By many accounts, Fire & Flavor is on a roll. The Athens, Georgia, company sells wood planks for barbecue grilling -- a notion that comes from the Native American culture of the Pacific Northwest. Sales reached $3.9 million last year, according to founders Gena and Davis Knox, up from $2.6 million in 2006. And the planks, priced from $8 to $10, are now sold at Whole Foods, Kroger, Linens 'n Things, and Lowe's, and online. But even with distribution in these big chains, the concept of using cedar, maple, and oak to flavor meat, poultry, or seafood still hasn't broke through to the mainstream. For example, it took the Knoxes three years to secure shelf space in Safeway. And sales through one supermarket chain have been flat. To help build buzz, Gena recently self-published a cookbook that highlights some of Fire & Flavor's products. What else can the business do to spread the word? We asked four entrepreneurs for their ideas.
Pitch no. 1:
It's the Ideal Gift! Richard Steel, president of Steel Media, a New York City online marketing firm
"This product is simple yet sophisticated and very affordable. But at times, consumers need a reason to check out a product they don't necessarily need. So I would team up with a popular brand of fish, meat, or produce, such as Omaha Steaks, and bundle products together for a discounted price. The company also needs to capture a market where word of mouth will happen on its own. It should get some consumers to host parties with Fire & Flavor products during peak grilling season, or it should position the planks as a great gift to bring to someone else's party. Viral campaigns are another great way to create buzz. The company should set up an online forum where people have the opportunity to submit their own recipes."
Pitch No. 2:
Make a Major Mass-Market Push Michael Crandall, vice president of marketing, the Siegel Group Nevada, a commercial real estate developer in Las Vegas
"I would take a look at distribution. It's great that they're in Whole Foods, but the planks are relatively inexpensive -- I think Fire & Flavor should focus on signing up as many mainstream supermarkets as possible. Assuming the company has a little margin to work with, I'd look at dropping the price by a dollar. I'd also sell the planks in big packages. If a family's buying them for one dinner, that's one thing, but if they know they'll be using them at least once a week, they'll want more. Finally, I would get a well-known chef like Bobby Flay to serve as a spokesperson."
Pitch No. 3:
Promote a Battle of the Sexes Amy Rees Anderson, CEO, MediConnect Global, a medical-records company in South Jordan, Utah
"It's great that Gena has a cookbook, but I think it's crazy that Davis doesn't have a book, too. This product could be a big seller with men, who are so competitive when it comes to barbecuing. The Knoxes could play off a Battle of the Sexes theme. Gena could be the more elegant, Martha Stewart type, and Davis could be the manly man. They could appear on Regis and Kelly's Friday cooking segment. It'd be cute having Regis and the husband on one team and Kelly and the wife on the other team: gourmet versus barbecue. Sometimes investors cringe when they see a company run by a husband-and-wife team, but if the Knoxes have fun with it, I think it would give the brand some oomph."
Pitch No. 4:
Embrace the Native American Tradition Trish Karter, co-founder and CEO of Dancing Deer Baking Company, a Boston-based business that sells cookies, cakes, and brownies
"What's missing in the company's marketing is personality and excitement about the brand. They're doing a straight-up food preparation angle, which is great, but everyone knows about grilling and rubs, so it's a bit of a so-what message. What would give them some brand mojo and establish them as the Grilling People? One direction they could go in is with the Native American tradition. They could sponsor a series of events with Native American organizations, and they could collaborate with other companies to promote the knowledge of food traditions from Native American history. The company should look for opportunities to teach the people coming as tourists to Native American lands -- including casinos -- an appreciation for this kind of traditional food and the culture it came from."
Feedback on the Feedback: The Knoxes are already experimenting with co-branding deals and viral marketing. In July, Fire & Flavor will hold a recipe contest in partnership with grill manufacturer Big Green Egg. The winner will receive a set of Fire & Flavor products, Gena's cookbook, and a new grill, and his or her recipe will be featured on Fire & Flavor's website. Gena and Davis were intrigued by the Battle of the Sexes concept and the idea of playing up the planks' Native American origins. And they are contemplating selling planks in bulk packages. One suggestion they dislike: slapping a celebrity chef's name on their packaging. Gena will remain the face of the company. "I'm not a classically trained chef," she says. "We hope people can say, 'If she can cook gourmet meals, then I can, too."