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VERMONT CASTINGS GROUP ANNOUNCES ACQUISITION BY EMPLOYEES

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by FyreBug, Jul 31, 2013.

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  1. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    It's on the right side of their homepage. No links yet.

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  2. raybonz

    raybonz Minister of Fire

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    OK I see it now.. Sounds like it will be popular with the nice look of cast iron!
  3. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    That Ashford is no VC or Jotul cast stove, in regard to styling, but its a beauty queen among the BK line-up. :lol:

    Actually, reminds me of the F-50/55 styling, which is no surprise, given similar construction. I think it will be a good seller, if performance is up to usual BK standards.
  4. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    It definitely is following the Alderlea and Rangeley path, but appears to have a purely convective top. If so there will be no cooking option other than simmering. Still, I suspect it will be a fine heater and the best looking BK yet.
    raybonz likes this.
  5. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    The original Resolute was my first "real" stove. At around $450 it was a major investment for us, but we loved it.
  6. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    If its available as a rear exhaust and under 27" tall I will be seriously interested.
  7. Grisu

    Grisu Minister of Fire

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    I don't see a Woodstock stove fitting in a more modern/contemporary home either. The pictures I have seen for the Union so far do not convince me either. Regardless how well built their stoves are and how great their customer service is I cannot see me look at either of those stoves every day. My fave is still the Osburn Matrix. Too bad, it came out just after we had put in the PE Super although I grew fond of its looks, too.
    Joful likes this.
  8. FyreBug

    FyreBug Minister of Fire

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    An Interview with Jess Baldwin,
    Vice President of Sales & Customer Service
    for the NEW, and Employee-owned,
    Vermont Castings Group

    Jess Baldwin.
    The news was exciting - and unexpected.
    On August 1, the Vermont Castings Group of companies (Vermont Castings, Majestic, Monessen and Ambient Technologies) announced it had just been purchased, not by another private equity firm, but by its employees. You could almost hear the sound of hands clapping and voices ringing throughout the hearth industry.

    If polled, almost everyone would agree: This is the best scenario that could have occurred. Why? Because, finally, people who understand - and love - the hearth industry are in charge.

    They will treat that brand with respect.

    Jess Baldwin, the face of the new Vermont Castings Group, is now vice president of Sales & Customer Service. His involvement in the industry goes back 30 years or so, many of which he spent with The Earth Stove. Since then he has held a variety of positions with the Vermont Castings Group, many of them when the company was known by other names.

    When we heard news of the transaction, we called Jess Baldwin to get his view of the purchase, and of changes that may be forthcoming.

    Hearth & Home: Congratulations, Jess. This is great news. Most everyone was expecting the purchase to be either by a major company in the industry, or another private equity firm. An employee purchase is very exciting.

    Your release indicated that Ricardo Leon is the new CEO. Can you tell us a bit about him?

    Jess Baldwin: "Ricardo was the company's CFO. But the interesting thing about him is that his background is really Operations Finance. He is a tremendously bright guy, and has worked for Kimberly Clark and General Electric. He worked for a very large, global company called Rexnord. The thing that I have really come to appreciate about Ricardo is that, while he is a great CFO, he also understands operations and that's a combination you usually don't find in a finance guy."

    And you are vice president of Sales and Customer Service. Who are the other major players and what is their role?

    Baldwin: "Pat Kelly is back with us and he is the vice president of Product Development. Kristen Jenkins, who has been with the company almost since it started, heads up our supply chain. Supply chain management and logistics are her areas of expertise. Those are really the four major players."

    Give us your view of this transaction and what it bodes for the company and all of its dealers.

    Baldwin: "I think the most exciting news is that the entire management team is in agreement and aligned around the fact that we look at ourselves as a hearth company, and we like being in the hearth business. The hearth being defined as fireplaces, gas logs, stoves, inserts and barbecues to the hearth trade.

    "We are not entertaining thoughts of selling Big Box stores. We are not looking to move into other channels. We are a hearth company, but our previous management strayed from that position. We are all very excited and so far the response from customers has been just great. They are tickled to death to hear that we are going back to our roots, so to speak, and all of our energy, all of our effort, will be focused around the traditional hearth business as you and I know it."

    When you say no Box stores, is that also true for the grills?

    Baldwin: "Yes. The grills were sold in Costco last year and right up until the point of the ownership change. One of our first initiatives was to get out of that business."

    What plants do you have right now and where?

    Baldwin: "We still have the Randolph, Vermont, (cast-iron) foundry and then we have the assembly plant in Bethel, Vermont. We have the Paris, Kentucky, plant and we still have the Mexicali plant in Mexico."

