Guard Duty

Aug 25, 2012

(Editor’s Note: We’ve included 3 additional questions not found in the original September 2012 article – and we’ve highlighted those 3 questions and our sources’ comments in blue. Now, Restyling gives you even more!) 

You won’t sell a grille guard to everyone with a motorcycle, a Honda Civic or a classic VW Beetle, unless of course, any of them also happen to drive a Ford F350, a Hummer, a Dodge Ram, a Chevy Silverado, a Toyota Tundra or a-¦ well, you get the picture. These babies are for real trucks – big trucks, usually – but there is a respectable selection available for smaller trucks, SUVs, vans and some are even made for sedans.

What’s available, what’s in demand and what sells depends on what the market is like in your neck of the woods, who’s driving where – and who you ask.

So, Restyling did some asking. We posed our questions about the market for grille guards (also called “brush guards” by many) and bull bars to a group of accessory shop owners and managers around the country to find out what kind of demand is out there, how the supply chain stacks up and to see whether selling and installing this particular accessory makes good business sense.

Turns out, it makes really good business sense for the group we spoke with. And they were all more than happy to share their ideas with other Restyling readers.

Here’s how it went:

Restyling [RE]: What types of grille guards are you selling most these days?

There are a variety of products available for sale, so when a customer comes in wanting something, we’re going to get them what they want. I think right now, the most popular style we’re seeing is the black iron, heavy-duty grille guard.
– Charles Matocha, DFW Camper Corral, Arlington, Texas

We sell a lot of front-end guards. Some people buy them for protection and some because they look cool. We sell a lot more stainless steel today.
– Barry Sanders, Truckaddons.com, Lexington, Ky.

The majority of the ones we sell out of this store are stainless.
– Sheri Clark, Sam T Evans Inc., Midvale, Utah

Probably stainless would be our biggest seller, but you can’t disregard the powder-coated blacks because of price. Most are one piece.
– Rick Pettibone, Ultra Truck Works Inc., Elk Grove, Calif.

One-piece, mostly stainless, with the exception that we do sell quite a few black powder-coat.
– Chuck Baldridge, Midwest Truck Accessories, Mount Vernon, Ill.

I would bet 75% of what we sell would be a one-piece, black powder-coated grille guard – something heavy-duty, like a Ranch Hand or a Go Industries’ Rancher. We try not to sell much of the modular ones because around here they want some good strength out of them. The rest are usually between the chrome Go Industries’ Big Tex grille guards and the stainless sportsman style grille guards like the Westins or the Aries.
– Jake Bolin, Truck Stuff Inc., Wichita, Kan.

RE: Which are the most popular brands you sell? Has that changed much in the past two or three years?

We sell a lot from Westin, but also other brands, from Go Rhino, Go Industries, Onki, Dee Zee, Aries Automotive, and Steelcraft Inc. The list is pretty deep today. 20 years ago chrome was the material, the look; today it’s a lot of stainless and a lot of powder-coated black.
– Barry Sanders, Lexington, Ky.

Ranch Hand and Cattleman are two of the bigger ones. I think it goes back further; you’re not seeing as many grille guard sales as say, five to 10 years ago.
– Charles Matocha, Arlington, Texas

Mostly [we sell] TrailFX and Westin.
– Rick Pettibone, Ultra Truck Works Inc., Elk Grove, Calif.

The Westin Sportsman for us is probably the biggest seller in stainless followed by Luverne Truck Equipment; the Ranch Hand would be our No. 1 in black powder-coat, followed by Frontier. What sells is seasonal. Westin is our biggest seller. Year-round, Ranch Hand is a steady seller for us, but they are more expensive as a rule. We’ve been pretty consistent for quite a few years with those.
– Chuck Baldridge, Mount Vernon, Ill.

The biggest brand we sell is Go Industries, which hasn’t changed much for three or four years now.
– Jake Bolin, Wichita, Kan.

