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Dana French

Grills: Specialty store buyers vs. Big box buyers

Comprising more than half of the $5.8 billion outdoor market, retail sales for grills increased 5.8% last year, hitting $3.2 billion.

As first reported in Casual Living's exclusive 2007 Universe Study, home improvement centers, including the giants Home Depot and Lowe's, are the undisputed sales leaders in the grill category. They sold $1.4 billion worth of grills last year, representing 45% of the market. With Target and Wal-Mart leading the charge, the discount department store channel sold $912 million worth of grills last year and comprised 28% of the grill market.

The specialty store channel sold $128 million in grills during 2007, holding onto its slim 4% market share. While some specialty stores have given up on the category all together, others have capitalized on higher price points and are also offering full outdoor kitchens.

Research from Casual Living's 2007 Consumer Buying Trends Survey, conducted among households with incomes of $75,000 or more, revealed grill use continues to be widespread. In fact, two-thirds of responding households cook out on their grill at least once a week.

Our exclusive Consumer Buying Trends Survey also shows that Baby Boomers, currently between the ages of 44 and 62, continue to drive the dollars. Boomers comprise 78% of households purchasing a grill at specialty stores; 59% of buyers at home improvement stores, and 60% of households buying a grill at discount department stores.

And, while we all assume higher-income households shop specialists, it should be noted they also shop and buy at discounters and home improvement centers. Indeed, 71% of specialty-store buyers had incomes of $100,000 or more; but so did 66% of home improvement store buyers and 56% of discount buyers.

Who's buying where

While home improvement centers are the king of the jungle when it comes to grills, they still need to look over their shoulder at Target and Wal-Mart once in a while. Nearly half of consumers comparison-shopped at a discount department store before buying a grill at a home improvement center. On the flip side, six out of 10 consumers checked out grills at a home improvement center before buying one at a discounter.

Four out of 10 consumers comparison-shopped at a home improvement center before making a grill purchase at a specialty store.

With that said, consumers were generally satisfied with the grills on specialty store floors. Specialty stores garnered a close ratio of 55, meaning that 55 out of every 100 households that shopped for a grill at a specialist bought one there. The specialty store's respectable 55 compares to Home Depot and Lowe's close ratio of 73 and Target and Wal-Mart's lower close ratio of 45.

Grill types and prices

Gas grills are the most popular type, purchased by nine out of 10 buyers at specialists, eight out of 10 buyers at home improvement centers and two-thirds of buyers at discount department stores.

The lower-priced charcoal grill accounted for more than one-fourth of the grills purchased at discount department stores and 14% of those bought at home improvement centers.

Buying households spent a median of $300 on a grill at home improvement centers. At discounters, the median spent was nearly two times less, at $170. The grill ticket at specialty stores was the highest, a median of $600.

Households purchasing a grill at specialty stores spent between a low of $100 to a high of $3,100 on their grill purchase, with one-fourth shelling out $1,000 or more.

Fire pit purchases on the rise

Fire pits and outdoor fireplaces continue to ride their wave of popularity. Nearly two-thirds of responding households purchased one last year. Nine out of every 10 purchased were wood-burning and one out of 10 were gas.

Households purchasing at a specialty store spent a median of $200 on a fire pit, twice as much as the median spent by households buying at discounters and home improvement centers.

While Boomers comprise the majority of fire pit buyers through all channels, the under 35 crowd accounted for one-fourth of households buying at a discount store, 18% of those buying at a home improvement center and less than 10% of households purchasing at a specialist.

Fontana fire pit by Agio

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