Even in the below-zero temperatures of the harsh Wisconsin winters, you can find Ken Griep, a longtime grill enthusiast, in his backyard cooking up some grub.

Behind the grill is an inground pool, covered up for the offseason, and his hot tub, still in full use through the winter months. For Griep, the grill is a welcome addition to his backyard. He has his smoker, his gas grill and his charcoal.

"Of course, during the winter months, gas is more of a convenience for a quick meal," he says. "But during the summer, when I have more time to plan meals and spend the time outside, I'll bring out the charcoal grill for a slow cook or even the smoker for the afternoon."

Griep is an example of the seven in 10 U.S. adults who own a grill or smoker, according to the 2017 State of the Barbecue Industry Report by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. In Canada, ownership is 8 in 10.

As sales rise (they've climbed an average of 2.8% every year, according to research from IBISWorld, with an industry-wide revenue of an estimated $6.6 billion in 2017), more pool and spa retailers are welcoming grills into their showrooms as a natural add-on to the backyard aesthetic. Their confidence comes from the support of grill manufacturers — vendors that not only provide lead generation and marketing tools, but also the education to help their sales staff close the deal.

FEELING HOT, HOT, HOT

If you told Rene Huston, president of Patio Pleasures in Sun Prairie, Wis., that she would sell more than 100 grills a year, she would have doubted it. "Just like anything, sometimes you have to be willing to try something new to see what happens," she says.

Patio Pleasure's motto is "Inspiring the Endless Weekend," a nod to all things outdoors. So while the majority of its revenue comes from pool and spa sales, a number of grills from Green Mountain Grills (a manufacturer offering top-of-the-line wood pellet grills and accessories) are prominent in Patio Pleasure's showroom.

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For Huston, Green Mountain was the right fit because the company offered some uniqueness in the market. "I was not interested in selling gas grills," she says. "Pellet grills had a different story and unique selling features that allowed us to consider the idea of adding them to our showroom mix."

"Not only that, but Green Mountain is committed to brick-and-mortar retailers and stays out of the big-box stores," says Huston. "This is always high on my list when making a decision on a product and manufacturer."

Huston leans on Green Mountain for product support, marketing (she admits being immediately engaged after seeing a juicy sirloin on the company's Instagram) and even lead generation. The "Find a Dealer" feature of the company's website sends local customers straight to Patio Pleasures.

"The dealer locator is imperative," says Jason Baker of Green Mountain Grills. He says it might be old-fashioned nowadays to not sell products all over the internet, but his brick-and-mortar retailers — there isn't one he hasn't personally talked to — respond well to this, especially when the company's website directs traffic right to them. "[Customers] can't go to Amazon and buy [our product]. They have to go into the brick and mortar."

THE SHOWROOM EXPERIENCE

Presentation is key when merchandising grills. For already space-conscious retailers, selling grills might not be the right fit. But for those who have the space to properly display the product, both in the showroom and outside the storefront, grills can be a profitable addition to a pool and spa store.

For Craig Gerdik of The Spa & Patio Store (with locations in San Marcos and San Diego, Calif.), entering the grill market was a no-brainer. "You're in your pool. You hop out. You grill," he says. "I think [retailers] need to capture the whole backyard experience. If you have everything in one spot and have the space to do so, people are going to get the package deal."

Gerdik has found support in Cal Flame (of Cal Spas). He says the user-friendly nature of the company's gas grill line appeals to his clientele, and sales make up 25% of the store's total revenue. That success is largely due to setting aside a fourth of his showroom to properly display the product line.

"We look for [dealers] that can share the full line of product instead of just bunching up pieces of it," says Shiva Noble, executive vice president of Cal Spas. "If you can't offer the full line, you won't see the sales."

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Cal Flame worked with The Spa & Patio Store to design its showroom. "They knew what grills we were getting that year, took the layout and placed everything," says Gerdik. "That really improved sales, and the grills are doing really well. Cal Flame is very involved."

Philip Chamberlain, national sales manager at Forshaw, also advises dealers interested in entering the grill market that to do it properly, you have to commit some square footage and plan carefully. "Displaying the product is a big deal," he says. "And don't load yourself up with inventory."

The more comfortable customers feel about the grills, the more confident they will be in purchasing the product. Fred Albano, owner and CEO of Albano Appliance & Service and a Kalamazoo dealer, suggests doing a demo to create an immersive customer experience. "Don't be afraid to use an outdoor grill onsite," says Albano. "How about doing a lunch for the sales team? Get people out there, put a spatula in their hand and get them cooking with it."

Albano also turns his showroom into a full-fledged dinner venue. "We entertain our clients here at the shop a few times a year," he says. "You want to be first-of- mind for [customers]. We enjoy sharing knowledge of the grills and showing customers how to have a good time. That's important."

SUPPORT AFTER THE SALE

Customer support should not stop after the grill has been delivered and the sale made final. It is crucial for dealers to nurture ongoing relationships with their clientele, which can lead to further purchases — grill users can continue coming back for profitable add-ons and accessories — and referral business. Part of this support comes from their grill vendors.

Green Mountain, for example, offers customer support seven days a week. "We give a three-year warranty," says Baker. "People can call us and get a part, and we will come to their door as quickly as possible."

Huston also relies on Green Mountain for referral business. "[Their social media marketing] creates a following and a community of Green Mountain Grill lovers, which turns into a lot of referral business," she says. "We get a lot of customers who purchase because their brother has a Green Mountain Grill or a co-worker."

Customers also continue to visit Patio Pleasures to purchase pellets. "When we sell our grills, we educate our customers on the importance of using a quality pellet," says Huston. "Green Mountain offers a high-quality, clean pellet at a great value. Our customers see the value...and come back."

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"Those pellets not only keep customers coming back, but now they're in the store and saying, 'Oh gosh, I need this for my pool, or I need this for my spa,'" adds Baker. "You want [the customer] coming in for all those things as a visit on their errand list. A big part of the retail puzzle is to create more traffic."

Cal Flame offers similar customer support and has even recently added a new cookbook to its website, offering a number of different, free recipes. "We are constantly adding new recipes to the cookbook and lessons on how to barbecue," says Noble. Recipes include everything from shrimp stir-fry to a rack of lamb.

Albano mirrors this kind of customer support. He has a chef on staff that works with grill users to familiarize them on helpful tips and recipes to get the most out of their Kalamazoo grills and modules. "When the outdoor kitchen is set up, our chef goes out [to the customer's home]. He doesn't cook them dinner, but he shows them how everything works to make them comfortable with the grill."

SELL THE LIFESTYLE

At the end of the day, it's all about selling the outdoor lifestyle. Pools and spas already bring families together and invite homeowners to utilize their outdoor space. A grill is a perfect extension to the backyard.

"It's about backyard living," says Noble. "If [customers] are in a pool and spa, then they are already in a backyard. They are interested in enhancing their lifestyle by increasing their living space. It's just a matter of cross-selling them to a brand-new product."

Abigail Carpenter is Editorial Assistant of AQUA Magazine.