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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 30, 2016 3 years ago

Nice brats

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Sales of Shelly Stayer's new sausage grill were hotter than expected.
by: Ted Carter Contributing Writer

Sales numbers six months into market release of the Johnsonville Sizzling Sausage Grill have convinced Naples-based executive Shelly Stayer she must take the electric grill worldwide.

The first shipment of 10,000 grills from the manufacturer in China ran out in 30 days. Stayer figured to follow that order with orders of 20,000 at a time. The shipping number has since jumped to 60,000 units at a time, bringing the indoor grill's inventor closer to her initial sales goal of 1 million and setting her sights on an additional 1 million.

“My forecasting was off,” concedes Stayer, who is president of Johnsonville Sausage LLC and co-owner of Grace & Shelly's Cupcakes in Naples.

The headline Stayer would write to tell the story of the grill's market reception: “Johnsonville's Sizzling Sausage Grill is on fire.”

Fire, as in a quickly disappearing inventory, she says.

She and assistant Megan Nehls wrote “The Sizzling Sausage Cookbook” to help sizzling grill buyers learn more ways to prepare Johnsonville sausages and side dishes. “The cookbook has some very current recipes and some Old World recipes,” Stayer says. A hardcover, the book has about 100 pages.

Stayer co-owns Johnsonville Sausage LLC with husband, Ralph Stayer, whose butcher father founded the company in 1945 in Johnsonville, Wis., an unincorporated community in the town of Sheboygan Falls, Wis.

Today, Johnsonville Sausage LLC is the largest sausage brand by revenue in the United States, with sales nearing $1 billion.

Johnsonville products are also big sellers in 40 other countries, thus giving Shelly Stayer valuable brand recognition when the grill goes international.

“The opportunities globally are endless,” she says. “I am only into this thing six months. The main goal was to sell a few grills and create brand awareness” of Johnsonville brats and its other sausages.

“Now my goal is, I want every place in the world to have them,” Stayer says of the grill, whose MVP feature is a patented sensor that shuts down the grill when it detects the sausage is 160 degrees throughout and fully cooked.

Stayer is focused on growing sales in Florida, Texas and California. The plan is to continue with the infomercial Stayer began airing and supplement that with radio and print advertisements that have helped drive sales in the Midwest, where Johnsonville is a household name.

Milwaukee celebrity chef Paul Bartolotta, two-time winner of the James Beard Foundation award, has helped drive sales with advertising pitches. Even a Milwaukee TV meteorologist has contributed with a TV ad reminding viewers it might be frightfully cold outside, but grilling inside is now an option.

QVC and Home Shopping Network have called, but Stayer must first get production of the grills sufficient to fill the new orders appearing on the shopping channels will produce.

Shoppers in Wisconsin can get the $79.99 grills in Wal-Mart stores and in Mills Fleet Farm retail stores throughout the Midwest. Amazon is also a purchase option. So is sizzlingsausagegrill.com and its order phone line at 800-472-1875.

So what caused Stayer to misjudge the sales for the electric grill?

“I didn't realize how people's lives have changed,” Stayer says, citing their growing preference to spend no more than 20 minutes making a meal. Her grill completes its cooking of an Italian sausage in 13 minutes and a bratwurst in 15 minutes.

She has data, she says, that shows smaller households are buying the grills, including college students. “The demographic I missed was the millennials,” she says, describing them as less likely than their parents to spend time preparing elaborate dinner.

The GenXers are mostly the same, according to her data.

Data also show that men are likely to be repeat purchasers. That is especially evident at the Naples-based gourmet grocery store Johnsonville Marketplace, Strayer says. “What we know for sure is that they come back and get three more.”

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