Westin is one of our main brands; and that has not really changed in the past few years. But we don’t have as much of a call as we did in the ’90s for grille guards.
– Sheri Clark, Midvale, Utah

Probably stainless would be our biggest seller, but you can’t disregard the powder-coated blacks because of price. Most are one piece.
– Rick Pettibone, Ultra Truck Works Inc., Elk Grove, Calif.

One-piece, mostly stainless, with the exception that we do sell quite a few black powder-coat.
– Chuck Baldridge, Midwest Truck Accessories, Mount Vernon, Ill.

I would bet 75% of what we sell would be a one-piece, black powder-coated grille guard – something heavy-duty, like a Ranch Hand or a Go Industries’ Rancher. We try not to sell much of the modular ones because around here they want some good strength out of them. The rest are usually between the chrome Go Industries’ Big Tex grille guards and the stainless sportsman style grille guards like the Westins or the Aries.
– Jake Bolin, Truck Stuff Inc., Wichita, Kan.

RE: Which are the most popular brands you sell? Has that changed much in the past two or three years?

We sell a lot from Westin, but also other brands, from Go Rhino, Go Industries, Onki, Dee Zee, Aries Automotive, and Steelcraft Inc. The list is pretty deep today. 20 years ago chrome was the material, the look; today it’s a lot of stainless and a lot of powder-coated black.
– Barry Sanders, Lexington, Ky.

Ranch Hand and Cattleman are two of the bigger ones. I think it goes back further; you’re not seeing as many grille guard sales as say, five to 10 years ago.
– Charles Matocha, Arlington, Texas

Mostly [we sell] TrailFX and Westin.
– Rick Pettibone, Ultra Truck Works Inc., Elk Grove, Calif.

The Westin Sportsman for us is probably the biggest seller in stainless followed by Luverne Truck Equipment; the Ranch Hand would be our No. 1 in black powder-coat, followed by Frontier. What sells is seasonal. Westin is our biggest seller. Year-round, Ranch Hand is a steady seller for us, but they are more expensive as a rule. We’ve been pretty consistent for quite a few years with those.
– Chuck Baldridge, Mount Vernon, Ill.

The biggest brand we sell is Go Industries, which hasn’t changed much for three or four years now.
– Jake Bolin, Wichita, Kan.

Westin is one of our main brands; and that has not really changed in the past few years. But we don’t have as much of a call as we did in the ’90s for grille guards.
– Sheri Clark, Midvale, Utah

RE: Who is buying grille guards and why are they buying them?

It’s a cross section, and it depends on the style of grille guard. A lot of the heavier stuff is going on commercial trucks, but the average retail consumer is interested in something that’s better looking.
– Charles Matocha, Arlington, Texas

What they really buy them for and what they say they buy them for I think are two different things. I think the majority of people are buying them for the look, but there are multiple categories of enthusiasts. Serious users like construction contractors and fleet management want them for winches and for extra protection. We also sell a lot of them for police cars and ambulances.
– Barry Sanders, Lexington, Ky.

I would say people buy them more for protection and I think it’s more the older generation who travel pulling an RV 5th wheel, who want to protect the front of their truck.
– Sheri Clark, Midvale, Utah

Probably more for looks at this point.
– Rick Pettibone, Ultra Truck Works Inc., Elk Grove, Calif.

“Who” is pretty much all over the map. I would say the vast majority [of guards] are for protection; looks are secondary. Looks are always important, but even for the person buying the Westin stainless grille guard, in their mind, or at least what they convey, is they’re looking for something to protect against deer, because in this part of southern Illinois, the deer are rampant.
– Chuck Baldridge, Mount Vernon, Ill.

A lot of them are the oil field guys around here who are driving a lot of the back highways late at night where the deer are nice and thick.
– Jake Bolin, Wichita, Kan.

RE: Has the demographic of your customer base changed in the past couple of years?

