Capitalize on consumer sentiment with creative barbecue displays, value-driven presentation
By Andrew Lisa
Spas and grills are backyard soul mates. Barbecues don’t take up a lot of space, don’t generate many service or maintenance calls and, compared to spas, they’re inexpensive. But too many retailers treat grills as after-the-fact accessories instead of as primary revenue drivers of the luxury backyard experience.
The era of outdoor living
For hot tub retailers, strategies for selling grills are like chili or sangria: Everyone is certain their recipe is the best. There is, however, industrywide agreement on one thing: We are living in the Golden Age of outdoor accessories, and if you can’t sell a grill in today’s retail climate, you can’t sell a grill.
“Outdoor living is huge,” says Jeff Black of California Home Spas in Long Beach, California. “You can find patio furniture on top of the frozen food aisle at Ralph’s. It’s that sellable.”
Black says he saw the writing on the wall 20 years ago, when customers began asking his teams to pour extra concrete or wire extra electrical during spa installations.
“Their next stop was the barbecue store,” Black says. “Time after time, we’d hear that.”
Recognizing a change in consumer sentiment, Black began stocking high-end grills. His gamble paid off.
“There were no $5,000 barbecues 20 years ago,” he says. “Now the market is flooded with them.”
Differentiating through service
As demand for high-end grills has skyrocketed, however, so has supply — and no matter where you live in the country, Home Depot is always just a short drive away.
“The whole category of outdoor living is really growing,” says Sharla Wagy, general manager of Memphis Wood Fire Grills. “And it’s important for retailers to not only sell the product, but also to differentiate from the cost leaders, the big boxes, by providing service.”
Since the industry’s minimum advertised price (MAP) structure makes competing on cost virtually impossible, service becomes the great differentiator.
“Do you want a big cardboard box from Amazon showing up on your front porch with a million pieces, or do you want a grill rolled into your backyard ready to cook on?” Black says. “If I’m already driving to your house with a truck, a trailer and four guys to deliver a spa, you might as well buy a barbecue and patio furniture because all that stuff is traveling for free. While the spa is filling, instead of standing there watching the water run, my guys could be setting up everything else.”
Service is not just a strong selling point; it can also turn into an extra revenue stream.
“Our grills are priced higher, so our customers are more apt to pay a little bit extra for services like delivery, setup and connecting the Wi-Fi,” Wagy says.
For Jerry Scott, senior vice president of sales for Fire Magic Grills, cross-training spa installation teams for grills is a no brainer.
“You’re dealing with electricity and a lot of times gas,” Scott says. “These are the power sources you need with a grill as well.”
Your customers want to buy
High-end grills are not cheap, but instead of assuming buyers will obsess over sticker price, retailers should sell the value.
“The average replacement time for a barbecue is between three and four years,” says John Mulvany, director of sales for Saber Grills. “Customers can continue to make that repurchase, or they can invest a little more and get a high-end, gourmet steakhouse experience in their backyard for the next 15 to 20 years.”
Many times, it’s the retailer’s preoccupation with price, not the customer’s, that impedes the sale.
“When customers are willing to buy a high-end product, they’re usually willing to pay for convenience and a pleasant experience,” Wagy says. “Consumers go to specialty places to get that one-on-one attention. They’re not just picking up a box and checking out. They want that special care, and they’re willing to pay for it. Sometimes, retailers are afraid to ask for that dollar.”
Invest in a footprint and sell the scenario
Lining up grills in a row from highest price to lowest is a winning strategy — as long as you’re Home Depot or Lowe’s. For spa retailers, however, creative display is the name of the game.
“Retailers need to create vignettes or outdoor spaces, so instead of showing a grill, they’re showing an extension of the spa area,” Wagy says.
Black puts it more bluntly.
“If you think you’re going to sell these things lined up like used cars at a car lot, you’re done,” he says.
The best displays help the customer visualize the grill and spa — along with patio furniture, outdoor heaters and everything else — not as individual units, but as connected parts that combine to create a sort of outdoor feng shui.
“When you’re able to help them envision not just a spa, but a backyard oasis, you’re going to have a very happy customer,” Scott says. “Retailers really need to sell the experience. You can’t just line up a bunch of equipment. Set up a scenario in your showroom. When people walk in, they should say, ‘Man, I want something just like that.’ ”
“It can’t just be a product off to the side,” Wagy says. “Consumers need visualization. That requires investing in a footprint.”
That investment, however, only pays off if the grills have a high enough margin to justify the real estate.
“Retailers need to be picky,” Mulvany says. “You don’t want to carry the same stuff that the discount retailers and big-box stores have, or it will always be about price. Not only will high-end grills help you sell something with a better margin, but they create less busy work. Grills sold on price create problems; they break down. They’re built with cheap materials.”
Lieland Berliner, operations manager at All Valley BBQ, Spa and Fireplace in Palm Desert, California, has a more direct philosophy.
“Align yourself with high-quality companies,” he says, “not the garbage out there that’s all coming from overseas on a price point.”
Own what you sell
When it comes to grills, one thing is clear: Invested salespeople are successful salespeople.
“When someone in the showroom owns one of our grills, they’re much more likely to sell one because they truly, truly believe in it,” Wagy says.
Manufacturers have taken notice: Memphis Grills’ Guru program incentivizes salespeople with a grill of their own after a certain number of sales.
Saber Grills has a similar strategy.
“We have a generous store-use program as well as an employee-purchase program,” Mulvany says. “The best thing we can do, and the best thing the retailer can do, is have people who own the product talk about how great it is. There’s a clear consistency between successful retailers and salespeople who own the product and are passionate about it.”
For Wagy, few things are more valuable than a salesperson who is personally invested.
“It’s a high-priced product so salespeople have to believe in it to get consumers over that price barrier,” Wagy says. “It’s hard to inspire someone if they can’t talk from the ‘trust me’ standpoint of ownership.”
Many retailers bond with their customers by hosting product displays during in-store cookouts, doing live product demonstrations for potential customers where the crowd gets to eat whatever’s cooked along the way.
What seems like a harmless win-win is actually the topic of a fierce and surprisingly emotional debate.
“Nothing brings people in like a little bit of free food,” says Scott, who provides reps to perform in-store demonstrations. “Come down, meet the experts. It’s a great way to close.”
Black isn’t convinced.
“If I do a cooking demonstration, is that really going to compel you to buy a barbecue?” he asks. “We’ve done demonstrations at our store. I just wound up feeding lunch to everyone at the car dealership across the street.”
Berliner, on the other hand, says “demonstrations are part of the business.”
“In the barbecue business, people want to taste the quality of what you’re cooking,” Berliner says. “We’ve had demos for 17 years and we sell a grill every single time, or at least have someone come back a month later who was at the demo.”
For Black, however, the ubiquity of online information has rendered the in-store demonstration obsolete.
“A free bite of a rib-eye steak is going to make me buy?” Black asks. “I mean, if someone wants a demonstration on a Weber grill, there are a million YouTube videos. How many more YouTube videos could there be on how to grill a steak?”
There is no one right way to sell grills, but the successful retailers all have a few things in common: They focus on quality and display, lean on their manufacturers’ support programs and sell grills with the same passion as they sell spas.
“Don’t dabble in barbecues,” Berliner says, “or you’re going to have an income that reflects dabbling.”