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Hearth & Home May 2016

Help or Hindrance?

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Most lifetime grill warranties are complicated, confusing and, say some industry members, just not needed any more.

Let’s just put the question out there: Are lifetime warranties on barbecue grills really necessary? 

The practice started as a way to justify the price and distinguish the quality and durability of the premium grills sold through specialty retailers from those sold through mass merchants. But some in the industry are wondering if the idea has outlived its necessity, or might even be hurting manufacturers and retailers of upscale grills.

No matter the price, there are very few consumer products today that offer lifetime warranties or anything close, certainly not indoor appliances, computers, home electronics or even luxury automobiles (some exceptions: Cutco Knives, Snap-on Tools, Dr. Marten Boots). In fact, manufacturers and retailers of these products often try to sell the consumer an extended warranty as a lucrative add-on sale and profit center. 

Of course, what’s covered under a lifetime warranty is different for each grill manufacturer and, even when a grill has a lifetime warranty, there are often caveats. “Limited” lifetime warranties may actually only last 20 years, or cover only certain parts or components. Sometimes the warranty is valid only with the original receipt and for the original owner. It may be voided if the grill hasn’t been properly maintained, or has been purchased from an unauthorized dealer. But regardless of the specifics, the practice has evolved to become almost standard among premium grills and kamados. 

“Originally, manufacturers counted on most consumers never taking advantage of a lifetime warranty,” says Bruce Spangrud, whose company, Galaxy Outdoor, offers grill warranties ranging from 10 years to lifetime, depending on the product. “It was a great sales tool on the front end, but we could be pretty certain we would never see it on the back end. But now we are in the age of Costco where they accept anything back. This sets a precedent and it hurts dealers and manufacturers.”

Steve Gilboe, owner of the Patio Palace.

“Grill warranties have gotten out of hand,” says Canadian retailer Steve Gilboe, owner of the Patio Palace with stores in London and Windsor, Ontario. “People spend $50,000 for a car; they service it, detail it, take care of it and still it’s only covered for three years. A grill costs $1,000; people don’t take care of it; it’s left outdoors; it’s used to cook greasy foods, and it hardly ever gets cleaned, yet it might have a lifetime warranty on the burner. 

“It doesn’t make sense. Maybe it made sense even five years ago as a way to differentiate from the offshore imports, but today we’ve made great strides in convincing customers you get what you pay for. (Lifetime) is not necessary.”

“We don’t like lifetime warranties and don’t think they’re necessary,” says Steve Rogers, owner of The BBQ Equipment Store in Hampstead, Maryland. “The whole ‘limited lifetime’ thing is confusing and easily misinterpreted. Plus, people really don’t expect a grill to last forever anyway. They want something well made, but most people will want to replace the grill with a new one at some point. The reputation of the manufacturer sells the grill more than the warranty and, in our experience, a good manufacturer will replace a part even if it’s out of warranty because they want to preserve their reputation and not risk a negative review on social media.” 

Some manufacturers also have soured on the policy. 

“We believe lifetime warranties are bad for manufacturers, distributors and dealers,” says one manufacturer who did not wish to be identified. “Years ago we started offering them in response to the competition. Today, less than one percent of our products have a warranty claim, so it’s not a big expense for us. But having lifetime warranties creates a missed opportunity for dealers to sell replacement parts.” 

He points out that as the outdoor kitchen market grows, retailers’ parts sales have the potential to increase significantly as more people opt to repair their high-end, built-in grills with replacement parts. “It’s expensive to rip the old grill out of an island and put a new one in, especially if you can’t find the exact same size grill to fit the space,” he says. “Lifetime warranties might be a vehicle to help make the sale initially, but they cut the revenue stream down the road.” 

The Positive Side of Lifetime Warranties

Jim Ginocchi, president of Coyote Outdoor Living, says, “We want to give a lifetime warranty. We don’t have the same kind of brand recognition as a company like Weber, so it helps give the consumer confidence in us. We have less than one-quarter of one percent returned on warranty, so we’re not losing money on this.” 

