50 new products in Viking revamp

Despite a tumultuous year, executives at Viking Range Corp. say the company has been hard at work and is set to launch a wide range of new and revamped products.

The company was bought by The Middleby Corp. at the end of 2012 and has since gone through two rounds of layoffs and seen significant turnover in its management.

Brent Bailey, the director of brand management at Viking, said there’s been a big push from Middleby to refocus on quality and to develop new products at the manufacturer of high-end kitchen appliances.

Selim Bassoul, CEO of Middleby, has taken over as president of the company since the previous president, Brian Waldrop, resigned in November. Bailey said Bassoul would remain president for the foreseeable future.

He said that, although the restructuring at the company has at times been painful, the company is now more focused and agile.

"It’s been the most rewarding year in my professional career," Bailey said.

Bailey, who has worked at Viking 17 years, said the company will launch nearly 60 new products in 2014. Many will be showcased for the first time at trade shows this spring, and Bailey said Viking is also outfitting a tractor-trailer to take its new appliances on the road starting in January.

Among the new products Viking will be bringing to market will be a new top-of-the-line series of ranges. Kevin Brown, vice president of engineering, said the stoves will feature some of the most powerful burners in the industry as well as an array of other features.

Viking is also adapting technologies developed by other Middleby-owned companies for the residential market, including a high-speed oven that Brown said can cook a turkey in under 40 minutes.

The ovens were originally developed by TurboChef and are regularly used by restaurants such as Starbucks and Subway. The new Viking TurboChef ovens will be manufactured in Greenwood.

Launching new products is part of an overall strategy shift at the company. According to Bailey, problems with quality in Viking products, including refrigerator recalls, were damaging the brand.

"Quality is huge to us right now. We have a reputation to overcome," Bailey said. "Really what we need to do is win back the dealer and the salesperson."

Bailey said Middleby was a good partner to help the company tackle quality issues. He said Middleby went through its own set of quality problems "10-15 years ago" but has since built a reputation for building high-quality, durable appliances.

As part of the push for quality, Brown said the engineering department was redesigning many Viking appliances to simplify construction and reduce excess wiring and other parts.

In one stove, Brown said, the wiring his engineers removed was the length of a 32-story building.

Brown said that move makes the appliance simpler to manufacture and less likely to break down.

"The idea is not to make (an appliance) easier to service; the idea is to make it where it doesn’t fail," Brown said.

Bailey said while Viking was focusing on improving quality and launching an array of new appliances, overall the company was trimming product lines and looking to focus on its core business.

The company has ceased production of small appliances and has lined up another company to handle production of its line of cookware. Viking Commercial, the company’s line of appliances designed for restaurants, was taken over by another Middleby company.

"Before, we had a very broad focus," Bailey said. "We just kept focusing on broadening our product line ... instead of focusing on our core and what we’re great at."

Bailey said the new products are already getting positive press in a number of trade magazines, and he’s been getting positive feedback from many dealers.

He predicts sales will increase over the next year as Viking works to develop its distribution network, improve quality and move new products to market.

It’s a note of optimism after a year of big changes — and some rough headlines — for a company that has helped define Greenwood.

"It’s been a roller coaster year," Bailey said.

View the article on ClarionLedger.com