We are enjoying our BlueStar range on a daily basis and always receive compliments on its appearance."
Steve Irey - Redding, CA
Owner of a BlueStar 48” Freestanding Gas Range with a Griddle (RNB486GSS)
US Business Review website
Published: January 22, 2008
Every company wants to create brand loyalty in its customers, but very few can develop the type of passion and devotion that can make a customer want to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles just to try the product. Prizer Stove Works, with its BlueStar line of kitchen appliances, has inspired that devotion in a specific niche of customers, and Vice President Mike Trapp says people who are passionate about cooking have made the BlueStar their own.
“I would almost compare it to Harley-Davidson before it became mainstream,” Trapp says. “They buy it and are loyal to the brand because of the performance.”
The hand-assembled quality of Prizer’s BlueStar ranges has caught the attention of cooking enthusiasts from professional chefs to amateur cooks who nonetheless want the best quality in their appliances.
The company touts the BlueStar line as “the only genuine restaurant ranges for the home.”
That quality has made the company’s showroom in Reading, Pa., a mecca for people who are passionate about cooking. Trapp says customers have traveled from out of state and sometimes even out of the country to test a BlueStar range. “They come in from all over the world,” says Monique Williams, customer service manager.
The company was founded in 1880, originally producing coal ranges, furnaces and water heaters for a variety of brand names. Prizer exited the branded business in the ’70s and concentrated on OEM work that included the Garland Residential Line until early 2002 when the BlueStar Residential Line was introduced.
Prizer continues to perform a lot of OEM work for clients out of its Reading, Pa. facilities, Trapp says. “We operate one of the most-efficient, state-of-the-art, two-coat, one-fire enameling facilities in North America,” he adds.
What sets BlueStar ranges apart from the ranges manufactured by larger companies is their performance. Trapp says BlueStar ranges are built with restaurant specifications in mind, resulting in ranges that are more expensive than traditional residential models, but which give users professional-quality results.
“Our gas ranges feature 22,000-Btu burners, most other stoves are about 15,000 Btus,” Trapp explains. “You’re boiling water in five minutes’ less time.” BlueStar ranges also have the largest useable oven capacity of any residential range, he adds, capable of holding a full-size commercial baking sheet.
“There’s not another residential stove I am aware of that has ever outperformed the BlueStar in an independent test,” Trapp says. Other features like commercial convection fans, the most powerful and efficient oven and range top burners and a heavier construction also add to the performance. Trapp says the rest of the industry has moved away from performance to focus on aesthetics. Although cosmetics do play an integral part in the design of the BlueStar, and the range is offered in 190 colors, the company’s goal remains to exceed the performance of conventional residential ranges.
“Today, residentials use a lot of aluminum manifolds,” Trapp says. “We use the commercial black pipe. Everything is made as a commercial stove would be made – heavier, stronger.”
With such specifications, it’s obvious that BlueStar ranges are not intended to be mass-market products, and Trapp says Prizer has struck a vein and found a dedicated niche of the market that appreciates BlueStar for what it can do. “I would say historically the customer has been an avid cook,” he says. “We have appealed to the cooking masses rather than someone looking to buy a designer series that sacrifices performance. Most of our customers are extremely educated – they know what they want before they ever go to the dealer.”
A Hot Topic
As is the case with most cult followings, BlueStar earned its reputation with cooks through word-of-mouth. “We’re a very small company, so we don’t have the marketing budget some of these guys do,” Trapp says. Advertising for the BlueStar line is virtually nonexistent, but the Internet has stepped into the role of marketing for the company.
Home and cooking forums like GardenWeb.com have spread the gospel of BlueStar as customers recommend the brand to others. “Our most visible and vocal support is through past customers,” Trapp says. The company also travels around the country to put on demonstrations, but the Internet has been the greatest source of business. “That’s where the cult following has started,” he says.
Less than three years ago, many states didn’t even have dealers that carried the BlueStar line, Trapp says, but now Prizer has a network of more than 500 dealers nationwide. However, for many customers, making a trip out to Pennsylvania to try out a BlueStar firsthand is the preferred option.
“It’s not uncommon for people to fly from Oklahoma to Reading, stop at the grocery store, then come in and cook at our showroom,” Trapp says. “The product itself is what sells it.”
Williams says she receives numerous requests from interested parties wanting to stop into the showroom, and nearly all of them come bearing shopping bags. “We have a lot of good eating in here sometimes,” she says. “We have had people fry fish in a frying pan; we’ve had people bake cookies.”
Prizer doesn’t have specific plans to grab more market share, but the plans of others in the industry have had a definite impact on the company. “One of the biggest problems we have is our supplier chain,” Trapp says. “As more mergers and acquisitions happen, alternate suppliers seem to disappear. Alternate sourcing in this industry is very difficult.”
Prizer attends trade shows to meet the newest up-and-coming suppliers, Trapp says, but the company is also fortunate to have a number of suppliers it can rely on. He says Fox Machinery in Bridgeport, Pa., is one of Prizer’s “prized vendors.
“A vendor who takes the time to learn our needs and marry us with the right equipment manufacturer is unique these days; a vendor who provides the after-sales support and training like Fox is irreplaceable,” he adds. “Fox Machinery has supplied us with nearly every piece of converting equipment in our facility. They have done such a fine job, we recently purchased the newest Murata-Wiedeman 2548 Punch Press and two new Accupress brakes.”
“[Another] of the biggest trends is moving products offshore to be manufactured,” Trapp says. “It’s starting to creep into the pro market, into the high-end, hand-crafted stoves.”
Training at the Forefront
Quality is extremely important for Prizer’s BlueStar line, Trapp says, and that’s why the company doesn’t cut corners. From employee training to supply chain to quality assurance, Prizer is always willing to take the extra step for a quality product, he says.
Employees who work in the company’s enameling factory go through hundreds of hours of training, which includes shadowing veteran employees on the line. “It’s not cheap to have redundant employees on the line while training, but I consider one of our greatest strengths to be the quality of the people we have,” Trapp says.
The company’s insistence on using steel parts instead of cheaper aluminum, despite the volatility of steel prices, results in a sturdier and longer-lasting range, he adds.
During assembly, each stove is checked four times while still on the line to make sure all burners are firing properly. Precision assembly means a high-quality product, but also requires greater vigilance, Trapp says.
‘The Hottest Stove’
“We are the hottest stove in the pro range business at this time,” Trapp says. He says that because cooks are known for being passionate about their favorite brands, Prizer is looking to give them a BlueStar cooking experience beyond their ranges.
The company plans to roll out a line of open-burner cooktops in the middle of 2008, along with a complete line of gas wall ovens.
The company is also looking at creating restaurant-grade refrigerators for the home. “We’re looking to have a complete BlueStar kitchen,” Trapp says.
Chris Petersen - US Business Review website
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