Do Try This at Home!
By Lisa Readie Mayer
It’s May as you are reading this, but April as we are writing, so we can’t predict the scenario in which we currently find ourselves. Best case, the coronavirus pandemic is easing and the nation is finally starting to emerge from the stay-at-home restrictions necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus. Worst case, we find ourselves in the unfortunate situation where our collective quarantine needs to be extended, and the impact on our physical and economic wellbeing is deepening.
Either way, we can be pretty sure that social distancing and home-quarantining has created pent-up demand for socializing and entertaining friends and family. But even after stay-at-home restrictions are lifted or eased, it is likely many people have canceled summer vacations and will continue to be hesitant about traveling, mingling in crowds at concerts, movies, theater, and public events, and possibly even dining at restaurants. Some experts suggest there may even be an emergence of the “cocooning” phenomenon that occurred after September 11.
As a result, people will be searching for ways to enjoy life at home. While barbecue retailers will want to take care not to appear tone-deaf or opportunistic, it’s an ideal time to remind consumers that outdoor kitchens, fire pits, patio heaters, pizza ovens, and comfortable outdoor furnishings can help create a fun and inviting outdoor-living space for families, and a private oasis for entertaining friends and neighbors.
The challenge is, how to connect customers with the products and services that fill this need if stores are shuttered.
Indeed, it has been and will continue to be a tough time for small businesses everywhere, and the need to grow sales and generate revenue has never been greater. These difficult months have proven the need for flexibility, creativity, and unconventional approaches in selling and marketing barbecue grills, accessories, outdoor kitchens, and Outdoor Room products.
We have compiled some innovative strategies and ideas, culled from retailers in all types of businesses, that might help. Please let us know about any others you have tried that could be helpful to fellow retailers around the country. We are all in this together.
May is National Barbecue Month
Celebrations are in order – this year more than ever – for the kick-off to prime grilling season. Whether backyard barbecues can be blowouts with all the neighbors, as usual, or restricted to only household family members at this time, cooking outdoors provides tasty food, gets people outdoors, and is lots of fun.
Continue the momentum of PK Grills’ #StayInGrillOut coronavirus campaign by encouraging your customers to post pictures and tag your store showing how they are celebrating National Barbecue Month. Post a daily recipe, grilling tip, special sale, or customer spotlight every day this month on your social media pages and through direct emails to customers. Kicking off grilling season in a big way now should help drive interest the rest of the year.
Quick Turnkey Turnarounds
Because consumers will be eager to salvage their summer, they will want an entertaining-ready Outdoor Room NOW. It’s a good opportunity for retailers to stock and promote products that can provide fast solutions with quick turnaround times and easy installation, such as modular outdoor kitchen systems, ready-to-assemble islands, self-contained bar and beverage stations, fully assembled, ready-to-go pizza ovens, and fully assembled fire pit grills, among others. Convey through marketing messages that consumers can be enjoying these products on their patio by next weekend, in two weeks, or whatever the delivery timeframe is.”
Email is Essential
Anecdotal observations from the coronavirus crisis suggest that the small businesses and restaurants fairing best are the ones reaching out to their existing customer base through social media and customer email lists. Smart business owners are using these tools to communicate regularly about the availability of video-conference sales appointments, how to place phone and online orders, curbside pick-up, and contactless delivery opportunities, how they are taking precautions during service calls, special promotions, and more.
If you have not put much effort behind growing your customer email list and gaining followers on social media, now is the time. Have a book at the check-out counter so customers can sign-up for emails; have salespeople ask every customer during check-out if they are on the email list; include instructions on store business cards, store receipts, and other handouts for email signups and for following Facebook, Instagram, and other social media accounts.
Websites are another essential tool for small businesses. Studies show nearly 90% of consumers visit store websites when researching products and services. However, a survey by Visual Objects reveals 29% of small businesses did not have a website, and nearly 30% indicate their website is the marketing channel that needs the most work.
If this rings true for your store, it’s imperative to update and improve your website with current product information, project photo galleries, video showroom tours, recipes, instructional grilling videos, positive customer testimonials, as well as store hours, contact details and other basics. Because more and more consumers research on their mobile phone, it’s critical your website be mobile-optimized. If you or someone on your staff does not have the skills to tackle this, hire someone who does – TODAY. Every day you do not, you are losing customers and sales.
Creative Selling Solutions
If shut-downs of non-essential businesses remain in place, retailers will need to think outside the box to hold sales and design consultations with customers. Do current rules in your community allow private appointments in-store or in-home, while practicing proper social distancing and sanitation of course? If not, maybe you can hold FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom appointments online?
Or perhaps you can exchange photos and videos – for example, the customer provides a photo or video of their patio and fills out a quote request with measurements and other pertinent information, and the retailer returns a computer rendering of an Outdoor Room design, with links to grills, appliances, built-in components, outdoor hearth products, furniture, fabrics, and everything else specified in the design. While it may not result in a sale at that moment, it can at least advance the design and decision process until the deal can be finalized in person.