I think it has. On the retail end we see as much of the bull bar as we do anything as far as grille protection.
– Charles Matocha, Arlington, Texas

I think maybe in the last 10 years it’s changed. It used to be more of a style product and now it’s moved into more of a protection product. When it was a style product it was more the younger generation buying them for looks.
– Sheri Clark, Midvale, Utah

[As far as our demographics changing]: I would say not.
– Rick Pettibone, Ultra Truck Works Inc., Elk Grove, Calif.

If anything, we’ve probably seen an increase in the contractors and oil field workers. Some is due to advertising because we’re listed on Ranch Hand’s website as a dealer.
– Chuck Baldridge, Mount Vernon, Ill.

The oil field business has gotten a lot bigger around here in the last few years and we’re even starting to see the wind farm crews moving in big time.
– Jake Bolin, Wichita, Kan.

RE: Besides pickups, do you see SUVs and/or vans coming in for grille guards?

We see some SUVs but we don’t really see any vans.
– Charles Matocha, Arlington, Texas

Over the years we’ve seen less and less SUV owners purchasing that type of augmented product. The minivan owner has migrated to the SUV and it doesn’t seem to be as much of a priority for that particular customer base.
– Barry Sanders, Lexington, Ky.

Very seldom [do we see grille guard sales] for SUVs or vans.
– Sheri Clark, Midvale, Utah

I would say more SUVs [get grille guards more] on the “pretty” side, and pickup trucks on the “use” [side].
– Rick Pettibone, Ultra Truck Works Inc., Elk Grove, Calif.

[Grille guards for] SUVs, yes; vans, not so much.
– Chuck Baldridge, Mount Vernon, Ill.

We do sell some for full-size vans for the oil field guys and those kinds of people. We don’t see a whole lot of the smaller SUVs and such requesting grille guards. Usually they’re looking for something more like a bull bar or something smaller.
– Jake Bolin, Wichita, Kan.

RE: What about fleets – do commercial and/or municipal vehicles comprise a good part of your grille guard business?

Yes, and that’s probably where the bulk of our business is going. We get a lot of vehicles that are going to West Texas to the oil fields.
– Charles Matocha, Arlington, Texas

We do a bit of fleet business – mostly oil companies. They tend to want to protect the front of their trucks, but they’re also traveling a lot in rural areas.
– Sheri Clark, Midvale, Utah

[Fleets?] Rarely.
– Rick Pettibone, Ultra Truck Works Inc., Elk Grove, Calif.

No, we don’t [do a lot of fleet business].
– Chuck Baldridge, Mount Vernon, Ill.

We do fleet work around here, yes.
– Jake Bolin, Wichita, Kan.

RE: Are many of the grille guard buyers adding winches?

A few are, but this area being primarily urban Dallas-Fort Worth, we don’t see a whole lot of it.
– Charles Matocha, Arlington, Texas

By far, most people who are buying winches are buying a grille guard or a bumper-type grille guard that incorporates a mounting system for the winch. It gives that full, holistic look and completes the look of the winch rather than just having a winch sticking out there.
– Barry Sanders, Lexington, Ky.

A few, but I bet the percentage [for adding winches] out of this store is probably under 5%.
– Sheri Clark, Midvale, Utah

I’d say one out of three has to do with a winch; the other two out of three are, “It looks cool.”
– Rick Pettibone, Ultra Truck Works Inc., Elk Grove, Calif.

We don’t have much luck with [winches]; people will buy them on the Internet and install themselves.
– Chuck Baldridge, Mount Vernon, Ill.

Around here, not so much. We might sell, at the most, 20 winches a year, compared to 200 or 300 grille guards a year.
– Jake Bolin, Wichita, Kan.

RE: Are clients also buying add-on lights?

A few. Lights were the trend that piggybacked on the grille guard sales when grille guard sales were a real hot item.
– Charles Matocha, Arlington, Texas

Absolutely. Almost everybody who buys a grille guard puts a set of lights on them. Manufacturers are pretty clever about putting the light tabs on there. Years ago when we started selling our first grille guards, that was a way for us to sell lights. Today it’s not so easy to do that. These grille guards serve that purpose.
– Barry Sanders, Lexington, Ky.

