No matter what product categories your retail business offers, the last three years have been quite the rollercoaster ride. That’s been especially true, however, in the outdoor living category. In 2020, we saw new consumer interest in stay-at-home entertainment, shopping remotely, and a supply constrained world of inventory. Then, 2021 represented the best year ever for grill sales as consumers upgraded existing products and added additional cooking methods to their portfolio. Demand was so high that manufacturers struggled to keep up. And then there was 2022, a much different story as available disposable income plummeted while product costs rose double-digits. Consumers held off replacing their old grills and cut back on add-on products — a double-whammy effect that produced a grill industry decline of 32 percent last year.
So, where do we go from here?
In 2023, grill sales are forecast to be slightly down in units and flat in dollars. The first half of the year will be slower than the second half. We can only hope the Fed’s interest rate modifications are enough to have a “soft economic landing” and that consumer confidence builds back to pre-COVID years. It is critical that retailers come to grips with the reality of the uncertainty we are facing and begin to adapt their business to these market conditions.
Success in 2023 will hinge on three things key activities:
- Wholesale buying changes
- Advertising & promotional activation
- Understanding consumer behavioral trends
Let’s dive a little deeper into the implications of each.
Wholesale Buying Changes
Unlike last year, you still have time to place a pre-season order. Inventory positions by vendors have improved to the point where you can place a two-stage delivery order, one now and one in a couple of months. Their product mix is in pretty good shape too, but make sure you collaborate with them on what they plan to have in stock for the “summer seasonal bump.” I anticipate Father’s Day through 4th of July to be strong as the economic tide starts to turn.
Advertising, Merchandising & Promotional Activation
We’re back to 2019. We need to go find the consumer. Investments in advertising and promotion will be critical to success in 2023. Start by ensuring your website clearly calls out “Outdoor Products” and that your digital catalog is robust with content. Leverage the chat feature with your Sales Associates who are most educated in the category. Invest in search, social, and email retargeting to maximize foot traffic.
In addition, take advantage of merchandising add-on opportunities with a sampling station of rubs, spices, and sauces. Not only are you giving customers a reason to come back more frequently, but these areas can also enhance your overall in-store experience. Make sure you have Wi-Fi-enabled thermometer solutions to meet the needs of both indoor and outdoor cooking. Add outdoor comfort products: misting fans that help beat the heat during the summer and heating products like gas-fired flame tables and smokeless fire pits for the winter.
Re-emphasize the built-in grill business through display, internal commission increases, and connecting with local businesses that emphasize the outdoor kitchen space, i.e. landscapers, architects, etc. The higher earning/saving consumers have money and are still willing to spend it on what they want. Premium and luxury grill brands are outpacing sales of value and core branded products. Display outdoor kitchen modules. Those that are mobile are especially in vogue.
Lastly here, plan your promotions now. Preseason inventory clearance, grill season kickoff in late April, Father’s Day, 4th of July, Tailgating in August and Black Friday are your best bets. Plan your demonstrations now. Cooking sample foods during your key store promotions is an important ingredient to creating consumer draw, looking relevant in the outdoor category, touching all their senses and having fun as an organization. Recognize that you will most likely have to do this in-house as vendors travel and budgets are being scrutinized.
Understanding Consumer Behavioral Trends
Consumers still desire to make their home their sanctuary. The top three places they’re investing in: kitchen and bath remodeling, home offices and outdoor entertainment. In the outdoor space they’re still interested in an outdoor kitchen, comfort solutions, and adding audio/video solutions. Additional cooking method types will come back from their 2022 decline. Ceramic egg style cooking and outdoor (pizza) ovens are good examples. Outdoor induction cooktop add-ons are not a “thing” yet, but they will become so in the next couple of years. More Wi-Fi-enabled products are coming as well.
If done right, 2023 will be a rewarding year to sell outdoor living products. I can’t say it often enough. Differentiate your business, be relevant, and invest the time, energy, effort and dollars in the outdoor category. It will pay off.
John Laing is the director of outdoor for Nationwide Marketing Group