Coast 2 Coast

Nov 11, 2010

Ask any good military man or woman and they’ll tell you, “You’re only as good as your intel.” Intel, or intelligence, can be scouting, reconnaissance or any other way to see what’s going on around you.

We wanted to know about today’s grille market, so we contacted a number of our sources and, well, grilled them on grille guards. Their answers were timely and can provide you with your own intel when selling and installing these niche products.

Our first inquiry into today’s grille intel was about the amount of products out there. How do installers determine which one is best for their clients?

Customer feedback

Winder, Ga.-based Akins Ford/Dodge/Jeep’s Jim Jordan tells us, “I try to get as much information as I can from the customer about what the vehicle is used for. I want to know, ‘Is it a daily driver or a weekend pleasure vehicle? Do they live in an urban area or a rural area where there is a greater chance of hitting a deer?’ I want to try to find out what their need really is, then ask if they want driving lights added or a winch mount. All these questions help me determine which grille guard or bull bar is best for them.”

Jim Nation of Rhino Linings of Wise County, Bridgeport, Texas, says, “We try to keep the most current trends in grille guards in stock so that our customers can pick which one is right for them. We also have brochures and Web access so that the customers may see what the product looks like on their specific vehicle.”

At Pro Trucks, Siloam Springs, Ark., Brian Buckminster notes, “We try to offer a large selection of products for customers to choose from. That being said, if a product doesn’t fit well, we try to steer the customer in a different direction.”

Steve McCamey of ‘N Motion, Springdale, Ark., says, “To determine which one is right, the installers need to ask the customer what they are wanting and what they are expecting the grille guard to do for them. Are they just wanting a guard for looks or are they wanting it for protection? Then steer them in the right direction.”

Binghamton, N.Y.-based J&R Upholstery’s Jason Stupski tells us, “At our location, we use two types of grille guard companies. We use Westin Automotive grille guards for our [general] customers; they have the chrome style and the black power-coated grille guards. Then for outdoor customers or commercial companies, we use the Go Industries Rancher Grille Guard.”

“We determine which one will fit our customer needs by our customer telling us. Most of the time, our customers know what they want. If they don’t, we will work with them. We will ask a lot of questions and try to fit their needs and wants.”

Steve Lee of Larry’s Trucks and Stuff, Snyder, Texas, says that in his area, “We mainly sell the heaviest-duty for the particular vehicle involved. Deer and hogs are heavy in West Texas. We install grille guards on most anything that we can get them for.”

“We will not sell any type of modular grille guard,” adds Lee. “We have had too many problems with them vibrating apart through the years. I know they are easier to ship, but they are not practical in a real-world setting.”

At Truck Works, Okmulgee, Okla., Duane Ausbrooks says, “You will need to ask the client if they want one for looks or if they will be using it for a certain purpose, such as work, to determine how strong it needs to be.”

What trucks are best prospects?

Our second query was about what vehicles seem to be the strongest candidates for grille guards and why. Lee from Larry’s Trucks and Stuff straightforwardly says, “All full-size trucks and SUVs and work trucks.”

Stupski from J&R Upholstery adds, “The vehicles to be the strongest candidates for the grille guard will be the Dodge Ram trucks. The customers state to us that the front of the truck has a large nose on it, but not too much protection on it.”

Nation from Rhino of Wise County agrees, “We sell more grille guards on Dodge Ram trucks followed closely by Ford Super Duty trucks.”

Ausbrooks from Truck Works keeps it going with, “Our biggest seller is the Dodge 3500. They are the vehicle used most in work and ranching situations.”

McCamey from ‘N Motion tells us, “In this area, the full-size truck is our majority customer base along with full-size SUVs.”

And Jordan from Akins says, “The best answer to that is 4×4. Any four-wheel-drive vehicle owner is our best customer. Over the last two decades trends and fads have come and gone, but the four-wheel-drive customer has stayed constant with his desire for front-end protection that a grille guard provides.”

Guards for cars?

Next, we wondered why people want grille guards on cars. Stupski says, “On the CUV, a lot of our customers like them. They feel more protected, and if someone backs into them there will be very little or no damage on their vehicle.”

“We have never installed the grille guards on wagons or an Outback, “notes Stupski. “With bull bars, the customers that we work with like them because it gives them protection at the bumper areas. Also, you can put fog/driving lights on them – the holes are already there – especially if you live on the back roads.”

Buckminster tells us, “In our area, we don’t see a large amount of this type of customer. But I would say they [grilles] would be mainly for mounting lights and animal protection.”

Ausbrooks agrees: “Those customers are interested in protecting their vehicle against front-end damage such as hitting a deer, [and] it makes the smaller cars look sportier.”

Nation points out another reason, “The customer in the CUV grille guard market is typically trying to add an outdoor look to the vehicle. You would be surprised what a difference a bull bar or grille guard could make.”