Use of Click-and-Collect services – where you order online and pick up in-store or at curbside – were growing even before the COVID-19 pandemic made the practice a necessity for many. About 15% of consumers used Click-and-Collect in 2018, up 67% from the year prior, according to eMarketer Retail. Surely that number has risen even more dramatically this year.
In fact, The New York Times reports that today’s successful retailers are increasingly becoming a hybrid between “a fast-food drive-through and a hotel concierge, with services such as curbside pickup for mobile orders – and personal shoppers.”
While many barbecue, hearth, and patio products are not click-and-collect-friendly, there are still ways specialty retailers can lean into this trend. Charcoal, cooking-wood pellets, wood chips and chunks, LP gas tanks, sauces, seasonings, cookbooks, and other accessories are all possibilities for in-store or curbside pickup, or even contactless doorstep delivery, if coronavirus shut-downs linger.
Create a portal on your website for online orders, or designate a dedicated email address for customers to place orders and have a staff member call back to take credit card payment over the phone and arrange pickup or delivery times.
The Wall Street Journal reports sales of yeast were up 647% in the week ending March 21, and flour was in short supply on grocery shelves, as many Americans tried their hand at bread baking during the coronavirus lock-down. The New York Times labeled this trend “procrastibaking.”
Indeed, people who are stuck in their homes with time on their hands are turning to all types of “project cooking,” and seeking comfort in preparing and savoring dishes they might not typically have time to make.
Barbecue retailers can tap into this desire by creating product bundles around “project cooking” themes. Your customers might be interested in a “Smoking Starter Kit” complete with a smoker grill, charcoal, wood chips, rib racks, bottles of dry rub and sauce, and a smoking cookbook; or “Family Pizza Night” with a cash-and-carry pizza oven or pizza-stone grill-topper, peel, pizza pans, and cutter; or a “Campfire Cookout” with fire pit, grilling grid, long-handled marshmallow skewers, and a fireproof deck-protector mat. There are lots of other products – pellet grills, charcoal tray inserts for gas grills, flattop griddles, to name a few – that lend themselves to project cooking.
Your customers will appreciate having everything they need in a one-stop-shopping package, and at a discounted price from what the total cost would be if they purchased the items separately. You could even offer free delivery on purchases of bundled products. Promote the packages on your website, through direct email, and on your social media platforms.
Chef JJ Boston, owner of Chef JJ’s in Indianapolis, a hands-on culinary center offering grilling classes, corporate and private events, and team building focused on kamado cooking, transitioned to online classes during the stay-at-home requirements. He says online classes help him stay connected to customers, “while helping families connect over a home-cooked meal.” Topics included baking breads on the kamado, preserving meat, and smoking, among others. Viewers have the option to tip via Venmo.
Online classes might be a good way to stay in touch with your customers, provide a fun distraction for them, and generate revenue in the process. Consider also offering online classes or workshops through Zoom about outdoor kitchens or Outdoor Rooms for designers, architects, contractors, and other specifiers.
Gift cards are good business for many reasons, not the least of which, according to research from Giftcards.com, is that 29% of cards are never redeemed (that’s free money in your pocket). In addition, 59% of gift card recipients say they spend more than the card’s value, typically 20% more, according to Giftcards.com. Gift cards also are an effective way to gain new customers; 90% of people who received a gift card to a small business they’ve never shopped at, say it has propelled them to visit that business.
Gift card purchases grew 7% between 2018 and 2019, with birthdays and Christmas holidays the most popular occasions for gift-card giving. In fact, for the past 12 years, gift cards were the most-requested holiday gift, appearing on 59% of consumer wish lists.
If you don’t offer gift cards, it’s a good idea to start. According to Giftcards.com, 75% of consumers prefer to give and receive plastic gift cards (as opposed to paper certificates or digital gift cards), so your gift card program should include physical cards. Check with your current credit card processors or bank regarding their programs, as well as third-party vendors, such as Duracard Plastic Cards and eCard Systems, that create and supply custom gift card programs for small retailers.
Be sure to promote gift cards in all marketing communications, and create signage and displays in-store to drive purchases. Always give store gift cards rather than physical product for charitable donations. Likewise, use gift cards rather than product giveaways to incentivize grill purchases.
A bonus grill cover or tool set will walk out the door with the customer, but a gift card is more likely to bring them in for a return visit, during which they’ll probably spend more than the value of the card. For the same reasons, use gift cards as rewards for loyalty programs. Some retailers also find it effective to run holiday promotions offering gift-card buyers a $20 bonus card for themselves with every $100 gift card purchased.
CNBC reports the average U.S. consumer spends $5,400 annually on impulse purchases. The study reveals 90% of people make occasional impulse purchases, and 75% feel happy after making those purchases. It’s a compelling argument for beefing up displays to trigger more impulse buying in your store. Create an impulse-oriented display near the checkout counter with cool accessory products, new tools, high-tech gadgets, digital thermometers, cookbooks, sauces, rubs, and other eye-catching, grab-and-go products that customers never knew they needed!