We do sell a few of the fog lights and driving lights on the grille guards; maybe 15%-20%.
– Sheri Clark, Midvale, Utah

Everyone….well, nine out of 10 (we have to be realistic). Sometimes these guys are buying them just so they have a place to put their lights. So I’d say lights are pretty much the start of our conversation.
– Rick Pettibone, Elk Grove, Calif.

Yes, a lot of them add lights.
– Chuck Baldridge, Mount Vernon, Ill.

Probably about 50% of them add lights to their grille guard.
– Jake Bolin, Wichita, Kan.

RE: How does your company help your customers select the right grille guard product for their vehicle? What questions do you typically ask?

Our guys will ask a few questions such as, “Is this a work truck? Are you needing something that’s really going to protect it or are you wanting it for looks? Are you a weekend hunter and want something on there so you don’t run a deer over?” You’re just trying to ask a lot of questions and qualify them. We also will have displays of most of the different types of grille guards available so they can get an idea of what they’re going to buy and we’ll also have photos so they can see how that product will look on a vehicle similar to theirs.
– Charles Matocha, Arlington, Texas

I think people today have a pretty good idea of what they want. Until recently, we had a practice of putting all the brands out there and letting the consumer be the final decision maker. Today we’ve changed to a different philosophy because the consumer holds the retailer or online retailer responsible for weaning out the things that they should be selling. We can make anything look good in the showroom or on a Web page, but what really sorts it out down the road is with usage. So we’ve reduced our offering and it’s based upon the quality of the product and the brand recognition. Anything we’ve had a problem with, fit-wise, finish-wise, aesthetic-wise, we’ve stopped selling.
– Barry Sanders, Lexington, Ky.

They usually describe the style that they’re looking for. They have an idea of whether or not they want to wrap the headlights or have bars covering the headlights. It’s mostly style-based.
– Sheri Clark, Midvale, Utah

In today’s world, after the economy tanked, we generally don’t have 10 choices like we did five years ago. It generally comes down to: This is the truck you want; here is your choice. And rarely ever is it choices. But the market dictates the sale.
– Rick Pettibone, Elk Grove, Calif.

Most have an idea that they want something to protect the front of their vehicle. We take it from there and find out what they’re looking for – if they’re looking for appearance or function – a little protection or something rock solid. So we do a lot of consulting with them.
– Chuck Baldridge, Mount Vernon, Ill.

Usually we try to find out from them if they’re going more for looks or more to take an impact, and then if they’re looking for something shiny or black; and from there we’ll either steer them toward the best options that fit in that criteria and we’ll quite frequently try to have them in stock or try to get them in a day or two. That will also kind of sway the options because people just don’t want to wait any more.
– Jake Bolin, Wichita, Kan.

RE: In some cases, do you recommend a bull bar instead of a full grille guard?

If that’s what the customer seems to be leaning towards. Again, the whole idea is you start narrowing it down; you’re looking for something to put that customer into. Once you get an indication, you’re going to try to push for the sale.
– Charles Matocha, Arlington, Texas

Sure…The market for bull bars is the younger generation just looking for style.
– Sheri Clark, Midvale, Utah

I have a bull bar next to a brush guard on display in my showroom and it’s interesting. Still, it’s a different marketplace than most. Old-schoolers are brush guard all the way; new-schoolers are that bull bar look, the more modern, simpler look.
– Rick Pettibone, Ultra Truck Works Inc., Elk Grove, Calif.

[Bull bars vs. full grille guard?] It comes up; not very often. But we do have people who don’t want anything over the headlights; no matter what you tell them, they think the full wraparound grille guard is going to deflect their headlights and you’re not going to change their minds, so we just suggest a bull bar.
– Chuck Baldridge, Mount Vernon, Ill.

