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outdoor, ‘What Are You Doing?’ Quarantine Edition, Nationwide Marketing Group, Nationwide Marketing GroupCategory: What are you doing?

Answer:  _ _ _ _ _ _ _    _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _.

Wheel of Fortune, one of my favorite game shows, is the longest running, second-highest syndicated show of all time. In its 37th season, longtime hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White continue to entertain in this classic game-show version of “hangman.” To help you solve the final puzzle, you automatically get:  R, S, T, L, N, E.

_ _ R _ _ N _   _ R _ _   _ _ _ E.

Next, I’ll give you the three most popular consonants and one vowel: C, M, D, A.

_ _ R _ _ N _   _ R _ M   _ _ M E.

Got it?? The answer to this word puzzle has been one of the most popular activities in the last 90 days.

Since the middle of March, most of the United States population has been under national emergency orders to stay in your house, go out only if you must and social distance if you have to make an essential supply run. With the exception of very few people, we have been relegated to spending a historically disproportionate amount of time with family. This sociological phenomenon has had a significant impact on our daily lives.

Home cooked meals, almost exclusively. Streaming entertainment of movies and games. Home schooling for many. Family game night. Exercising and walks are daily occurrences. Getting to home projects that you’ve been procrastinating. The list goes on and on… Purchases of toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, soap, food stuffs with shelf life and meat have flown off the shelf. Liquor store purchases are up 55%. Back in March, freezers were sold out within days and replenishment is just starting now. Usage of household appliances has gone up and surely will fuel the need for future replacement.

So, how have outdoor living products been impacted?

Consumables for outdoor cooking have skyrocketed: Fuels like wood pellets are up 132% as reported by a leading grill manufacturer. Spices and rubs are way up. There was a reported 94% increase of grill usage month-over-month in April.

The Hearth and Patio Association statistical surveys show the “normal” most popular holidays to grill are: Fourth of July (76%), Labor & Memorial Day (62%), Super Bowl (28%) and Thanksgiving (14%). What happened on Easter 2020? One manufacturer reported that on Easter Sunday (4/13/20) they saw the highest recorded “cooks” of all time! How do they know? Well, their products are Wi-Fi based, so they were able to record the data based on app usage.

Based on one vendor’s online survey, four out of 10 purchases were accelerated due to the crisis. In March and April, manufacturers I spoke to reported increased overall sales of grills, accessories and consumables anywhere from 20% to 80% over prior weeks.

So, what does all this recent historical usage mean for the future of selling in the Outdoor Category? With usage going up, it means more product failure. Just like appliances, grills are purchased about 60% of the time under duress (something went wrong). With 85% of the U.S. population owning at least one grill, future sales of grills will continue to go up once we have fully re-opened the economy and get back to the new norm. In addition to the replacement business, consumers’ desire to have more than one grill continues to accelerate. The pellet grill market is on fire … pun intended. While Traeger certainly leads the market, they’re  followed by Louisiana Grills and brands like Broil King, Weber, and others that have launched new pellet platforms within the last year. Cooking and smoking on other fuel types (charcoal or lump charcoal) inclusive of brands like Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, Oklahoma Joe’s and Masterbuilt are also in demand.

The other big learning from the last 90 days has been the selling process. Online grill sales have had reported increases of 40% to 146%. Having a simple product catalog and pricing is NOT enough. The consumer path to purchase already included pre-shopping 90% of the time on the Internet. Now, the experience needs to include product reviews, shopping cart, chat and virtual shopping capabilities. Assembling product and offering free same-day pickup or curbside delivery has helped a lot of retailers be successful. Highlighting the fact that the products have been disinfected to help ease the concern of contagion spread has also been important.

I believe the future is bright for Outdoor Living products in general and specifically for grills, fire pits and other products that add to the personalized ambience of your home. Some of you may have missed the selling opportunity of the last 90 days, but there’s still time to be part of this category. Make sure you are market relevant. Some ideas to help you get there include:

  • Stock multiple brands; I suggest four at a minimum
  • Cover every fuel type: gas, charcoal, pellet
  • Dedicated display space should be a minimum of 800 sq. ft.
  • Live demonstrations and/or virtually recorded demonstrations and cooking classes can drive engagement and interest
  • Have at least one passionate outdoor grilling Sales Associate at each location
  • Leverage your community involvement
  • And lean on your Group, your Manufacturer Partners and your Peers

Metaphorically speaking, your spin at the Wheel of Fortune in outdoor can still be a winner.

By the way, ‘What are you doing?’:  WORKING FROM HOME.

This article was originally published in the June 2020 issue of Retail Observer.