    Is Mexicali basically for Majestic product?

    Baldwin: "We build Majestic both in the Paris facility and in Mexicali. When we acquired the assets of CFM, the intent at the time was to make Mexicali kind of an 80 percent mirror image of the Paris facility. With the downturn in residential new construction over the past five years, that was never completely implemented. But they do build vent-free fireboxes in Mexicali, and direct-vent fireplaces. They manufacture both refractory and fiber logs as well as steel stoves in that facility.

    "They have the capability of doing everything that we do in Paris. We just have chosen not to put some products down there."

    But that is a very good location for a plant, isn't it? Given that most housing activity over the next decades will be primarily in the South and West, that's a nice back-up plant to have.

    Baldwin: "It is."

    I think a lot of other companies must envy what you have with these four locations, particularly having your own foundry.

    Baldwin: "Yes."

    I've heard on occasion that the foundry could use a little updating, but it still puts out a high quality product. Is there any truth to that?

    Baldwin: "Yes. We've put, in round numbers, about $3 million dollars into the foundry in capital improvements over the last two and a half years. So we've actually got the foundry pretty much brought back up to good operating condition. There are a couple of small areas that we need to work on, but we've put a lot of money into the foundry. Even as we speak, we are updating the porcelain enamel line this week and next."

    Was the company hurt by the four or so months transition from the time it was announced that a sale would occur within 90 days until now? Did it damage your relationships with customers?

    Baldwin: "I can't say we got hurt. I think customers held off. We may have lost some display space on dealers' floors, but through our distributors everybody has stayed with us. They were nervous, but no one abandoned ship. So we're actually quite pleased about that."

    Which areas of company operations have the most need for a little loving care to bring them up to speed? Would that be operations and speedy delivery, or more along the lines of product design or product quality? Which areas do you plan on changing rapidly?

    Baldwin: "Actually, there are two opportunities. One is external; one is internal. The internal one is improving deliveries. With the team we have now, we're confident we can do that. In fact we have made some strides already on that.

    "Externally, I think it's just restoring the confidence of our customers in the fact that we are a hearth company, and that is what we're going to be. We want our customers to see that the leadership of the company has the experience and passion for the specialty hearth trade. Externally, that's the most important message to get out."

    The challenge will be to meet your customers' expectations. Through the years, we've heard many say that they want someone to give the VC brand the excitement that it used to have, which is quite a challenge. Those early designs set the bar for everyone.

    In the early days, it also was relatively unique because it was cast iron; today, just about everyone has a cast-iron stove that looks pretty good. The challenge will be to take the VC style and bring it into the present, with even strong contemporary models.

    Baldwin: "Yes. We've done some research and we have a strategic plan of how to get there. We think there are two ways to do it. Obviously, aesthetics is one, but we also think technology is another. Rather than spending resources on things outside the hearth trade or channel, those resources will be devoted to enhancing the product, not just enhancing the products we have, but actually designing product from the ground up and putting some excitement back into Vermont Castings.

    "It's still a great line. If you look at the emission numbers for the Vermont Castings line, it's still one of the cleanest burning stove lines in the industry."

    What else made Vermont Castings so important?

    Baldwin: "To me, the signature thing about Vermont Castings is the craftsmanship in the product. We have people working in Vermont who have built these stoves for 30 years. When you walk through that plant you see how much care these workers put into the product they produce, and their meticulous attention to detail. That craftsmanship and passion is the cornerstone of the Vermont Castings line."

    The high bar set by the old Vermont Castings, and the fame it received, was good for the entire industry. It really got the word about wood stoves and hearth products out there. It helped.

    Baldwin: "It did, and our vision for the line is to restore that position for the brand. It's still the most recognized brand in the industry. Through the different owners over the years, whether it is a private equity firm or whomever, they have not had the passion for the actual product and the brand.

    "We, the new team, have the passion and the enthusiasm for the product and the brand. We like wood stoves. We like tinkering with them. We like saying, Can we push the performance envelope? That is going to be demonstrated to our customers and the industry as we move forward."
  9. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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  10. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    A more softball interview was never even given in DC......
    :p

    So far, what we have heard are two points....
    1. The same people who ran it before are running it now
    and
    2. They finally realized that getting into competition with the Big Boys (boxes) was destructive to them.

    That's something I figured out in 1980.

    Sometimes YE truly have to be Born Again. That is, it's one step to satisfy some dealers who may have complained about product being available through other channels. It's quite another to satisfy the end users over years and decades.

    I hope they can revive the company. It would be really nice for the entire industry as well as the workers, vermont, etc.

