Kick-starting the Kategory!
By Lisa Readie Mayer
It’s been five decades since gas grills were first introduced, upending the established charcoal grill category and charting a new course for the barbecue industry. In that time the gas grill category has matured, and although sales of the once-cutting-edge appliances still dominate, they have slowed significantly.
“The entire gas grill market has been stagnant for the last decade and, generally speaking, category sales have been flat,” says Dale Wytiaz, president, Weber America. “There hasn’t been much innovation lately, and heavy price-promoting by home improvement chains has contributed to an overall decline in category dollar sales.
“But people are learning that a cheap, stainless-steel grill with all the features and a $200 price tag is just a mirage. It’s a two-year grill,” he says. “Our indicators suggest that consumers are ready and willing to trade up for more innovative features, better quality, longer lifespans and greater satisfaction.”
Weber hopes consumers will trade up to its new Genesis II line in 2017. The line, Weber’s biggest grill launch in 30 years, according to Wytiaz, will have eight new models in two-, three-, four- and six-burner configurations, with MSRPs from $599 to $2,249. Previous Genesis grills were only available with three burners and ranged in price from $699 to $1,000.
Genesis II grills feature a new cooking system with four key innovations: a more reliable and durable ignition system with a 10-year warranty; new tapered burners for better heat distribution; redesigned and improved Flavorizer bars; and an upgraded, centrally-
located grease management system for easier cleaning. Another design change relocates the propane tank outside the grill cart, freeing up storage space and enabling easier access to the tank.
|Genesis II from Weber Stephen.|
Standard Genesis II grills have an open-cart design, two side shelves, reversible porcelain-enameled cooking grates, and a docking station for a Bluetooth digital thermometer. One model, the Genesis II SE-410, a four-burner unit available in black, copper, crimson and smoke colors, with stainless-steel cooking grates and Flavorizer bars, is sold exclusively through the specialty channel. The step-up Genesis II LX line has stainless-steel cooking grates, a powerful High+ sear setting on the burners, a redesigned and improved sideburner, lighted control knobs, and other upgrades.
“We’re casting a wider net to get more consumers to invest in gas grills by offering products that meet their needs, from entry-level Millennials, to larger families with bigger backyards, to down-sizing Baby Boomers,” says Wytiaz.
“If you’re new to grilling and your budget is small, you probably don’t need or want a lot of features like a sideburner. But if you’re a well-off Baby Boomer who’s experienced with grilling but has a smaller home, you are willing to pay for a quality grill with the features you want; you just need it in a smaller size. Now we have gas grills to meet every need, budget, and level of grilling expertise. We believe this will allow people to trade up and help drive dollar growth in the category.”
Hestan Outdoor shook up the premium end of the gas-grill category when it launched its Hestan Grill last year, earning industry Vesta Awards for best gas grill and best-in-show/Outdoor Room product at the HPBExpo. The Hestan Grill’s innovative cooking system, patented features, unique design and bold color offerings caught the attention of retailers and, thanks to editorial coverage in publications such as the Robb Report and Food & Wine magazine, consumers, too. “We got loft pretty quickly and dealers and consumers started seeking us out,” says Basil Larkin, vice president Sales for Hestan Outdoor.
“We’ve signed many dealers whose sales had become stagnant with the premium grills they were carrying,” says Larkin. “They wanted to make a switch and shake things up. They appreciate that our grills offer a lot of cooking innovation, and unique features that add value, at a price similar to other premium grills.”
Another point of differentiation: Hestan grills’ distinctive-looking cart bases. According to Larkin, the unique designs and color finishes generate a lot of attention at retail and, as a result, the company sells many more freestanding, cart-based models than what is typical for premium grills.
In addition, while Larkin says stainless steel is still the best seller, 20 percent of Hestan cart grills are sold with a color finish. Citra (orange) is the most-requested, followed by Prince (periwinkle blue), Stealth (black), and Matador (red). Grove (green) and Lush (purple) haven’t had many takers to date.
“We are overwhelmed by how many consumers are choosing the deluxe cart,” says Larkin. He says these sales are not cannibalizing built-in grill sales, but rather fulfilling an unmet need in the marketplace. “We’ve had lots of orders from beach communities where people have $2 million and $3 million homes but the backyards are too small for a big island,” he explains. “This cart is a good option.
