Stove Sales Hot
SCOTT SIMON, host:
When the cost of home heating oil surged past $4 a gallon this spring, the fortunes of one small Pennsylvania company began to look brighter. The company makes stoves that burn wood pellets to heat your home. In a matter of weeks, stove requests grew to five times the average sales rate. And now, Harman Stoves is trying to meet that demand. But as Scott Detrow of member station WITF reports, it's proving to be a nearly impossible task.
SCOTT DETROW: A lot's changed since Dale Harman first built a stove for himself back in 1979. Home heating costs had risen dramatically that year, so he decided to heat the place himself. When friends and family asked for stoves, too, Harman figured he'd found himself a new line of work. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: His name is DANE Harman.]
(Soundbite of factory machines)
DETROW: Twenty-nine years later, lasers are cutting pieces for the pellet stoves that his company produces in its Halifax, Pennsylvania factory. The operation has expanded in the last few months. More than a hundred new workers have been brought on, which is a big deal in a stretch of rural Pennsylvania where most factories are laying people off. A new assembly line's also been added, but no matter how hard everyone works, they can't keep up with the booming demand.
Mr. DANE HARMAN (Owner, Harman Stoves): Now, if you're used to buying 30,000 of a certain part from a vendor that you need to - say a motor or a control or whatever it is, then you tell them that you need 160,000 of them or, you know, something along those orders, they can't do it. It takes time to ramp all this up.
DETROW: These stoves burn inch-long pellets of compressed sawdust, require minimal upkeep, and can heat a home at about half the price of oil. One of the 800 dealers that sell Harman stoves throughout the country is just down the road. Glenn Huffman of Huffman's Outdoor Fire and Repair says pellet stove sales started jumping this spring.
Mr. GLENN HUFFMAN (Owner, Huffman's Outdoor Fire and Repair): They were unbelievable. It all started coming on in May. We sold a good many stoves in May. Our peak was in June. We sold 75 stoves in June and pretty much sold out of stoves in July.
DETROW: As did nearly every other dealer in the country. The amount of stoves Harman's makes in a year were booked before mid-summer, even though sales usually don't start picking up until October. But the calls kept coming into Glenn Huffman's store. People from all over the country are trying to get their hands on the stoves, and Huffman doesn't have much to tell them.
Mr. HUFFMAN: We're taking orders for 2009.
DETROW: With Harman dealers sold out, many people are looking for used stoves at places like Craigslist, but that's not working out, either. Ian Yergis(ph) of Lykens, Pennsylvania, posted with the hopes of finding someone willing to sell a pellet stove, but he says he's only gotten one response, and that was from a reporter looking to interview him.
Mr. IAN YERGIS (Buyer): That's about it. I've really given up. You know, you can't afford to wait until, you know, next winter, after heating season's already through. So I don't know. If an entrepreneur's in search of a good industry, the wooden-cut manufactured one would be a good one.
DETROW: But Dale Harman's finding out it's a bit more complicated than that. Aside from the frustration of not being able to meet demand, he also has to worry about expanding too much and seeing the market suddenly drop.
Mr. HARMAN: We just hope that it doesn't take another rollercoaster dive and, you know, then we sit here with all the capacity and nobody wants any.
DETROW: In the short term, though, that's the least of his concerns. For NPR News, I'm Scott Detrow in Harrisburg.
Correction Aug. 19, 2008
The story identified the owner of Harman Stoves in Pennsylvania as "Dale Harman." His name is Dane Harman.