Viking Stove Sales Reduced to Simmer

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Viking Range, the company that makes the $10,000 trophy stoves found in so many luxury homes, may be running out of gas. Should you still consider paying more for a house with a kitchen that has one? No way, not even if you've got money to burn.

Executives at the homegrown American company report that orders for their signature behemoths with acres of stainless steel are running at half their levels from their 2005 peak. It seems tight-fisted consumers -- including those in the upper-income brackets -- aren't going for Vikings like they used to.

Indeed, back in the real estate bubble -- remember? -- any kitchen worth mentioning in a real estate listing had to have a Viking hulking amid the custom-made cabinets and granite countertops. Like the flagship Viking 60-inch monster with 18,500-BTU burners and the largest convection oven in the industry. It costs upward of $13,000 and connotes good taste, refinement and top-quality design -- and was critical to help lure wealthy customers to closing.

But today there are plenty of lower-priced alternatives to the Viking that can be equally impressive and functional.
Mid-market competitors like GE have moved into the field, with models that pack enough BTUs to cook for an army in minutes and lots of metal and gadgets to attract buyers at half the price of a top-line Viking . That's attractive to anyone remodeling a kitchen (or looking to buy a house with an impressive one) who doesn't want to make a mega-investment.

Vikings, like almost everything else, are suffering in the recession retrenchment. Shipments of all cooking ranges dropped to 16.5 million in 2009 from 19.2 million the year before, according to the Association of Appliance Manufacturers. The best year on record was 2004, with over 25 million sold.

To stay afloat, Viking is moving in new directions, with a luxury hotel and spa in its hometown of Greenwood, Miss. It's also making kitchen cabinets and small appliances, and planning an overseas expansion.

Will Viking stoves go the way of the Hummer? Frankly, we can't imagine kitchen decor without a Viking, a brand name that signifies prestige and an excellent kitchen design. Even if most of their owners usually order in.
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