Jordan backs that up with this assessment: “Market appeal. With most of the current vehicle advertising, they show their vehicles driving in the mountains, cruising in the desert or going through some outback mud hole. So I think it is all perception. They want to look rough and ready even if the vehicle is used for mom and the kids or getting groceries. Curb appeal is still vital in case dad drives it.”

Lee brings up another viewpoint. “Most people in this economy are downsizing,” he says. “They had a grille guard on their big SUV and they want one on their smaller vehicle, also.”

Says McCamey, “In our market, we do not get requests for the CUV market; this is farm country.”

Install intel

We asked about installs. That is, what’s usually involved in more difficult installs and how should installers be trained?

Buckminster tells us, “Most grille guards are easy to install as bolt-ons. Some, though, require a certain expertise to install. Cutting/drilling of air dams or drilling would be the main two things involved if not a direct bolt-on. The main thing an installer needs to do is measure twice, cut/drill once.”

Jordan says that “most installations take less than one hour to complete. Some, however, require that you take off the front bumper for installation of the grille guard, which requires some TLC from the installer.”

“With some OE bumpers costing more than $800, you want to make sure that your installer has a padded surface to lay the bumper on, and that he understands that laying it on concrete can scratch the chrome surface,” he cautions. “There are also lighting issues with most bumpers, such as fog lights. All wiring needs to be disconnected and wiring pulled back out of the way before the bumper is removed. With certain installs, you may be required to drill frame holes for bracket installation. Before doing so, make sure there are no wiring harnesses or vehicle plumbing run behind the frame rail, which could be damaged while drilling.”

“Another step that is most important and often neglected before installation is to check the part number and vehicle application to make sure you have the right part to start with. If that checks out, then unbox the grille guard and unwrap it completely to inspect for damage. You will want to open the directions and check off all installation-required hardware and brackets before you remove the bumper. These few steps can save you and your installer a lot of time and headaches. It is all in the preparation you do before the install.”

Ausbrooks adds, “Often, removing the grille or bumper is required. Sometimes, holes must also be drilled through the bumper to the frame. Hands-on with an expert in the field is the best training.”

Adds Stupski: “Some grille guards are easy, and a lot of them are not. The [vehicle] manufactures are making the trucks with more finished looks on them. A lot of the trucks are designed not to have any aftermarket items on them.

“With our installers, who have great skills, they do a little research on the truck. We work with the tech department at the grille guard companies. It would be great to be trained on the installation, but there are too many types of trucks. To be a good installer, take your time. Read the instructions (most of the time, they are not the greatest). You can even call the tech department. Really, when it comes down to it, have good patience.”

McCamey gave us more good input. “Some of the more difficult guards require the installer to remove bumpers and grilles to install the brackets,” he says. “An installer needs to have a good relationship with the manufacturers and a good local body shop for technical info on removing some of the body parts to install these guards – along with the proper tools to do the job.”

Lee boils it down to, “Nothing makes up for experience and common sense; every vehicle is different.”

Winch wisdom

And lastly, we asked about winches, and wondered whether their installations were more complicated. McCamey says, “Winch-mount style grille guards usually require considerably more time to install. A good majority of them require drilling into the frame. Knowledge of tools and dimensions is a must as some of these guards are very difficult to install for the beginner. It is important to match the winch with the truck. Also, the customer’s expectations of the winch and the grille guard must be taken into account: Too small of a winch or the wrong mount can lead to disaster, especially if you are miles from nowhere or deep in the woods and no one is around to help.”

Ausbrooks says, “Yes. You must make sure you have good bracing to the frame.”

And Buckminster adds this: “Mounting the winch is fairly simple, usually just four bolts, although some are more involved. The wiring of the winch is just about taking your time and trying to make everything look like it should be there.”

Lee tells us that he sells a few winch-ready guards now and then: “Not much mud in West Texas. Most winches are not hard to install; they’re just heavy and time consuming.”

Jordan says he sells winch-ready grille guards. “They are much stronger than standard grille guards,” he explains. “The mounting system is much stronger so that it can support the vehicle weight when it is being winched.”

“Installation is more involved, with taking off the bumper and mounting the frame brackets and coordinating the winch wiring, which will have to be taken into consideration when the bumper is re-installed,” he comments. “Routing the wiring is the portion of the install that usually gets sloppy. You need to take your time, choose the proper route to the engine’s battery, trying not to run wires close to metal surfaces that can flex or vibrate while driving, which could cause pinching or cutting of the wiring harness. Wire looms should always be used for looks and added protection of the harness.

“The last step after installation is complete and before the customer sees his new grille guard is to clean it, removing any packing material that may still be on it, and wipe off any finger prints or grease. It truly is the little things that matter.”

Jordan is right. It is the little things – even for big, in-your-face grille guards.