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Hearth & Home November 2014

Richard Wright
Hearth & Home Magazine

Lookin' for a Home

By now everyone in the hearth industry is well aware that Vermont Castings has just been sold – again. This time it was packaged as part of the Vermont Castings Group that also encompasses the Monessen, Majestic and DutchWest brands.

By a quick count, it appears that the buyer, HNI (parent company of Hearth & Home Technologies) is the eighth owner in VC’s approximately 40-year history. Previous owners could be categorized as the Good, the Bad and the Just Plain Awful.

But what they appeared to have in common is a lack of understanding of how to manage a brand. Handed a product with designs that have held up for 40 years – and may well hold up for another 40 – a product with great respect and a cult-like following, they chose to do nothing, or little, to support it.

If the history of that brand were compared to a novel, it would have to be written by Dickens, perhaps Oliver Twist. Both Oliver and VC were bounced from one bad situation to another, from bosses who were arrogantly stubborn to those who had no idea how to raise a boy – or a brand.

Yet both Oliver and Vermont Castings survived those years relatively intact, if perhaps stunted a bit in growth. In the end, they were both adopted by honest, well-intentioned people. Oliver retired to the countryside and a happy life; Vermont Castings begins a comeback that may return it to its former glory.

Up here in New England, and we suspect in many areas beyond, the brand is still known and admired. Occasionally we’re asked what Hearth & Home covers. We say we cover three industries, with hearth being one. If we see a blank look on the questioners’ face, we follow with, “You know, products such as Vermont Castings.” The blank stare disappears, replaced by a knowing look. “I’ve got one of those,” many say.

A strong brand is a terrible thing to waste.

Eye on the Doughnut

There’s more than one patio furniture manufacturer who believes the major problem presently facing patio specialty retailers has little to do with competition – although it is more severe now than prior to the recession.

No, they feel it has to do with those retailers who are placing undue reliance on lower-end container product than they should. They may still have mid- to high-end product on the floor, but their salespeople, being what they are, take the easy route and sell the inexpensive stuff.

At the end of the year store owners may be finding that volume was up but profit is down. Our article is called “Keep Your Eye on the Doughnut.” It begins on page 18 and should be read by everyone.

Gas: Heart of the Hearth

With this issue we conclude our three-part series on gas and gas-fueled hearth products. If you are one who occasionally lobbies local or national regulators or politicians, you may want to put the past three issues aside for future reference. Right now the Department of Energy appears to be in hibernation regarding the hearth industry, but winter always ends.

More Stories in this Issue

A Banner Year

By Bill Sendelback

In the last two years, the U.S. solar market has more than doubled as solar power has become more price competitive.

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Gas: Heart of the Hearth Part III

By James E. Houck

This is the third of a three-part series on gas-fueled appliances in the residential hearths of North America. It focuses on the history of gas in the hearth, the market size and character of the various categories of gas hearth appliances.

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2014 September Business Climate

In early October, Hearth & Home faxed a survey to 2,400 specialty retailers of hearth, barbecue and patio products, asking them to compare September 2014 sales to September 2013. The accompanying charts and selected comments are from the 193 useable returns.

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Parting Shot: A Calming Room

We all have too much “stuff” as George Carlin used to say, and he was right. Let your mind wander through a few rooms in your home and you should quickly see what we mean.

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