On some vehicles, yes, [we’ll recommend a bull bar]. Some customers aren’t really satisfied with the grille guard looks; and when we show them a bull bar, they seem to think that looks just fine. It’s more form over function.
– Jake Bolin, Wichita, Kan.

RE: What other products do grille guard customers usually buy?

A lot of pickup owners will buy a matching heavy back bumper. And lot of these trucks tend to be bigger, so they will be looking to get some kind of step on the sides also.
– Charles Matocha, Arlington, Texas

That’s changed over the years. A decade or even five years ago I’d say the average customer was also buying a bug shield or he was buying a different type of step.

A grille guard buyer is a multiple purchase buyer. Whether he buys it all at one time or comes back after he’s made a sidebar purchase or some other item. We have a lot of come-back customers, so we love seeing grille guard customers.
– Barry Sanders, Lexington, Ky.

Anyone who walks through the door is looking for an accessory, so we would try to also sell them sidebars, steps to get in the vehicle, lights, a bug shield-¦ But they’re likely to get these accessories anyway, to be honest.
– Sheri Clark, Midvale, Utah

Generally if they’re buying a grille guard, they’ve got the money to get the things they want. Not that the money is endless at that point, but a person who’s buying a grille guard generally has the money. They walk in; they’re doing a spray-on bedliner, they’re doing fender flares. They think like that in the four-wheel-drive world; steps are a big lead-in.
– Rick Pettibone, Elk Grove, Calif.

Most of the time it’s a large enough purchase that it’s unusual to be doing a whole lot more than a grille guard and lights at one time. But the same customer is likely to come back later for steps, mud flaps – things like that. When they come in for the grille guard, you’re talking a $750 to $900 purchase, which is enough at one time for most of them. But while they’re in here, a lot of times we’ll say things like, “It’s awfully hard to get in and out of your truck” – and we’ll price steps for them for the next month.
– Chuck Baldridge, Mount Vernon, Ill.

There are usually nerf bars or running boards going on the truck at the same time [we sell guards].
– Jake Bolin, Wichita, Kan.

RE: What influences your decision to carry specific brands?

You want to try to have brands that the consumer may have heard of, but you also want to have lines that are possibly a little less expensive and also lines that you know you can readily get if that’s what the guy wants. It’s also having WDs in the area that are stocking that product, too, which makes a huge difference.
– Charles Matocha, Arlington, Texas

I think the most important thing would be the quality of the product and the affordability of the product at the same time. It’s very difficult for a lot of consumers to look at a product and see any kind of major difference. They think stainless steel is stainless steel and the concept is it doesn’t rust; but there are multiple grades of stainless steel and multiple thicknesses.

We’re familiar with certain brand names and we’ve come to trust those brand names. One thing that’s important for us is that the application is available. Trucks change, even if they don’t look like it. The slightest variation will make a difference on the fitment of the grille guard, so we want a manufacturer that’s going to stay on top of applications so that we’re not spending time looking for products. So what’s important is the quality of the build, the price, the brand name and the integrity of the brand.
– Barry Sanders, Lexington, Ky.

We carry the brands we carry mostly because of product quality and customer service, but also because of delivery and availability.
– Sheri Clark, Midvale, Utah

[I carry the brands I do] because they’re the ones I can actually get and fit in most of the vehicles that I do. I’m fortunate because those are predominately Ford, Chevy, Dodge and a few Toyotas. It’s just the fact that I can get it.
– Rick Pettibone, Elk Grove, Calif.

[I choose the brands as] kind of a hybrid of quality first, then pricing. I don’t want to see a customer come back because something starting rusting or falling off.
– Chuck Baldridge, Mount Vernon, Ill.

We usually try to pick the brands by how easy they are to deal with for warranty, mishaps or anything like that, and the people who will try to ship to us the quickest and actually get stuff done.
– Jake Bolin, Wichita, Kan.