Viking Founder Fred Carl, Jr.: Cooking with Gas
The Viking Range Corporation was born of the same passion for giving home cooks access to professional-level products as was Williams-Sonoma. Read Fred Carl, Jr's inspirational business success story below.
In fact, Viking founder Fred Carl Jr. credits William-Sonoma for helping to introduce Viking’s high-end kitchen appliances to its customers by selling the line in its stores. Carl says his wife, Margaret, also deserves much of the credit. An avid cook, Margaret found herself frustrated by the lack of robust gas ranges available for home use. Fred, who was working in his family’s construction business, started experimenting and eventually perfected a range design that offered commercial performance and the safety needed for home use. In January 1987, Viking started shipping its first ranges, with manufacturing eventually located in Fred’s hometown of Greenwood, Miss.
Q: Viking changed the way people cooked, designed their kitchens, and thought about the home-cooking experience. Did you have a sense you were a disrupter or did you think your design would be a one-off experiment?
A: I didn’t perceive myself as a disrupter but I was pretty excited when I realized nothing like that was on the market and I was going be the first. Early on I was thinking that if I could produce a thousand a year that would be a huge success.
Q: How do you reconcile “there’s nothing out there on the market, which means there is an opportunity” vs. “there’s nothing on the market because nobody but me needs or wants it”?
A: I started asking, “Why hasn’t somebody done this?” because it seemed so obvious. Trying to figure that out was the scary part. Then you just have to take a leap of faith.
You’ve got to be willing to deal with the consequences if it doesn’t work out. That takes a certain kind of personality. And you have to surround yourself with others, especially in the early days, who are experienced in the industry and are willing to take the chance with you.
10 Kitchen Disruptors that are Changing the Game
Around since 1921, Vitamix, maker of high-tech blenders, is having a renaissance. Despite higher end pricing, Vitamix machines are extremely popular among professional chefs, consumers, and large companies like Starbucks and Jamba Juice. Capable of making hot soup, smoothies, pie dough and more, demand for this kitchen status symbol is driving annual sales in excess of $780 Million. Once sold primarily through infomercials, Vitamix products are regularly featured at Williams Sonoma and other high-end retailers. – Starting at $379.95
June Intelligent Oven
There’s much more to the June Intelligent Oven than its sleek appearance and touch screen. This “smart oven” is able to identify foods and automatically adjust cooking temperatures and time to achieve the perfect dish. Investors see potential in June’s computerized food preparation and the company has raised over $30 million in venture capital funding. – $1,495
Single-Serve Coffee Makers
Founded in 1992, Keurig holds the title of the original single serve coffee pod and brewer. After K-cup pods became available in supermarkets in 2008, coffee pod machine sales multiplied over six-fold in the following six years. By 2013, global capsule sales approached $11 Billion, with Keurig leading the market in North America and Nespresso leading internationally. – Starting at $89.99
Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker
Thanks to Anova’s Precision Cooker, the sous vide style of cooking, long limited to professional chefs, is becoming more and more common in households. After seeing sales of around $40 Million in 2016, Anova was bought in early 2017 by Electrolux for $115 Million. Another Sous Vide cooker making waves is the Joule, which lets users control cooking settings via a mobile app. – $199.95
Air fryers allow health-conscious consumers to enjoy perfectly fried dishes without excess fatty oil. Numerous manufacturers have entered the market, eager to claim a stake in this new, viral product. “Air Fry Everything”, one of the first cookbooks on Air Frying by Meredith Laurence, has sold over 200,000 copies. – Starting at $199.95
Introduced in 2010, the Instant Pot has revolutionized the traditional pressure cooker. This programmable cooker has generated a loyal following due to its simple speedy, and energy efficient cooking. On Amazon Prime Day in 2016, the Instant Pot was a hit, with over 215,000 units sold. It continues today as a popular addition to the home kitchen as a featured item in the Williams Sonoma catalog. – Starting at $99.95
Baeba Babybook Baby Food Processor
Today’s parents are increasingly concerned with the ingredients going into their children’s foods. While traditional jarred foods can be both costly and unhealthy, Baeba Babycook, a convenient all-in-one system, allows parents to make homemade baby food. Traditional packaged baby food sales are now declining at an average rate of over four percent since 2005, while baby food processors inch towards the norm. – Starting at $149.95
Direct to Home Grocery Delivery
Online grocery shopping and delivery by Freshdirect, Shop Rite and Amazon, are making trips to the store unnecessary. Thanks to busy consumers with a preference for fresh food, analysts expect that one-sixth of the $600 billion grocery industry will come from online by 2019. Industry pioneer, Freshdirect, which generates about $600 million in annual sales, is in expansion mode, while Amazon looks to gain market share through their acquisition of Whole Foods. Traditional grocers aren’t resting on their laurels either, offering the same services as online competitors.
Samsung Smart Fridge
The Jetsons’ kitchen is finally becoming a reality with the advent of the “Smart” fridge. Leading the pack is Samsung’s “Family Hub” Smart Refrigerator that allows users to order groceries online through Freshdirect and Shoprite directly from a touch screen on its door. It’s also equipped with an internal camera that alerts when an item is almost empty or expired. Samsung and its competitors are betting big that smart fridges will become the new norm. – Starting at $3,399.99
Environmentally conscious, convenient, and tasty are three reasons why consumers love SodaStream, the kitchen appliance that makes everything from fruit sodas, to licensed Pepsi products, to plain sparkling water. The Israeli based company was founded in 2007 and now generates annual revenue of over $470 million. Big beverage companies have taken heed and are working with SodaSteam to get their fizzy drinks in the hands of SodaStreamers everywhere. – Starting at $79.95
Q: Did you envision the effect Viking would have on your hometown?
A: Once we decided to start making our own product instead of contracting it out, I thought about where to put the operation. I considered other locations, but Greenwood won out. We put together a little operation there and as we grew we hired more and more people.
I did want to help my hometown but only after we had gotten a good bit bigger did I start thinking we could make an impact on this town and also create an image for our company. We created a mystique about Viking and people wanted to know what the heck is going on in that little town and how are they doing that.
We expanded our product line and started doing things like cooking schools, creating a culture around our company that was very valuable from a marketing standpoint. Part of that was helping to revitalize our downtown business district, which was about dried up and blown away. We had a unique culture in the appliance industry and appliances dealers all over the country took pride in being part of it. They started bragging about being a dealer for Viking –the company that’s in that little town in Mississippi that’s doing neat things.
Q: Did you consider manufacturing outside the U.S.?
A: That never entered my mind. There was no way I was going to create a company that had its production offshore. The economics were secondary to we’re going to do this right here in Greenwood, Mississippi.