“People can still have a very unique, impressive-looking, high-performance grill in a beautiful color, with a sideburner and some storage. This is a statement grill that complements their Tesla car and other premium toys.”
With backing by parent company Hestan Corporation, a leading manufacturer of cookware, premium commercial kitchen appliances, and wines, Hestan Outdoor launched what Larkin calls an intense marketing and branding program, including social media, instructional videos and traditional advertising, to drive customers to stores.
This year Hestan Corporation plans to leverage a masterbrand strategy that will incorporate all of its lines into one comprehensive, premium, lifestyle brand. All Hestan brands will be integrated under one umbrella website, exposing visitors to the company’s diverse products and creating an opportunity to grow sales, Larkin says. He is mum on details but adds there will be new product introductions to extend the Hestan Outdoor line in 2017.
Todd Burns, Eastern Sales manager/National Specialty Distribution manager for Landmann USA, believes the gas grill market is still quite robust, and what may seem like a slowdown is actually a reflection of consumers buying better grills that last longer. Landmann, the most recognized outdoor cooking brand in Europe, according to Burns, has been a supplier of fire pits, and gas and charcoal grills and smokers to the mass retail channel in the U.S. for some years. It hopes to enter the specialty channel in 2017 with the introduction of its new Landmann Professional Series gas grill line. Its first model, the Ardor Gas Grill, is offered in three-, four- and five-burner models, on carts or as built-ins.
|Ardor in the Landmann Professional Series.|
The all-304-stainless-steel grills incorporate a patented “PTS+” cooking system with reconfigured heat tents to eliminate flare-ups and create more even heat distribution. The firebox interior has been redesigned, replacing the ledge that traditionally supports cooking grates and heat tents, with grommets to eliminate gunk-build-up for easier cleaning. The grills come with lifetime warranties and, at $800 to $2,000, are priced below grills with comparable features, according to Burns. The company also offers built-in storage components, and three prefabricated island kits that assemble in minutes.
“Our market research identified a need for quality product at value price points, and for grills and outdoor kitchens that are easier to clean. That’s what we’re bringing to the specialty marketplace,” says Sean Williams, Global Marketing manager for Landmann. Landmann started in Europe over 50 years ago and parent company Gebruder Thiele is a three-generation, family-owned business that dates back to 1848.
“We have been around a long time and have a rich history as the benchmark for grilling in Europe,” Williams says. “We think that kind of longevity and our lifetime warranty will give retailers and consumers confidence. The Ardor line is our toe in the pool in the U.S. specialty channel, but we have many more new products on the drawing board. We know there is a lot of competition for the consumer dollar, but the Ardor grill fills a need and is a good option for retailers.”
Wilson Hawkins, general manager DCS Outdoor, USA, blames last year’s roller-coaster gas grill sales to the polarizing election climate. “Luxury recreation items tend to take a hit during election years,” he says, “and this was no exception. I think everyone is excited to be out of the funk of 2016.”
He says DCS hopes to ignite sales by re-launching its Liberty Collection of modular outdoor kitchens. “It’s been one of our best-kept secrets,” Hawkins says. The collection includes modular gas grills, sinks, storage, and other island components that can be conjoined to create an outdoor kitchen in any configuration. Gas grill modules are available with or without hoods, the latter a good option for those who don’t want a hood to obstruct their view of guests or the landscape.
“The Liberty Collection outdoor kitchen offers many benefits: You don’t need permits; you have the freedom to place it anywhere in the yard; and it’s instantaneous so you don’t have to wait for it to be built,” Hawkins says. Another plus, according Hawkins, is that you can take it with you if you move, reconfiguring the pieces, or remove the appliances to build into a masonry island. He says consumers can get in at an entry-price level of $4,000 to $5,000 for two or three components, but larger configurations might run $20,000 or more.
|Liberty collection from DCS Outdoor.|
In 2017, DCS plans to target Outdoor Room specifiers, such as designers, landscape architects, architects, and specialty hearth and barbecue retailers. “A lot of business is driven by these communities,” says Hawkins. “They are increasingly making the decisions about what equipment gets put into outdoor cooking environments.”
