It may have changed its venues and even its name over the years, but the ShoppersChoice.com LLC that exists today is still, at heart, the same company that started as The Grill Store & More in 1998. The company was founded as a brick-and-mortar store located in Baton Rouge, La., by Michael and Ladina Hackley. The seven-days-a-week operation built enough following to open a second brick and mortar store in 2000. It was the same year the company went into e-commerce with its first website, thegrillstoreandmore.com, followed by BBQGuys.com in 2001. Just like its brick and mortar stores, the websites proved a successful endeavor, so successful, in fact, that the company closed its physical locations and went strictly online in 2002.
Last year, however, the company decided to revisit its roots and opened a ShopperChoice showroom in its Baton Rouge home base. The showroom features a three-quarter-acre display area filled with high-quality patio furniture, a full line of indoor and outdoor kitchen cookware and more than twenty fully-functional outdoor kitchens. Like all of the retail iterations before it, the ShoppersChoice showroom is focused on two things: customer service and product knowledge. According to CEO Corey Tisdale, ShoppersChoice is not simply in the business of selling indoor and outdoor cookware products. Instead, the company is focused on supporting the griller’s lifestyle.
“One of the things we wanted to create with this showroom was to a have a place where people could try before they buy,” Tisdale says. “Just like you can test drive a car, why not test drive the stuff you cook on. We’ve built multiple working kitchens with islands and grills and related appliances that customers can try out. You can bring whatever you want to cook and call ahead to schedule a time. Or you can come watch a live demo or take a cooking class, ask questions and learn the differences between products.”
ShoppersChoice fosters the same type of customer engagement on its website. Before becoming its CEO, Tisdale joined the company in 2000 with the specific task of building its online platform, which has continuously evolved over the years. The company has implemented, tested and refined a number of ideas over the years. Just like the showroom, it was important for the company to not only sell products, but give customers the information they need to confidently buy the right products for their needs.
“When we started our websites, we wanted to take advantage of everything the Web could do, and it seems that we always have more ideas than we have time to do,” Tisdale says. “We were one of the early adopters of using video. We would do 20 to 30 minute videos that were easier to digest than reading a manual. It’s hard to quantify performance on a spec sheet and they can get overly technical. But we would try to break things down. We could cook things on video and say ‘here’s the end result.’”
It also gave the customers a platform to give the company feedback on various products. Most of the products ShoppersChoice carries are made by OEM manufacturers, but it does have a line of stainless steel cabinets and doors used in outdoor kitchens called BBQ Guys. The website features expert reviews as well as customer reviews and Tisdale says the company’s future online investments will focus on building out its shoppers’ social network.
“I think we could do more to connect people in our customer base in our virtual community who share the same interests,” Tisdale says. “They may have questions and want feedback from other customers. We want to foster those types of relationships and act as an intermediary that wouldn’t be intrusive. The things we sell are not like socks. It’s cooking. It’s spending time with family and entertaining. It’s a lifestyle that were supporting and people who love that lifestyle love talking about it and like to hear from others to help them improve that lifestyle. I think there is still more room for us to help them out.”
With both the online and in-store retail businesses flourishing, ShoppersChoice is able to create synchronicities between the two and cater to different shopping habits. Some local shoppers will do their homework at home, reading product descriptions and customer reviews than visit the store to make a decision. Others may take a reverse strategy, testing the products in the store first than going home to make a decision and purchase online.
Whatever the method, ShoppersChoice’s goal is to make sure the customer has all the information they need. Online, it may consist of watching videos. In-store, it means buying food and paying employees to cook it themselves so they can give informed opinions to inquiring customers.
“There are many things we do that don’t directly make us money,” Tisdale says. “If a person goes out and spends money on the wrong product, they won’t be able to enjoy their kitchen or backyard to the max. We know this stuff and we want to help the customers figure it out so when they get their family together for Super Bowl Sunday it can be something you remember for the rest of your life. We are committed to being the unseen part of those experiences and making those experiences better.”