reminders to your customer list about scheduling service appointments.
Interest in camping is soaring – particularly among Millennials. According to the Kampgrounds of America 2019 North American Camping Report, more than seven million new U.S. households have started camping in the last five years – 56% of them Millennials – bringing the total number of campers to nearly 79 million. People are camping more often, too, with a 72% jump in households who camp three or more times per year.
Target this enthusiastic group with the latest portable grills, premium coolers, portable fire pits, cast-iron camping cookware, and other live-fire cooking gear. Host campfire cooking classes in your store. Cross-promote with nearby camping or glamping sites (search www.hipcamp.com to find ones near you); reach out to any nearby RV Clubs or Meetup camping groups to see if there are opportunities to partner; invite local experts to give talks on topics such as foraging, hikes, and campsites within driving distance. The effort should reap rewards: Forbes reports customers who attended retailer L.L. Bean’s events and classes spent 30% more with the company the following year.
Timing is Everything
Being nimble is one of the key advantages small, independent retailers have over Big Box stores and online sites. While their promotions are planned far in advance with little opportunity for flexibility, indie retailers can turn on a dime to adapt email and social media marketing to take advantage of local events, news, and even the weather.
Here’s an example: You read the local grocery-store circular, notice what’s on special, and then respond with an email blast and Facebook and Instagram posts announcing, “Ribs are on sale this week at Shop Rite! We have smokers, wood chips, spice rubs, rib racks, and more to help you make the best ribs ever. Here are five tips from our barbecue pros…”
During Friday-night-lights season, congratulate the hometown high school team on their win (…or good effort?), and remind fans you carry lots of tailgating gear. The same would work in a college or pro-sports town. If there’s a food, music, or film festival in town, find a way to tie in to the concept. “Did you go to Chili Fest this weekend? We have cast-iron Dutch ovens for making your own award-winning chili on the grill at home.”
Watch the weather forecast. Is unseasonably warm weather predicted for a winter weekend? Get out in front of it and remind customers of the opportunity to satisfy a midwinter craving for charcoal-grilled steak. Conversely, if snow is predicted, promote that ceramic kamados hold heat and perform well in cold-weather conditions, and invite customers to submit a pic of themselves grilling in the snow. The first chilly night forecasted? Convey the message, “You can still entertain outdoors this weekend with one of our gas fire pits or patio heaters. We have them ready to go.” You get the idea.
Like retailers, restaurateurs are always looking to get new guests in the door. According to restaurant and bar industry digital newsletter “Daily Rail,” an inviting outdoor space might be just the way to do it. It reports, “Restaurant operators need to stop treating their patio or terrace like an afterthought. It’s time to transform it into a comfortable area for guests to enjoy – and one that will give a competitive edge over your competition.”
With that in mind, scope out restaurants in your area that are not making good use of their outdoor space, and approach the owners with ideas to maximize this commercial opportunity. Whether the need calls for an outdoor dining patio, a rooftop bar, and/or a cool space for listening to live music, your proposal might include outdoor fireplaces or fire pits, patio heaters, an outdoor bar island, an outdoor kitchen, pizza oven, commercial-rated comfy outdoor furniture, and dining tables, outdoor televisions, and possibly even a pergola, pavilion or shade sail for shelter. It’s a win-win: You sell a lot of product and the restaurant now has expanded (and inviting!) space to accommodate more customers and increase income. An added bonus is the opportunity for ongoing cross-promotions (e.g. the chef could teach some cooking classes at your store).
A Final Word About Housekeeping
We’ve said this before, but after randomly perusing retailer websites, it’s apparent we need to say it again: Make sure your website and Google business profile page include up-to-date information on store hours, product offerings, events, and promotions. Also, the latest blog posts on your website should not be circa 2016. (You would be surprised… or, then again, maybe not!)
As for the appearance of your store, look at it – both inside and out – through a customer’s lens. As retailing expert Ted Topping says, “You must inspect what you expect.” Is the check-out counter cluttered? Do you see fingerprints on the stainless-steel grills? Are there leaves and dust in the Outdoor Room display? Have you been merchandising accessories the same way for years? If so, your store might be in need of a spruce-up, or at the very least, some attention to housekeeping. “It’s all part of creating a pleasant experience for shoppers,” he says.