Rob Schwing

Who buys grills?

May 13, 2014

Dear Grill Guy,

With grills and grilling becoming more popular, I’m wondering if you’ve noticed any significant change over the years in who buys grills? Are we (or should we be) selling to a new demographic?

Excellent question. Grilling is a quintessential part of being American – it’s in our DNA. According to a 2011 study by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), 86% of all U.S. households own a grill or smoker. That’s an amazing statistic for an item that’s not a necessity. Compare the 86% grill ownership to a 2013 census report for the same year that shows that only 75.6% of American households had a computer in their home.

Not only do most households own a grill, but Americans on average own more than one. That’s something that can rarely be said of other appliances. Most of us don’t indulge in two washing machines, two microwaves or even two waffle irons. Grills hold a special place in our hearts. Probably the only item that ranks higher than grills in terms of household penetration are cell phones, owned by 90% of American adults.  

So who buys grills?

The demographic has shifted over the years. Probably the biggest driver of change has been the increase in the number of female heads of households. Women today are grilling in much greater numbers than ever before. Not only are they grilling, but their influence on the grill buying decision is immense. The general rule of thumb is that the larger the dollar purchase, the more influential the woman is in the process. Men can’t go out and buy a $1,000 grill without a thumbs up from their significant other and still lead a happy home life. Grill buying today has become much more of a joint decision – something to keep in mind when selling to either men or women.

Another trend I’ve noticed in some of the research we’ve done is that a grill is often one of the first purchases someone who immigrates to the United States will buy outside of their core appliances. It goes back to the whole “grilling is in our DNA” idea. Being American means you’re going to own a grill.

What’s behind the trend in dual grill ownership?  

The reasons why someone owns more than one grill vary by person. Certainly people who own a full grill for the backyard and a portable grill are plentiful. But there’s also what I’ll call the divided loyalty group – people who maybe use a gas grill during the week and charcoal grill or a smoker on the weekend. And the biggest change to the industry is the influx of grillers who desire multiple pieces of equipment because they’re interested in experimenting with new techniques in food preparation.

Even as recent as 20 years ago, the deal was only that you had to have a grill so that your dad could scorch some burgers on it for the family every summer. Now, however, grilling is less utilitarian and much more of a hobby. As Americans have become more affluent with discretionary income – and as we’ve developed as a society with influence from travel abroad, a global economy and even things like the Food Network being around – we’re much more interested in what I’ll call the experience of grilling.

The experience of grilling isn’t about “I’ve gotta make dinner.” It’s about Americans becoming interested in everything from where their food is sourced, to using a variety of techniques to prepare the food, to a willingness to try new and exotic flavors. This is a trend taking place both inside the kitchen and outside on the grill.  

What can I do to sell to this new “foodie” demographic?

Selling grills today is a different experience than 20 years ago. Then the conversation was all on technical specifications – how many Btus is the grill or how many burgers can I cram on it? Today, the focus is on cooking performance and food results. Consumers want to know if a grill will help them be a better cook. For that reason, the cooking demonstration is critical. People are much more likely to buy based on taste from a demo than they are from simply comparing specs grill to grill.

The core of selling remains the same but the sophistication required of dealers today is higher. Consumers are better informed and can make comparisons on the spot with their smartphones. What they want – and what you as a dealer have to offer – is amazing service. Personalized service is why someone is standing in your store versus a Lowe’s or Home Depot. Consumers crave a personalized shopping experience where they feel catered to from “Hello” to “Let me know how you enjoy that grill!”

Stay informed and the sophisticated consumer who fully considers every step in the grill buying process plays right into your wheelhouse.

Keep Grilling,