We all knew it wasn't going to be a great year for the outdoor cooking industry and the numbers don't contradict this. In 2009 there were fewer grills and smokers sold in North America and any previous year since 2004, with gas grills taking the biggest hit with a nearly 11% drop in sales according to statistics from the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association. On the flip side, charcoal sales were up again for last year implying that people were using the equipment they had more. It would appear that the optimism felt last year, that a bad economy meant more people staying home and spending their money there, didn't materialize. The other expectation, that accessory sales would be up, is much harder to track, but doesn't seem to have held true either. In talks with many industry insiders I can tell you that not everyone is suffered the same and some companies actually had a good year.
Surviving versus Succeeding: No one wants to admit that they are not doing well. Of course, it can be pretty evident when you go to a trade show and the booth is filled with retailer discounts and all they brought was a small selection of products and a couple of chairs. On the other hand it is also hard to trust someone when they say they had a good year in the middle of the "Great Recession". From the looks of the industry as a whole it appears that well known brands with reputations for higher than average quality actually did well in 2009 and are ready to expand. One such company in particular, Onward Manufacturing Company, not only expanding production with a new (new to them) factory in Huntington, IN, but also bought out recently defunct Fiesta Grills, makers of Blue Ember Gas Grills. Have they overextended themselves or captured a much larger market share? Only time will tell, but for a company with good products but limited distribution, this might be the way to go.
As for those who haven't done well I believe the biggest losers have been the big box stores. In recent years we have seen store brand grills packed with accessories and barely make sense. This year there is a noticeable decline of these grills as well as a cut back on store brand models. Gone this year is the Charmglow brand from Home Depot. This year those grills will have the actual name of the maker on them (mostly Brinkmann). Most evident of the poor sales at these stores is the number of previous years grills on the showroom floors. Grills that have been sitting in warehouses for as many as 4 years are piled up in these stores at reduced prices. Good news for consumers looking for a deal, but not good for these stores or the makers of these grills.
These hold overs from years past are typically in the lower price range which is bad news for discount grill makers. How do they get this years models to sell when last years models are on sale next to them. Of all the hold overs the name that shows up the most is Char-Broil. Going head to head with store brand products has cost Char-Broil market share. This has led to a restructuring of management at Char-Broil and the addition of some new talent. Hopefully this will help Char-Broil not only survive, but succeed. My number one recommendation to Char-Broil would be to stop rushing to market and to spend more time in product development and quality control.