The Power of Pinterest
According to the online platform Pinterest, its users, called “Pinners,” spend about 10% more on summer entertaining than non-Pinners. The July 4th holiday is the apex of summer-entertaining-related searches on the site, with 68% of Pinners saying they plan a barbecue or grilled meal to celebrate Independence Day, versus 54% of non-Pinners. Searches for “patio parties” were also up 123% year-over-year on the site.
Sixty-seven percent of Pinners indicate brand content on the platform provides inspiration for entertaining, decorating, cooking, and home and patio design. Retailers report that inquiries about particular hearth and Outdoor Room products rise after consumers see them on Pinterest.
Check out Pinterest regularly to see what’s trending on the site. Refer to Pinterest trends on your social media platforms, letting consumers know you can help them achieve these looks in their own homes. In addition, you can search Pinterest for topics such as “barbecue recipes,” “cookout side dishes,” “outdoor lighting,” “fire pits,” “Outdoor Rooms,” “electric fireplaces,” or “modern fireplaces,” to inspire ideas for cooking classes, customer workshops, and seminars for designers, contractors and architects. Pinterest is also a valuable resource for creative ideas for in-store merchandising, displays, and signage.
Work with Influencers
For the past year or so, Coyote Outdoor Living has been working with influencer Farah Merhi as a brand ambassador. Merhi started a blog and Instagram page, “Inspire Me! Home Décor,” in 2012 and it has since grown to 5.8 million followers, the most of any home-décor page on the platform. As an ambassador influencer for Coyote Outdoor Living, she occasionally posts about the company’s grills and outdoor kitchen products on her blog and social media. A recent post about Coyote’s new Pellet Grill Island – an outdoor kitchen island with the company’s new built-in pellet grill, that’s shipped in flat finished panels, and easily assembled in under four hours – racked up nearly 10,000 likes and lots of positive feedback.
Influencers are great to have as allies because their third-party, independent endorsements carry a lot of weight among their followers and drive people into stores. Every city has local influencers who blog or post on social media about food and cooking, design, home and garden, lifestyle, or cultural happenings in their area. They might be local newspaper food editors, restaurant chefs, interior designers, or just regular people who love to cook, and who have amassed a large following on Instagram or for their blog.
Find out who the key influencers and bloggers are in your area covering the topics your customers are interested in, whether it be cooking, grilling, live-fire cooking, women grillers, local farms, and farmers markets, home décor, outdoor living, competition barbecue, or a host of other topics. Start following them, commenting on their posts, and reposting their posts on your social pages to build relationships with them.
Look also among your store’s current social media followers for potential influencers and ambassadors, as did distributor John McAdams of Northwinds Marketing, Big Green Egg Canada. “We identified a group of customers who always opened our emails, tagged our retail store in their posts about the food they were cooking, and often reposted the store’s content,” he explains. “We recruited them as ‘Eggbassadors’ influencers and salespeople,” he says.
Merch as Marketing
Branded logo items and wearable merchandise are walking billboards for your store. Weber, Big Green Egg, PK Grills, Traeger and other companies all have mastered this strategy, offering everything from T-shirts, ball caps, insulated tumblers, and more with their distinctive look and logos. Independent retailers can do this, too.
Rook, a small coffee-roasting company with several retail coffeehouses in central New Jersey, has a distinctive logo featuring the silhouette of a black crow. The image doesn’t even include the name of the business, yet it has become an instantly identifiable and sought-after status icon that’s seen all over the area on car bumpers, laptop cases, T-shirts, hats, reusable grocery tote bags, and more.
Custom merchandise is a great way to grow your brand awareness, build a lifestyle image, and create a sense of cache for your store. Consider creating a line of cool, high-quality, vintage-looking T-shirts, hats, aprons, socks, stainless-steel coffee cups, beer koozies, window clings, stickers, reusable bags, or other branded products and offer them to customers at inexpensive prices – even at cost – so they’ll be encouraged to buy on impulse. You could also offer such items as giveaways with purchase, contest prizes, or free to anyone taking a cooking class. The more people that see your brand out and about, the better.
Edible Communities is a network of 90 independently-owned, consumer food magazines and podcasts across the U.S. and Canada, with content focused on local farmers, growers, food artisans, chefs, fishers, vintners, distillers, and other food and beverage businesses in that community. The group also sponsors, promotes, and connects consumers to food-oriented events, tastings, workshops, classes, and other happenings, helps to preserve food traditions, techniques and recipes, and encourages home gardening, food preservation and more.
Get involved with the local Edible organization to connect with like-minded food enthusiasts in your area. Offer your expertise on barbecuing, grilling, or live-fire cooking as a source for written stories or podcast interviews. Host exclusive grilling classes for Edible members, and hold information sessions on how these foodies can incorporate outdoor kitchens, pizza ovens, and/or fire pits on their patios. To learn more visit www.ediblecommunities.com