Ginocchi believes a lifetime warranty also helps to evolve the thinking that a grill is an appliance worthy of the expense and research put into an indoor appliance purchase. “Consumers are better educated about outdoor appliances today, and they read reviews about product reliability, longevity and warranty issues online.”

Broilmaster offers lifetime warranties on their cast-aluminum grill heads, major stainless-steel components, and burners. According to Nick Bauer, president of Empire Comfort Systems, manufacturer of Broilmaster grills, “When the salesperson explains the features and benefits, the warranty is always part of the conversation. A lifetime warranty certainly helps the retailer close the sale. It helps take the fear out of a large purchase for the consumer.

“We are well aware that no matter what material we use for the burner, the consumer will need a new one from time to time,” he adds. “This helps build a relationship between the consumer and the dealer. The owner comes in, shows a receipt for the grill and receives a replacement burner, with no questions asked. While the consumer is in the shop, he or she can look at accessories, tools, and maybe even another grill. Dealers like it, consumers like it, and I think Broilmaster will (offer) a lifetime warranty for the foreseeable future.” 

According to Brian Eskew, Sales and Marketing manager at Twin Eagles, lifetime warranties force a manufacturer to up their game and develop better and more reliable products. 

“Dante (Cantal, owner of Twin Eagles) is a gas engineer with experience in the commercial gas appliance business,” says Eskew. “He is fanatical about performance and reliability. If an appliance goes down in a restaurant kitchen, you’re not serving guests or making money. He engineered Twin Eagles’ cooking system to move heat away from the burner to protect it and prevent it from burning out. Since 2005, we’ve never had a warranty claim on a burner. Never. 

 “It can be an expensive proposition for a manufacturer to get many warranty claims,” he adds. “But there is another cost, too; the bad feeling on the part of the consumer. If there is a problem and the grill doesn’t work, consumers feel inconvenienced, and they may also feel embarrassed in front of guests because their expensive grill didn’t work. 

 “It would put us at a distinct competitive disadvantage not to have (a lifetime warranty),” he says. 

Steve Rogers, owner of The BBQ Equipment Store, Hampstead, Maryland.

Not every company has followed the lifetime path. MAK Grills offers a three-year “bumper-to-bumper” warranty on everything except the powder-coat finish, according to Bruce Bjorkman, director of Sales and Marketing. “Our dealers tell us questions about warranties rarely come up in pre-purchase discussions,” he says. “This may be because most people read reviews on online forums first, so they already know about a product’s durability and customer satisfaction. Consumers seem to be more than satisfied with three-year warranties.”

Bjorkman says, however, that MAK Grills has stood behind its products even when out of warranty, or when the issue is clearly the customer’s fault, and has reaped major benefits for doing so. 

“It might hurt to take care of the customer initially, but it pays off in the long run,” he says. “When someone has a positive experience with our customer service they tell people about it on social media and become our biggest cheerleaders. It fosters good will among our owners, and these word-of-mouth referrals are invaluable advertising and third-party endorsements.” 

What could change the warranty scenario? 

Some experts suggest that as more grill manufacturers sell through appliance stores, it’s possible grill warranties might begin to conform to those of indoor cooking appliances. Another factor on the horizon is the aging of first-generation, early-adopter outdoor kitchens. 

Given the challenges and expenses involved in replacing a built-in grill in an island base, might more consumers start taking advantage of those lifetime warranties to simply replace the offending parts, rather than tackle a full-scale outdoor kitchen makeover? 

And finally, as frugal and environmentally conscious Millennials start buying better grills, will they prefer to save money and avoid adding to the landfill by repairing their grills and, in the process, take greater advantage of warranties than their parents’ generation?

It’s a subject worth thinking about. But, thankfully, at least for now, there seems to be a stop-gap factor in place: people like new things. Whether a grill is warrantied for life or not, many still prefer to upgrade to a new model. 

“Just like with a car, it might still run okay, but they want the shiny new one with the latest design and features,” says Eskew. “We expect that will also be the case with a premium grill customer.”

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