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How I Almost Saved Vermont Castings from Ruin
Over the years I formed a friendship and business relationship with Stephen Morris, head of dealer sales at VC. I’d drop by his offices when I was skiing in Vermont and also catch up to him at the many trade shows and industry functions that we both attended. Stephen was one of the earliest employees of VC, and is well known in business and marketing circles as an innovator in relationships between companies and their customers. As a for instance, Stephen conceived of the famous “owners outings” where thousands of Vermont Castings owners would come to Vermont and be entertained and fed by the company. This proved so successful that giant corporations like Saturn Cars copied the event.
Timeline: 1985 - I puchased, at auction, the patterns and rights to Upland Stove, a small company which made cast iron stoves that were similar in style to Vermont Castings. Our company then proceeded to ressurect and improve the Upland Models and we started producing stoves at our NJ location. At around the same time, I became friendly with the owners of Avalon Stove Company, a small firm at the time (now owned by Travis Industries).
Now here is where it gets more interesting…follow along….
At the time, it was rumored that Vermont Castings was searching for a way to expand their market by offering some lower cost products…a Chevy in addition to their Cadillac. I thought that our Upland stoves would be the perfect compliment to their line. In addition, my friends at Avalon had gotten into a little bit of financial trouble, so they also wanted to sell their company - AND, for a very reasonable price. I contacted Stephen at VC and he arranged a meeting with the movers and shakers of his company. I presented them with the facts and discussed the advantages of the Avalon and Upland. The total price for both companies was less than $250,000.
A few weeks later I heard that VC has passed over our offer and was instead contemplating the purchase of Consolidated Dutchwest, a company that was importing low quality cast iron stoves from Taiwan. The purchase price was rumored to be north of 10 million dollars!
Well, again the rest is history. Vermont Castings bought Dutchwest and the purchase turned out to be a bad decision. The resulting debt and bad blood sunk the company and caused their value to sink to a level where they were virtually worthless. As a result, they have been bought and sold numerous times since, coming to rest with a Canadian Firm called CFM-Majestic. CFM, as well as the earlier buyers, sought to milk the most value our of the VC brand name, and in doing so often forgot the qualities that made the company great.
Since that time, CFM went bankrupt, failed to stand behind a number of warranties and sold the company to a firm which was mostly known for gas fireplace logs.