A White Knight Saves the Day

by WOHe

A white knight, dashing into Pennsylvania’s cabinet-making
heartland in the guise of a major appliance manufacturer, has
stepped up big time in an effort to rescue three of the
kitchen/bath industry’s most revered custom cabinet brands, and
avert what could have been a genuine industry tragedy.

The white knight, of course, is Viking Range Corp., the premium
appliance manufacturing company whose CEO, thankfully, hasn’t
forgotten either his cabinet industry roots or his understanding of
the unique role that certain cabinet lines play in defining this
market.

The cabinet brands are those of Rutt, Heritage and St. Charles
all of which once epitomized a custom cabinet market that, in
recent weeks, has seemed threatened with serious erosion.

The tragedy, as much of the industry is aware of by now, would
have seen nearly 600 jobs eliminated and all three cabinet brands
dashed in one fell swoop by a parent that chose to make a cold,
numbers-driven decision to pull the plug on the brands apparently
without even the slightest notion of what it was destroying in the
process.

All this comes as a result of this month’s news that Viking has
been awarded the assets of Rutt Custom Cabinetry by a Reading, PA
bankruptcy court, and that Viking, as of press time, was attempting
to acquire the assets of Heritage Custom Kitchens, which has also
been producing the St. Charles brand .

Viking’s acquisition of Rutt came on the heels of a decision by
the investment firm Berwind Financial to abruptly shut down its
leveraged holding company, Classic Kitchens LLC thus halting
operations at both Rutt and Heritage, Classic’s subsidiaries. The
decision to send the companies to bankruptcy court reportedly
followed a failed attempt by Berwind to obtain the financing it
needed to continue operations after an “unexpected” cash crunch
crippled Classic Kitchens in January.

The sudden closure of Rutt and Heritage, needless to say, came
as a swift kick where it hurts to company employees and customers,
who’d been repeatedly assured, only a month earlier, that Classic
Kitchens was realigning the two companies in order to strengthen
them both. Classic Kitchens, in fact, had gone to great lengths to
point out to anyone willing to listen that the two Pennsylvania
factories were being reorganized in a move to expand product lines,
upgrade quality, achieve greater efficiency and improve both
customer service and the reliability of deliveries.

That announcement, it turned out, proved to be little more than
a bunch of glib, short-lived puff. Far worse, it proved to be a sad
and cruel deception to Rutt/Heritage employees and dealers who
were, at first, optimistic and charged, then angered and bewildered
when Berwind abruptly reversed its direction.

By comparison, Viking’s acquisition decision, if completely
consummated, could prove to be a courageous and savvy move that
would do nothing short of instantly resuscitating all three cabinet
brands, while preserving jobs and helping to stabilize the suddenly
shaky businesses of some of the industry’s leading dealers.
Viking’s move, in particular, would be a lifesaver to Rutt flagship
dealers, as well as to those dealers with Rutt/Heritage cabinet
orders in the pipeline that were suddenly thrust into limbo.
Dealers would also be spared the fate of having to swallow the
substantial investments they may have made in Rutt/Heritage
displays, door samples, computer software and programs.

In contrast to Berwind’s handling of the situ-ation, Viking’s
actions smack of equal parts class, compassion and just plain good
business sense.

By acquiring Rutt, Viking whose premium appliances are aimed at
high-end consumers also gets to protect its own interests, since it
shares a number of key dealers with Rutt’
and Heritage, and already had strategic relationships with both
cabinet companies. Interestingly, Viking’s founder and CEO, Fred
Carl Jr., had a strong connection with Rutt years ago, through his
experience as a custom kitchen dealer prior to founding Viking.

That connection, coupled with Carl’s commendable sense of
customer loyalty and his keen business acumen, were apparently
enough to motivate Viking to pull the trigger

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