Here's what's cooking in grills

Sales in the barbecue category are fueled by knowledge, passion and flavor.

One key to grill sales: grill accessories

Atlanta — Here's one way to sell more grills: Put one in the backyard of your sales force.

According to a "Sell More Grills" session during the Ace Hardware Spring Convention and Exhibits, grill salesmen are more effective when they own their own.

"Passionate, educated associates sell more products," said Craig Hansen, senior merchant for barbecue. "Owners of these types of grills sell more grills. It's important to create those barbecue ambassadors in your store."

Demonstration days also extremely effecting sales tools. It's typical for a successful event to generate sales measured in the tens of thousands of dollars. And stores that execute grill demonstrations have 23% higher grill sales than those that don't.

Demos can be extravagant or simple. "You can have a grill that's just sitting there smoking — it could be crackers. Or you can cook and serve frozen pizza." (You don't want to use a gourmet pizza, he said, because customers will suspect the involvement of a gourmet chef.)

Bigger events include cooking lessons for specific brands, or "Grill Your Ace Off," parking lot parties, he said.

It's important to apply best practices in the grill category, partly because of the strong competition, and partly because of a high level of market saturation. Of the nation's more than 119 million households, a whopping 75% already own a grill. According to Hansen, people generally buy gas grills when the one they already own quits working.

The good news, he says, is that there is major growth in specialty sales. "If you're a strong Weber dealer and think your doing great with Weber, you should still investigate the specialty grills because there is real opportunity in that business," he said.

Weber, Traeger and Big Green Egg — the three big grill brands in the Ace family — have significant add-on sales opportunities. And owners of these brands make great customers in general. For instance, Hansen said a Traeger customer is in the top 5% of all Ace customers. They shop three times more than the average customer, and spend four times more than the average customer.

A well-trained in-store grill ambassador will ask the customer questions and guide the customer accordingly, says Jason Morse, from 5280 Culinary and BBQ Provisions, a grilling expert who regularly works with the Rocky Mountain Ace Dealers group to promote the category.

It's important to know how the customer will use the grill, and helpful to know how much time they expect to spend preparing meals, he said.

Above all, a true grill ambassador will sell the experience of grilling.

"It's about having fun," Morse said. "It's about showing the customers we're more than a big box chain. And people want to come and see us because we're the experts."

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