Tailgating takes off

At stadiums around the country, some of the most exciting fall sport action is taking place in the parking lots. That’s where fans -- more specifically, the tailgaters -- are bringing the art of outdoor entertaining to a new level.

Tailgating has kicked off in ways that sometimes boggle the imagination -- trailers outfitted with $18,000 smokers and full-service bars aren’t an unusual sight outside any given stadium come the weekend.

And retailers have not ignored the trend.

Both Home Depot and Lowe’s ran promotions this fall on coolers and special grills, tying them into the tailgating phenomenon.

“We’ve had a great fall in tailgating,” said Steven Benoff, a grills product merchant with Home Depot. “We introduced a brand new tailgating grill, a four-burner stainless steel grill that you can fold down into your vehicle when you’re finished using it. We did a ‘special buy’ on the tailgate grill on the cover of our ad circular just prior to Labor Day, and we did an endcap.” Benoff pointed out that ancillary items to grills -- folding chairs, pop-up awnings, grill tools and coolers -- are part of the appeal in marketing tailgating items.

Tailgaters represent a demographic that has the tendency to self-advertise as well -- that is, numerous blogs, social networking sites and photo collections online give tailgaters the opportunity to show off their elaborate parking lot parties. Web sites for groups like the American Tailgaters Association and blogs with names like “The Ultimate Tailgaters” offer barbecue recipes, photos and potshots from fans of rival teams.

Sometimes hardware merchants cross over into the category of fans. In the case of Trent Boyd, manager of Handy Hardware dealer Goodwood Hardware & Outdoors in Baton Rouge, La., one of the store’s biggest fall categories is also a favorite with the employees. “We cook jumbalayas. We cook gumbos,” said store representative and Trent’s wife Vickie.

But it’s not just about having fun -- the Boyds use the opportunity to network and make business contacts with other members of the community. People tend to walk around and visit numerous tailgating spots, Boyd explained, and it’s easy to meet people because everyone shares a fervent love for LSU football.

About four years ago, Goodwood Hardware devoted a small four-foot section to outdoor cooking niche products. Since that time, the section has grown to an approximately 1,000-square-foot niche products space, for everything from small Weber grills to LSU flags to higher-end outdoor kitchen appliances from Viking.

“One of our newest ones is a hammock chair that hooks onto a trailer hitch,” Boyd said.

At McGuckin Hardware, an independent dealer north of Denver, outdoor and seasonal merchandise buyer Bruce Ramp sees most interest from University of Colorado fans, with a smattering of Denver Broncos tailgaters thrown in for good measure.

At McGuckin, the products that are most popular for tailgating are the more practical items.

“It isn’t so much the branded stuff -- more like small collapsible folding tables, small barbecues with a screw-on cylinder,” Ramp said. “Of course, there are the flag poles and banners with the CU logo on them.”

To read more about what tailgating products are hot and how best to market them, read the Oct. 22 issue of Home Channel News magazine. For subscription information, click here.