    But PR is not going to be the ticket to revival. Hard work and proper decision are.
  11. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Why didn't he ask them about abandoning warranties during their original purchase? It would be nice to know the new owners take on that...after all these years. Was it right? Wrong? Stupid? Smart?

    Are there products which they feel were introduced that did not meet their standards? Are they upgrading them, discontinuing them, etc.?

    Will vent free still make up a vast portion of their revenue? Do they have any qualms about those types of appliances?

    What about pellets?

    Do they want to enter others areas of the business (central heat, etc.)?

    Maybe Hearth.com (you guys, customers and dealers) should look at my list and add some and we'll present them as "the people's questions"...???
    Trilifter7 likes this.
  12. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    That was the primary question I was looking for, when I read the interview. I read the first half, and skimmed the second half. No mention of their responsibility toward existing product owners.
  13. firefighterjake

    firefighterjake Minister of Fire

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    Call me a skeptic . . . but unless the "new" management team (which appears to be the "old" management team) does not change how they were doing business and get back to their roots by offering a quality product and then standing behind that product I don't see a very rosy future for VC. I mean to say, changing owners is great . . . but if you've got the same people with the same mindset running the company you generally don't see folks all of a sudden do a 180 turn about in the way they manage a company unless they've either had an epiphany or have had their own overseers in the past holding them back and restricting what they could and could no do on their own.

    Personally I would love to VC succeed . . . up this way there are still folks who remember the VC line up from the 1980s and still think of VCs as the Cadillac of cast iron stoves . . . until they do some research.
  14. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    I have sat back and waited for somebody to notice that most of the new owners ain't stove guys. They came in from other marketing areas when the vulture capitalists bought Monessen.

    It's a different world today folks from the time I refused to buy a VC stove because I don't do Cadillacs. Lots of well entrenched stove companies making lots of damn fine wood stoves out there. In their hayday it was VC and Bobby in the welding shop down the block. We are about to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear, late nineties and early double Os, when gas stoves ruled the world with the cheap gas prices these days.

    We shall see.
    jeff_t likes this.
  15. FyreBug

    FyreBug Minister of Fire

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    Webbie, it might be a nice feature of Hearth.com to ask members as you've done to ask questions of various MFG's and industry insiders and actually conduct an interview and post it here.

    It would probably be very popular!
    Trilifter7, Defiant and Grisu like this.
  16. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    Boy would I like to see those interviews. Never seen stove builders take the 5th Amendment before.
  17. FyreBug

    FyreBug Minister of Fire

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    You & Webbie are welcome to come to our plant and ask away...
  18. stoveguy2esw

    stoveguy2esw Minister of Fire

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    All i got to say is they were the KING of great stove names "defiant" "resolute" and the like, i hope they do well. VC in its day filled a great niche in the hearth community made some great stoves. sounds like they aren't going to be in my market so i can be a fan ;)
  19. mellow

    mellow Resident Stove Connoisseur

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    I am sure you were happy to read that.
  20. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    I'd rather get the responses in writing.....because my translation skills are poor. Can we submit some questions?
  21. FyreBug

    FyreBug Minister of Fire

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    Well we all speak english you know...:) By all means, PM me questions and I'll forward it to the powers that be.
  22. Grisu

    Grisu Minister of Fire

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    Fyrebug, kind of unrelated but I took a look at the Osburn 2000 manual yesterday and was impressed with the pretty detailed description on how to run a stove, season wood, cleaning etc. After seeing quite a few manuals that spend at most 2 pages on those items it was really refreshing to see. Whoever wrote it, you can tell them a job well done. :)

    P.S. Now you only need a dealer in Vermont. I think the closest one is about 2 hr from here and I am not living in the woods.
  23. Huntindog1

    Huntindog1 Minister of Fire

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    Will be interesting if they will be able to put a dent in the market with todays current market offerings. Lots of stoves out there to compete with them. Hard to rebuild a reputation. Plus with the new Emissions standards looming in the horizon. There is always the question do you go with low volumes and private dealers or do you sell in the big home improvement stores where the volumes are higher. Defiantly some market analysis too do and a strategy to come up with since they are working from a clean slate. I think their company image may need some work by making amends with the past customers. How many people are going to throw out their current stoves to go get a VC just because they remember the good ole days of growing up with a VC. Sounds like the look the VC's had are what alot of people are looking for but todays world is more performance minded with the information age and internet to research buying options.
  24. Huntindog1

    Huntindog1 Minister of Fire

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    Yes I think Woodstock should offer a extra styling option or two .
  25. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    This one is wandering all over the place. Closing it down since all of the news is in the OP.
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