Well Re-Guarded

Nov 1, 2011

Those thinking grilles and grille guards are too small an item to pay attention to might want to reconsider. With the OEMs building all their models and even sub models, there are more than the passing numbers of trucks just ripe for grille swaps. And by their offroad nature, grille guards are right there, as well.

We wanted to get a good read on today’s market, so we asked our sources about what’s hot, how’s the sales environment, and even got you some insider info on selling/installing these pieces.

Our first question was about the market. We wanted to know where the strongest markets are for grilles, grille guards and even front bumpers. Hugo Baeza, executive director of Allentown, Pa.-based Romik Inc., tells us that, “In the past few years, we have seen the shift from grille guards to grilles, mostly due to front-end designs.”

Mark Jimenez, general manager of T-Rex Grilles, Corona, Calif., says, “We only manufacture grilles. However, we have products for cars, vans, SUVs and trucks. Trucks are still a larger percent of our business, as expected. New model apps like the [Chevy] Silverado, [Ford] Super Duty and Ram are on top of the food chain.”

For Scott A. Covelli, national sales manager of Go Industries, Richardson, Texas, his take is that “Our grille guards’ sales (Rancher and Big Tex series) have been the strongest part in this category,” he says. “Most of our customers, depending on their demographics, need front-end protection as an extension of their truck. Our grille guards help reduce overall damage to the vehicle if they are ever in an accident or encounter a collision with animals.”

At Irwindale, Calif.-based Westin Automotive Products Inc., Junior Calvert, national sales manager, gives us his succinct answer as to where the markets’ strength lies: “Grille guards,” he says.

Is the fleet in?

Next, we wanted to know about fleet sales. Specifically, are they growing and are they helping the grille/guard market?

Jimenez of T-Rex explains the market and gives us a good selling tip when he says, “The retail consumer and automotive enthusiast is our prime customer since our products are mostly aesthetic. This is not the No. 1 focus for fleet vehicles, but even some grilles have a practical purpose. Late-model trucks, like the 2011 Silverado, Super Duty and Eco Boost F150, all share two common factors: All are candidates for fleet service and all have a vulnerable intercooler in the bumper opening. A small rock piercing an intercooler at highway speeds can cause major engine havoc that OE warranties will not cover. A bumper grille insert for these applications retails in the $100 to $200 range as opposed to thousands of dollars in costly engine repairs that could result.”

Covelli from Go Industries says, “We have seen a large increase with fleet sales throughout the country in the early part of 2011. With this kind of demand, it will only help the grille guard market and, at the same time, shows how important it is for front end protection to be on the vehicles.”

Calvert from Westin Automotive points out that, “Fleet truck sales continue to grow in spite of today’s economy. This is primarily due to companies now at a point that they need to change out their fleets due to age, the surge in the oil and gas industry, as well as additional trucks to respond to some recent natural disasters. Because of this continued growth, and the type of businesses that own fleet vehicles, grille guards are necessary in a lot of cases. With that said, the grille guard market continues to do very well.”

Baeza from Romik says, “We see fleet sales growing but not helping the grille guard business. These vehicles are mostly low-cost and their owners do not see a need to accessorize them.”

Technical, business challenges?

From the shop end of things, we wanted to know what is the greatest challenge for grille and grille guard installers today, either businesswise or technically. Covelli says, “From a business standpoint, most customers, either retail or commercial, want product fast. Partnering with the right distributor or manufacturer that can supply you with product is the key in capturing that sale when you have the customer in your store.”

Calvert from Westin Automotive says, “A grille guard install is usually a two-person install, usually due to the size and weight. Also, due to limited or tight space behind the bumpers on today’s vehicles (larger radiators, oil/transmission cooler and eco boost), it is more challenging to install mounting brackets to support the grille guards, usually resulting in longer install times, versus five years ago.”

Romik’s Baeza notes, “The biggest challenge for the installer is to find a product that bolts on with ease and looks good on the vehicle. The challenge for manufacturers is to design the products to compliment the lines of the vehicles.”

At T-Rex, Jimenez reveals a sticky business climate: “Lack of business and the consumers’ expendable income. A few years ago, an installer could count on three to four [Chevy] Tahoes rolling in his shop and getting a sale for numerous items on each truck. Now, our industry is struggling to keep the end consumer focused on the automotive aftermarket in general – not to mention grille or grille guards.”

Help the client with best options

So what’s the best way for retailers/installers to choose the best grille/guard/bumper option for their customers’ particular vehicles and needs? Calvert says, “Retailers should first ask the consumer what is the purpose that they feel they need a grille guard for: A) Is it for aesthetics/looks and/or minor protection? If the answer is yes, then I would recommend that they consider a Sportsman/EURO Style grille. This type of grille guard is usually more stylish, yet not compromising in protection to the front end of the vehicle. This style is usually offered in chrome, stainless or black powder-coated finishes.”

Or maybe the question, Calvert continues, is: “B) Do they need it for their line of business, such as construction, oil and gas fleets, or rancher/farmers, etc.? If the answer is yes, then I would recommend that they consider a heavy-duty grille guard that is frame mounted and protects both the bumper and the grille and hood. This style usually compromises style and is usually only offered in a painted finish.”

Baeza brings up another aspect. “Living in New York City, I see so many small vehicles with these huge grille guards,” he mentions. “This tells me that the installer did not offer any options to the customer. Learn what’s available and remember that cheap is not always the best way. Your time costs money and if you have to spend double the time installing a grille guard, you just lost money on the sale.”

Jimenez says, “Custom grilles are offered in different styles and installation variations. Many times, a grille is sold off a picture online or in a catalog with no attention to how it installs. Do a little homework to find out what the customer wants and then see if the manufacturer offers it. A quality product comes with hardware, instructions and, sometimes, a helpful video online to walk installers through the process. Choosing the correct grille will keep your customer satisfied and your bottom line profitable.”

Covelli adds that, “Depending on the needs of that individual, most installers look for a grille guard that will retain the tow hooks and is a frame-mounted application. This way, there is no cutting and drilling required for the installer or the do-it-yourself customer. A good warranty, followed by a design that accentuates the vehicle’s contour, should be factored in. A larger tube design versus the smaller diameter is also an option most people prefer to match on today’s larger vehicles.”

Tip jar

Lastly, what kind of technical tips and/or specific tools can help installations go easier? Covelli went right to the source, telling us, “I spoke to my technical department and they advised to always confirm the vehicle information with the customer. Not only will this save time and money but will ensure a smooth sales/install transaction.”

Calvert says, “The use of an anti-seize lubricant on all stainless steel fasteners is highly recommended. This will ensure that the fasteners do not gall and become locked together during tightening.”

Baeza advises, “Read the instructions and make sure you got the right product for the vehicle. The most amount of calls come in from ‘master techs’ that claim the products are defective, and when asked if they have read the instructions, the answer is no. In the end, reading the instructions helps 100% of the time.”

Jimenez agrees. “The best tip we can recommend is to ask for the installation instructions before you get the vehicle in the shop. This will give you a better idea of what is in store for you.” he says. “Read the instructions step by step. All too often, we find customers have skipped right over the instructions and start installing a product. Installation instructions normally include a parts list to verify you have all the correct parts, tools required and a step-by-step install procedure to complete the job. If there is still an unanswered question before or during the installation, use the recommended method to contact the manufacturer to assist with the situation.”

Grilles and grille guards might not be for every truck. But knowing where they can go and how they will look can move sales to the front of your vehicle.