To connect with these groups, DCS will exhibit at key national and regional trade shows and is breaking ground on a new design showroom, scheduled to open this summer in Costa Mesa, California. The showroom will display the brand’s indoor and outdoor appliances. The outdoor kitchen vignettes are accessed through sliding doors that simulate walking outside to a patio or porch, according to Hawkins.
“We want to recreate that indoor-outdoor experience,” he says. “The outdoor kitchen is becoming a standard feature in homes today, whether it’s a new or existing home. We are investing time and effort to reach specifier communities to help grow sales of our gas grills and outdoor kitchen products next year and beyond.”
The Holland Grill
Scott Warner, National Sales manager for The Holland Grill, says the company’s 2016 sales were “up-and-down like a yo-yo” before ending up flat. But, he says, there has been a positive trend in the last couple of months. According to Warner, specialty retailers who emphasize gas grills that are different from what is available at mass retailers are seeing the most improved sales.
|The Epic from The Holland Grill.|
The Holland Grill is as different as they come. Unlike most brands that boast about high Btus, searing capability, and programmable digital controls, The Holland Grill’s unique, patented, indirect cooking system is a study in simplicity. Its controls are limited to “On” and “Off.” The user does not have to set or control the temperature – just turn on the grill and place food on the grid. Heat-guards in the cook box shield food from direct flames, eliminate flare-ups and create indirect convection heat for even cooking. The grills are made in the U.S. and are backed with lifetime warranties.
Since Brad Holland introduced the Holland Grill 30 years ago, the company’s mantra has been, “We’re different and we can prove it.” Demos continue to be the key to successful selling, says Warner.
“We cook canned biscuits and whole turkeys and sausage patties so we can show people you never need to turn the food and there are never flare-ups, even with greasy foods. It takes a little more effort to demo, but once people see and taste the difference, they’re amazed how great the food is. When I do a demo, I believe in my soul that I’m not selling a grill, I’m sharing a secret.”
Word-of-mouth is another big contributor to growing sales, says Warner. “Mr. Holland would say, ‘If we sell one grill, the buyer will sell two more for us.’”
The company has introduced an infrared sideburner for high-heat searing, providing dealers with an opportunity to make an add-on sale. “It offers the best of both worlds,” he says. Holland Grill will introduce three more new products at the HPBExpo in Atlanta this year to generate excitement and fuel sales.
|Model 670 Elite stainless-steel grill from Saber Grills.|
Infrared cooking has been the differentiating factor for Saber Grills. General manager Gary Butler is hoping to build on the company’s year-over-year growth by adding two new infrared grill lines in 2017. The Cast Series, with black powder-coat exterior finish, will be a new entry-level-priced offering, retailing between $799 and $1,399. The Saber Elite Series is a new premium line offering 100 percent 304-stainless-steel construction, internal and control panel LED halogen lighting, and other upgrades. Both new lines feature the brand’s patented infrared cooking system designed to eliminate flare-ups and reduce propane use by 30 percent. “The addition of these two lines will allow us to go up and down the price continuum to reach more consumers and grow sales,” Butler says.
Like Hawkins, Butler says the best way to increase gas grill sales is to focus on the aspirational dream of the outdoor kitchen. “That trend is growing, and gas grills are the anchors of outdoor kitchens,” he says. He adds that a custom project might bring $10,000 to $100,000 in built-in grill and component sales. But even customers with lower budgets have options: Saber’s easy-to-assemble, prefab, modular outdoor kitchens with a built-in three-burner grill, sideburner, storage, and drop-in ice chest starts at $5,500 retail.
“It makes the outdoor kitchen concept accessible to many more homeowners and grows the category,” says Butler. “Our modular unit has done very well and it’s brought lift to our built-in gas grill business, which is up 30 percent. If you want to sell more grills, you must sell outdoor kitchens.”
To attract Millennials, Butler recommends tapping into the generation’s passion for cooking. “They watch a lot of cooking shows, so you need to position yourself as an expert who can educate them about outdoor cooking,” he says. “When they understand how to use the grill, they’ll enjoy it and be more satisfied with their purchase.”
Butler says that providing service, repair and maintenance helps to justify higher prices versus mass merchants; pointing out the brand’s excellent online reviews is another effective selling tool.
“Consumers – especially Millennials – check reviews before buying anything today,” he says. “You need to provide confidence and reassurance and build personal relationships. You’re selling the dream.”
And, hopefully, more grills.