Imagine you and your pals work at a foundry. After spending your shift pouring molten metal and hauling heavy loads, you hang out with your friends from the plant. What do you talk about? The topic up for discussion is hot iron. At least, that's what the workers at Seneca Foundry did in 2007, and in their talking, they came up with a fantastic new product, the Grill Topper. "Our parent company is a foundry in the Midwest. Some of the employees there were taking breaks and having company outings. They had the idea of mixing fun and work and doing something for grilling," says Jackie Johansen, marketing manager. "They started experimenting, and invented the Grill Topper. That's how it evolved, through a hard-working group of employees who got together, came up with the concept, and made it happen." The product is a solid iron slab that sits on the grill, embossed with a logo or team name. The iron heats up and the griller puts a steak or a roll on the metal, branding the team name into the food. As it turns out, fans like to see their teams on their burgers.
The appeal, as the country heads into tailgating season, is easy to see. College football tailgate parties, corporate barbecues, and backyard grills are all perfect venues for a meeting of fans and seared meat. The company has developed three basic models. "We have the hot dog version," explains Johansen. "The 550 version is perfect for a single piece of hamburger, chicken or steak. And then we have the Big Daddy, which has six different grilling surfaces on it. That's for a big group." For each of the three sizes, there are many varieties. The Grill Topper uses just the name of the team, or the team's town; there are currently 40 teams per line. "We have some other non-team top sellers, such as Ford, Army, Chicago and Green Bay," says Johansen, explaining the product range.
In addition, the company is adding lines of complementary merchandise: aprons, gloves and barbecue tools. "We also have very nice quality aprons with 40 different college logos," Johansen adds. In fact, the aprons feature several high end touches, such as bright colors, quality seams, and big logos. The grill tools and hot mitts are also decorated with team logos. For the moment, the company is content to sell these items, with some customization work as well.
The Grill Topper is available through a range of outlets. "We sell to retail locations such as Ace Hardware or even Hallmark stores," notes Johansen. Although the company also sells direct to consumers, they do so online at a premium, so as not to undercut their clients. "We work with e-tailers. The prices on our consumer site are a little bit higher," she adds. The Grill Topper team has made attracting new retailers its number one priority, and pricing is designed to appeal to these new retailers. "For example, for a case of the medium size Grill Toppers, the cost to the wholesaler is $9 per Grill Topper," reveals Johansen. "The suggested retail price is $18.99.
Retailers can expect keystone or more on each of our products." Grill Topper offers superlative customer service as well. "With large orders we'll put in some free Grill Toppers, or other products the customer may not have ordered, so they can test it for free," says Johansen. "We ship out products the same day." A minimum order for new accounts is $200, and buyers can mix and match various logos to fill out their order. The minimum order for regular customers is one case.
The company is determined to support new and existing retailers with a strong marketing push. "We have great support materials," says Johansen. "We have a set of brochures, videos, and banners, but we also work with each individual retailer who comes to us. For example, if there is an upcoming festival or alumni event, we'll contact the retailers in that area and ask how we can take advantage of this, and how we can support them. We've done all kinds of interesting things that are a little bit non-traditional." Another way Grill Topper supports its customers is through electronic outreach. "The Internet is in our top two priorities. It is of utmost importance to us," says Johansen. "We know how important it is for retailers to do their research and have the convenience of gathering information and ordering online, so we're putting a lot of focus on that right now." The company already has a robust end-user website designed to serve fans and grillers, although retailers can use the site to gain product knowledge. Eventually, Grill Topper will have an online home for the wholesale trade. "We're just really establishing a more robust section of our site, thegrilltopper.com, for retailers. That will have several pages dedicated to retailers," says Johansen.
Online since 2009, The Grill Topper is making improvements all the time. On the consumer site, "We've added functionality, how-to videos, and links to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, which receive a lot of activity," says Johansen. For example, there are comments, stories, recipes, links, and other efforts to, "get the personality of the company out there to our fans," notes Johansen. A Facebook fan recently won a contest for a free Grill Topper. However, retailers should not feel left out. The company sends a monthly e-mail newsletter to its trade customer base. "We share support materials and best practices, as well as special news and deals in the newsletter," she says.
For more information:
The Grill Topper
P.O. Box 365
Webster City, IA 50595
Toll free: 888-932-2068
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