CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- Dierbergs Markets here has fired up its already successful relationship with a local barbecue restaurant in time to make the most of football season and the upcoming holidays.
The 16-unit supermarket chain has opened two more in-store units of Super Smokers, a popular local restaurant, said Greg Dierberg, the retailer's executive vice president.
"It's a definite draw and it provides a wonderful service for our customers," he said. "[Super Smokers] are good to work with, too."
The Super Smokers units inside Dierbergs stores now total four, and besides generating strong sales themselves, they're being credited with bringing more shoppers into the store, creating a festive air and, above all, giving Dierbergs' customers a take-out meal option that has pizazz.
It's been widely touted that the restaurant chain was the winner of this year's Whole Hog World Championship Pork Barbecuer title, officials said.
"When they won the Whole Hog competition, it was great. [Co-owner] Terry Black was on local talk radio shows, and people know Super Smokers anyway. He has some kind of deal with the Rams," Dierberg said, referring to the local championship NFL franchise. "They have three stands at the football stadium here, and they're also at the Cardinals baseball games."
Of the two Super Smokers added this summer, one operates seven days a week at the front of the store. The other is a weekend-only operation. The deal is that Dierbergs leases space to Super Smokers, who staffs the barbecue operations from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. All food is served hot, and most customers take it out, Dierberg said.
The menu items carry the same retail price as they do at Super Smokers' two stand-alone restaurants. While the menu is abbreviated at Dierbergs, various regional styles of barbecue, such as baby back ribs, pulled pork, and brisket are represented. There is also smoked chicken, and there are sides.
A business publication in St. Louis recently named Super Smokers' the best barbecue in the city, and the daily newspaper spotlighted the company when its owners brought home the champ trophy from the Annual World Barbecue Championship in Memphis last spring.
At that event, Super Smokers went head-to-head with 246 barbecuers from around the world, and their win was just the latest in a string of awards they've earned over the last few years.
"We're always trying to do better. We want to get a 10 every time we put a plate of food in front of a customer," Black said.
As Dierbergs' guest, Black shared some of his expertise with local residents this fall when he appeared on the grocery chain's quarterly prime-time TV show, "Everybody Cooks." The program aired just before Monday Night Football.
"I talked about how to grill and barbecue for tailgate parties. Football season is good for us. It keeps us from going into a slump after the summer season," Black said.
Greg Dierberg confirmed that on game days, the Super Smokers inside Dierbergs stores do a bang-up business.
"It helps that the [St. Louis] Rams are doing so well. Since they won Super Bowl, everybody's a fan. On a game day, in St. Louis, everybody's in front of the television between 12 and 3, and a lot of them are eating barbecued ribs," Dierberg said.
Super Smokers received its Dierberg's launch in a store in Warson Woods, Mo., nearly two years ago, where it operates only on Sunday. The barbecuers actually share the counter and work space in that store with a Chinese restaurant.
"It was the idea of one of our grocery managers [Jeff Gloss] who knew the Super Smokers people. We have a good Chinese program, Lucky Wok, in that store but it wasn't doing so well on Sundays, so they closed on that day. The grocery manager suggested we try Super Smokers in that space when the Chinese counter wasn't open," Dierberg said.
Super Smokers uses the same eight-foot hot table next to the deli that Lucky Wok uses during the week. The barbecue restaurant has its own commissary, so employees bring the cooked items to the store in their own warming cabinets, Dierberg explained.
The experiment was a success almost instantly, he said. So successful, in fact, that Dierbergs soon approached Super Smokers' co-owner Terry Black to see if he and his business partners would be amenable to going into another store. They were.
This time, they were to be open seven days a week and would have a spot at the front of the store near checkout, and next to a large seating area.
Dierberg said that it's difficult to calculate how much additional store traffic can be attributed to Super Smokers, but he's certain it has increased Sunday traffic at the Dierbergs' unit where it is a "Sunday-only" feature.
"I know that at the Warson Woods store, we draw from a pretty large radius with Super Smokers. People drive from seven and eight miles away and it's not highway driving. It's busy streets. Then, when they get there, they do their grocery shopping as well."
He said he thinks the fact that Super Smokers is available there only one day a week generates extra desire.
"People make a special trip out of it. If it were there every day, they might say, 'Well, I can get it tomorrow, or next time.' But since it's only on Sundays, they're thinking they need to get over to Dierbergs to get their Super Smokers. We hear people saying that."
Now, tagged onto Super Smokers' advertising, the Dierberg name also gets more exposure in the community, Dierberg said. Not surprisingly, he's eager to put the barbecue stations in more stores. However, he noted that the restaurant group -- due to open a third stand-alone unit early in 2001 -- is following a blueprint of conservative growth.
Nevertheless, Super Smokers' reputation keeps getting bigger, which benefits Dierbergs because the name is now associated with the grocery chain, Dierberg pointed out. Super Smokers' spot ads on radio list their four Dierbergs locations.
"Terry is such a personality, too. When he visits a radio station, he gets so much time on the air. They just keep asking him questions because he's fun to talk to. And he always mentions us," Dierberg said.
Black told SN that his decision to link with a strong regional chain like Dierbergs was a natural for the small, but growing, food-service operator.
"I was delighted that a 145-year-old company like Dierbergs would take a calculated risk with a four-year-old company like ours. Jeff [Gloss] thought of us and Greg just took off with the idea."
Actually, Dierberg said it didn't seem like a big risk because Super Smokers' local reputation is so solid.
"The owners keep a close eye on their operations and they're very accessible," he said. "We have two other locations that we'd put them in tomorrow [if we could].
"I have my eyes on a particular store where I know it would do great. It's a high-volume store, with a strong meat department. They sell a lot of ribs there and we figure people who buy ribs would love to be able to get Super Smokers right there," Dierberg said.