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. Fred Carl Jr. credits Williams-Sonoma for helping acquaint American cooks with Viking’s high-end appliances. Read Fred Carl, Jr's inspirational business success story below.

Viking professional gas range, stainless steel.

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.

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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.