By Ingrid Howard
Like many other small businesses, Alabama Gaslight & Grill has felt the effects of online shopping.
But, according to owner Mike Barnett and his son, Anderson, there are advantages to shopping at local stores that customers can’t get on the internet.
“There’s not anything in here that you can’t purchase on the internet,” Mike said. “(But) I personally can’t imagine buying a $1,000 grill or more by just looking at it on the internet.”
Shopping for a grill is like a matchmaker’s process, and the Barnetts help guide their customers in the right direction.
“Before you ever look at a grill, I’m gonna say, ‘Do you want to do natural gas or propane? Is this on a deck or a patio?’” Mike said. “We’re gonna try to bring you to what we think you’re looking for.”
The store, which was opened in 1967 by a man named George Glen, also sells gas and electric lighting, gas logs and grilling accessories. Mike was working at Alabama Gas Corp., now Spire Inc., when the company decided to buy Alabama Gaslight & Grill. When Alagasco decided to get out of merchandising, Mike and his wife, Linda, bought the company.
The Barnetts have been the owners of Alabama Gaslight & Grill since 2004. Back then, Anderson was in third grade. Mike and Linda’s daughter, Blakely, was a teenager and worked at the store some.
“One of the memories I have of (Anderson) is … we had gotten this huge box, and I think there was a lamp or something in it,” Mike said. “But there were these packing peanuts, and (he) would climb up on the shelves and jump into the box of stuff.”
Anderson also has memories of baking cookies at home and taking them into the store to sell. Now, in his mid-20s, he’s learning the tricks of the trade from his father.
“I’m 62, and I don’t have any intentions of retiring real soon, but this company is more complex than people would think,” Mike said. “It takes time to learn the business. So the plan would be if he has an interest in it, we’ll just continue letting him operate it as a family-owned business into the long term.”
Anderson studied business management at Alabama and recently moved back to Birmingham after living in Austin, Texas, with his wife.
Mike received his marketing degree from Samford but said a lot has changed in retail and marketing since he graduated. Anderson brings a fresh outlook to the business — for example, he runs the company’s social media accounts.
Building a Customer Base
“I think it’s important to just get our name out to younger people … just to get the message out that we sell high-quality grills instead of the lower quality grills you might find at (big box stores),” Anderson said. “We have a lot of older customers that know our store because it’s been around for a long time. But trying to get our name out to younger
people that live in town is important.”
Anderson has a passion for cooking, and he said he enjoys trying out all of the different grills.
“It’s important for us to be experts on the product,” he said. “It’s important to have cooked on these products so that we know exactly how it works.”
Unlike many big box stores, Anderson said, Alabama Gaslight & Grill can install their products and connect them to a gas line.
“So we really try to push customer service and the quality of our grills,” he said. “A lot of the grills nowadays need to be replaced after a few years. These (MHP grills) are a lifetime warranty, so all of the major parts would be covered under a warranty for life.”
No matter how competitive internet stores and big box stores are, small businesses depend on their loyal customer bases. To draw attention to them, March 29 has been named National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day.
“A lot of people are looking for small community shops,” Anderson said.
“We’re known for our service. People know they can come in here and look for grills,” he said. “We know we’re losing sales to internet providers. But at the same time, I think that we will have a base of customer that still wants to shop locally and get good service and information.”
For more information and to shop online, visit alabamagaslightandgrill.com.