A Dealer Perspective on Vermont Castings History

May 4, 2013
A Dealer Perspective on Vermont Castings History
  • The entire Vermont Castings story is very interesting, both from a dealer and a customer perspective. The initial designs (Defiant - Vigilant) were actually pretty bad for many applications....unless you were heating a large farmhouse in VT - which a lot of People WERE. The castings and fit/finish were of extremely high quality as was the enameling. However, these early stoves were not as easy to burn and service as were some of their competitors like Jotul, Upland and the multitudes of steel models.

    VC (Vermont Castings) was ONLY sold direct to customers in the early years (1976-1980). They spent millions of dollars on marketing and direct mail and established a cult of users who are not unlike...People who influenced others and spread the word about these stoves. No other brand was even close in getting fixed into the customers mind.

    VC soon found out that stove dealers were selling against them and making inroads - especially since most People cannot get a 400-500 lb. stove by common carrier and then move and install it. They also started having service and warranty issues in the field with no one to take care of them. They opened a few dealers and gave the dealers a low markup - but the dealers easily made up for this due to a large volume of sales.. The first dealers were able to sell 500-800 stoves a year and sometimes more.

    When other stoves started improving and going catalytic, VC held onto their original line. It is much more difficult to make changes and upgrades in the cast iron stove business because of the time and expense in creating patterns and molds. Steel stove companies can work at a much faster pace. Instead of developing new stoves, VC cdeveloped add-on technology that was expensive and didnt work well. They had retrofit kits for coal, catalytic converters and for cleaner glass that didnt work well. The result being when other stoves were staying clean, the VC line stayed dirty.

    Finally, they bit the bullet and went back to the drawing board and created the Encore....from scratch. Then they did the Acclaim, then retrofitted the Intrepid and then the Winterwarms. They also updated the Vigilant for coal. Now they have a full line of redesigned and newly designed units.

    VC is still a legend. The sad part of the story is that many who helped this company get started are either broke or passed away....one of each in the case of the founders. They went bust or almost bust a number of time, and the old CFM CEO was reportedly an unsavory charachter. The legacy is, unfortunately, not good although we all want it to be! Its the American Dream to think that People who do good will all turn out right in the end, but those who have been in business know that there are many forces at work and sometimes the best efforts are not good enough.

    The good news is this: VC spawned a large part of the industry.....a number of the People who worked there are still in the stove biz working as consultants, contractors, reps and designers and are responsible for MANY of the top notch products you see in the market today. Once stoves get into your blood, its tough to do anything else.

    The New Company - CFM of Canada: The success of the newest VC models may depend on what they are doing in R&D, customer service and also in terms of how they go to market. VC is (still) trying to have their cake and eat it too - meaning they want to sell (wholesale) to as many accounts as possible such as LP dealers, chimney sweep to the mass merchants. Traditional stove and fireplace dealers dont like this, but then again a company with so many products has to sell to many outlets.

    Dealers will pass up exclusivity sometimes....but they need something in place of it like a good price or lots of customers walking in the door asking for a product.

    The company has changed, the People have changed, the products have changed but the legend of an American company with the tenacity to build a stove Foundry in Vermont lives on.

    Note - as of May, 2013 the company has been sold twice again, first to Monesson and recently to an unnamed buyer. Stay tuned.