The Viking Range Corporation was born purely out of the vision of founder Fred Carl Jr., a fourth-generation building contractor who noticed that people were starting to put ovens built for restaurants into their residences. He also noticed that when a stove built for commercial use was installed in a home, it might also install a few problems: super-high heat output, no safety features, lack of broiling ability, wasteful energy consumption, a standing pilot light rather than one that ignites automatically, bizarre and massive dimensions that don’t align well with standard residential spaces.
So Carl began tinkering and set out to design and manufacture the best hybrid of residential and commercial stoves into one product. And thus he created the Viking stove, which today is often part of any expensive residential kitchen redesign that Americans are having done in suburban homes and city apartments.
Capitalizing on the success of their stoves, Viking made way for a slew of other products and appliances in the upscale kitchen space: Everything from subzero refrigerators and commercial-grade dishwashers to massive stainless-steel kitchen ventilation systems were inspired—and soon afterward, manufactured—by Viking.
With the economic boom times in the late 1980s, 1990s and early part of this century, kitchen redesigns abounded. America’s kitchens shined. Stainless-steel cleaner sales increased significantly as homeowners and domestic cooks everywhere began to place more emphasis on the kitchen. As the years passed, Viking also started to focus its energy on cooking products for the outdoors, such as grills, smokers and cabinetry. It also developed its own line of cutlery, cookware and countertop appliances. Foodies—the name given to a new demographic of discerning food lovers—had arrived in American culture, and their changing tastes and demand for more sophisticated and organic foods also revolutionized kitchens.
A local byproduct of the Viking Range Corporation’s success has been the growth of its home base—the town of Greenwood, Mississippi—which has long been known as a cotton town (and the burial place of blues legend Robert Johnson). Viking employs about 1,000 employees in a town with a total population of 18,000 people. Yet, like many companies today, the Viking Range Corporation has been affected by slumping consumer sales, and Viking employs 213 fewer employees than it did a year ago due to the economic downturn and layoffs.
However, the company remains determined and is being creative when it comes to surviving a challenging economic climate. For example, Viking is providing for many of Greenwood’s families with its subsidiary businesses—an upscale hotel downtown, for example, that hosts visitors in town for classes at another Viking business: its cooking school. The company has at least 15 notable cooking schools around the country. It has also opened a spa and bakery in Greenwood and remains committed to the well-being of its employees and surrounding community.
Viking has also expanded internationally and seeks to increase its global presence and sales in hopes that it can replicate the success it has enjoyed in the US. The brand has opened an office in Strasbourg, France, to handle European distribution, and another office in Bangkok, Thailand, to handle Asian sales. Viking now claims to have its products in more than 80 countries worldwide.
That is quite a range.