A Durabull outdoor kitchen from Bull Outdoor Products

Beyond the Grill

Spa retailers are adding outdoor kitchens to their mix

The sizzle of burgers on the grill, the aroma of hickory-sauced ribs from the smoker and cold drinks at the ready are all part of the typical backyard barbecue experience, but there’s a twist to this familiar scene. 

Increasingly, people are taking their cooking chops to another level, with the addition of complete outdoor kitchens — the most popular kitchen trend for the past two years, according to a recent Atlas kitchen trends survey. Homeowners are expanding their COVID-era al fresco lifestyle to take advantage of expanded space and good weather.

“It’s just more fun to cook outdoors,” says Craig Ecelbarger, Florida president of operations for Recreational Warehouse by Watson’s, newly named after his longtime company was acquired by Watson’s.

These popular kitchens can involve the whole culinary repertoire: grills, griddles, smokers and pizza ovens. Even sinks, refrigerators, extensive countertops and storage can be custom-crafted into desired island configurations depending on space and storage needs. Customers can choose from various styles and materials, including furniture like cabinetry that can withstand UV light and won’t have problems with the weather, says Frank Mello, vice president of sales and marketing for Bull Outdoor Products in Lodi, California.

For consumers seeking value, the cost of this addition is offset by an increase in their home value. A survey from the National Association of Home Builders showed outdoor kitchens can add up to 130% of their building cost to the overall value of a home, so a $10,000 investment could potentially increase a home’s value by $13,000.

For spa retailers, whose products are a part of the expanding backyard living experience, these kitchens also offer value. 

“The people who buy outdoor kitchens are the same people who buy swim spas and hot tubs,” Ecelbarger says. “The products all go together because they’re part of the same user experience, to be able to enjoy the outdoors of their homes.”

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The people who buy outdoor kitchens are the same people who buy swim spas and hot tubs.”

Craig Ecelbarger, Recreational Warehouse by Watson’s

If spa retailers aren’t already in the outdoor kitchen business, they should be, Mello says. “It’s just incremental business. The people who are selling the spas in your store should be good at selling outdoor kitchens. It’s no more complicated.” 

It doesn’t take up a lot of extra space to have some kitchens on your showroom floor, as they can make small displays, he says. “You’re selling the dream, and it makes your showroom look better if you’re showing the whole backyard lifestyle, not just the spa.”  

Another advantage is a strong marketing pitch, Mello adds. 

“You can market to the people who have already bought a spa from you,” Mello says. “You could get out your mailing list and say, ‘I’m in the barbecue business now. Here’s what we’re selling. Come on in. We’ll give you a discount because you’re a previous customer.’ ”

Ecelbarger’s company added outdoor kitchens to its mix about 10 years ago, and the line now represents a significant portion of its business. Hot tubs and swim spas are still their core, he says, but these buyers “have already self-identified as people who are willing to make an outdoor leisure investment. And that’s what an outdoor kitchen is.”