No one forgets the Edsel. OK, forget for the moment that it was one of the biggest marketing flops in car-dom. What we don’t forget, though, is the grille: the big, vertical, high-rise, oblong “horse-collar” that for car buffs remains fully endearing, for the rest of us, memorable. The Edsel’s distinctive grille appeared for just two years, 1958 and 1959; by its third and final year of production in 1960 the grille turned an unremarkable horizontal.
Perhaps it’s fitting that 50 years ago the Edsel, with its forever-memorable grille, was introduced this month, when the modern grilles of today take center stage in Coast to Coast.
Grilles make statements. Right up front. They can be the first thing you notice about a car coming your way, and the first part of that truck you see in the rear-view mirror.
So it’s no wonder that people look to aftermarket grilles to give their cars – give themselves – a unique and memorable identity.
Here we ask several grille installers to consider a handful of questions about the aftermarket grille business. Read their insights to see how they might dovetail with yours.
What do you see as ‘hot’ today in grilles for full-size trucks and small trucks, and why?
“New styles such as those from Rolling Big Power (RBP) with a smooth or riveted frame, and billet grilles from T-Rex are big with full-size truck and SUV owners. And mesh grilles from T-Rex, Precision and Carriage Works all seem to be popular with both mid- and full-size truck owners.” Dino Stavrinos Jr., Speed & Truckworld, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“For all the Tahoes, Suburbans, Sierras and Silverados that our customers own, it’s T-Rex, Asanti, and Lexani, in either billet or mesh. They like the look, the prestige, the quality and the reputation of these manufacturers.” Roman Gerashenko, Onyx Automotive, Edison, N.J.
“Mesh grilles seem to be the hottest – and the more customized the better. Some people have been putting the plastic grilles on their trucks, but those that are true enthusiasts put on the mesh. Stainless steel grilles are catching on because they really glisten in the sun. More and more people have been doing chrome accessories matched with the grille to customize their rides. A fast and easy way to customize [a truck] is a grille, especially T-Rex grilles, as they make it easy to install, and they offer a top-of-the-line product at a decent price.” Adam Stevens, Keaman Tire & Wheel Inc., Wixom, Mich.
“Billet grilles and wire mesh for full-size trucks and SUVs, and Speed Grille inserts for small trucks are the most popular with our customers.” Jimmy DeFrank, California Car Cover Co., Chatsworth, Calif.
“Mesh grilles, like those from T-Rex, are hot, and so are grilles with different designs. Our customers are moving away from the traditional straight-line billet grilles.” Gay Pfrogner, Garmans’ Truck Accessories, Hollywood, Fla.
What do you think 2009 and 2010 grilles will be like in style and construction? Or, if the manufacturers haven’t shown you the grilles of the future, what would you like to see?
“It depends on who comes out with what first, especially to fit the new vehicles. Some of the hybrid vehicles may be restyled, especially if they start becoming more widely accepted. More variety is always a good thing, and it gives the customer more options. Use of better-quality materials will help to eliminate returns due to rust or fitment problems. In our area, exposure to salt water causes surface rust, and the better manufacturers take this into account in their product testing. This is worth the extra amount not to have to deal with rust.” Dino Stavrinos Jr.
“Keep an eye on the market to see what’s hot. Anything they start making for a particular new vehicle is a clue to what’s going to be hot, since the manufacturers won’t invest their time and money in something that isn’t productive.” Roman Gerashenko
“You’re going to begin seeing the economy vehicles with grilles on them. As the economy shifts, you’ll see more customization, different styles of grilles and small, economy-sized vehicles with mesh grilles. The mesh style is still an untapped market. Quality grilles are still in demand, and as customers become dissatisfied with the cheap grilles, they will transition to paying a few more dollars for a high-quality grille.” Adam Stevens
“More stainless steel, CNC-machined and laser-cut grilles are what I’m seeing. The materials and quality have improved among the better manufacturers, and these are all we use.” Jimmy DeFrank
“I think mesh grilles will continue to be popular. The future will bring us bolder designs with one-piece construction and bolt-on, minimal drilling.” Gay Pfrogner
How do you as a restyler make your selling point with customers who are thinking about every dollar they spend?
“It’s no secret that people are looking to save a little everywhere they can, but most still recognize quality. They will hold on to their vehicles longer than maybe they did in the past, so they want to make sure the parts and accessories they choose will hold up and go the distance. Right now, it is hard to pick up on who will purchase a grille or not. You just have to try to sell to everyone you can.” Dino Stavrinos Jr.
“Customer service is what does it for us. We don’t ‘sell’ the customer; we help them buy. We uplift and make them more knowledgeable. It is no longer a question of whether quality matters-but price does matter and value is where the two meet.” Roman Gerashenko
“Basically, you get what you pay for. I can get [customers] the entry-level grille, but would prefer to put a customer in a quality grille that may be a little extra. If customers pay a little extra today, they will save in the long run. Spend the extra money so that you won’t have to replace your custom grille three to four months down the road.” Adam Stevens
“Don’t let price dictate what your customer buys. Guide them to choose quality, and they will appreciate it far more later. Name-brand products with a good reputation that will fit correctly are our choice every time for our company.” Jimmy DeFrank
I tie it in with the other accessories they have on a truck; for example, I might say: “This grille will complement your chrome step bars or your chrome handles.” Most customers want their trucks to stand out. I make them feel as if they have to have it – that they are the only ones out there with this look.” Gay Pfrogner
Who are the likeliest or best customers in today’s and the future’s grille market?
“In my area it’s most definitely the older enthusiasts who have the money. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, if at all.” Dino Stavrinos Jr.
“This is hard to predict – our customers are of all ages, and have only truck ownership in common. Age, income, type of truck are all less of a determining factor in who will or won’t buy a grille.” Roman Gerashenko
“There will always be auto enthusiasts in each market. The biggest, untapped market currently is the economy-sized vehicles and imports that are going to become one of the fastest-growing markets. There will still be customers in the full-size truck and SUV market, along with your custom enthusiasts. As the trend shifts from bigger vehicles, drivers will still want the customization. No one wants exactly the same car as their neighbor. That way, you’ll see more grilles for the economy-size market.” Adam Stevens
“More full-size truck and SUV owners, regardless of age, have the financial means to buy our products. We install what we sell, and many times we find that our clientele doesn’t have the time to do it themselves.” Jimmy DeFrank
“The over-40 crowd [are the best customers], as they have more disposable income, and they want to customize their truck the way they like it, to make it their own.” Gay Pfrogner
“The market is there. The keys to success are ease of installation and availability of new part numbers that are released by the manufacturers.” Gay Pfrogner