Heat-N-Glo manufactures fireplaces and hearth accessories with matchless quality. Gloria P. Cahill reports on the innovative spark that makes this company a leader in its field.
Consider a winter evening in front of a glowing gas fire, and no messy ashes to clean up the next day. Imagine the comfort of a family room warmed by a thermostatically controlled gas fire that allows lower temperatures in the rest of the house. Picture an apartment transformed by the glow of an electric flame beneath a stately mantel. Envision an old-fashioned wood-burning fireplace constructed for optimum warmth and safety.
If any of these choices appeals, the product is likely made by Heat-N-Glo, the fireplace manufacturer known for innovation and high quality. Since its founding in 1975, this Minnesota company has continually developed technology that makes fireplaces more efficient and convenient, as well as safer. The result is a product line reflected by Heat-N-Glo’s signature statement: “No one builds a better fire.”
“We’re innovators, known for this in the industry. People look to us to say what’s new in fireplace technology,” comments Susie Hughes, public relations/marketing specialist. Heat-N-Glo’s product array includes fireplaces that burn natural or propane gas, fireplace inserts that can convert a wood-burning fireplace to gas, gas logs, gas-fired stoves and wood-burning fireplaces. Recently, the company added electric fireplaces and a selection of outdoor grills, pits and fireplaces to the line.
Lighting up an Idea
Heat-N-Glo was founded on the spark of innovation, which continues to fuel the company today. In 1975, Ron Shimek saw an all-glass, wood-burning fireplace and decided to build his own. Shimek patented his design and founded Heat-N-Glo with his brother Dan. Two more brothers, Steve and Gerry, eventually joined the business as well.
In 1986, the company introduced what would become its core product: the direct-vent gas fireplace. Direct-vent technology uses an airtight combustion chamber that takes its combustion air from outside, making this technology ideally suited for today’s tightly sealed homes. This venting technology keeps warm air in and cold air out, while providing exceptional thermal efficiency. Most importantly, the quality of the room air is not altered, so these fireplaces are suitable even for bedrooms.
Over the next 10 years, revenues jumped to more than $100 million. In 1996, the Shimeks sold the business to HON, an Iowa furniture maker. HON merged the company with Heatilator, its commercial fireplace division, to form Hearth Technologies Inc., the world’s largest fireplace manufacturer. Rounding out the organization, the corporation purchased Aladdin, a gas stove manufacturer in Washington, in 1999.
Heat-N-Glo has offices in Lakeville, Minn., and a manufacturing operation that employs 500 people in a 270,000 square-foot facility in Lake City, Minn. In 2000, the company had sales of $155 million. Its main markets are the United States and Canada, and exports to Australia and Norway are increasing. A network of 1,300 dealers sells directly to consumers and builders. The Shimek family continues its involvement in managing the business and customer-service programs.
Heat-N-Glo is always developing new fireplace products and features. The company now holds 44 fireplace-related patents and has 14 pending. The list of innovations attributable to the company includes CFX technology, a ceramic fiber firebox that allows higher BTUs, produces a more robust fire and provides radiant heat. Other firsts include: remote-control fireplaces; multisided fireplaces; Flame-Out-Of-Log technology; TR technology that allows a fireplace to be vented from the top or the back; fireplaces that are annual-fuel-utilization-efficiency (A.F.U.E.) rated, the same as a gas furnace; zone heating; the four-sided gas fireplace; and a multifunctional fireplace that both heats a room and assists with food preparation.
Hughes says that Heat-N-Glo product innovations result from a company-wide development program that asks, “What more can be done? What does the customer want?” She cites four rollouts this year alone:
• The 6000 series, the most popular line, now has a more robust gas fire. Renamed the Intensity series to highlight its beautiful logs and flames, this line received the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval and a Best Buy rating from Consumers Digest.
• The Bravo — a gas kiva-style fireplace with a southwest design — has a dramatic arched opening, CFX technology and a sealed combustion chamber.
• The Passage — the first ceramic fiber see-through gas fireplace — is made for installation in a wall between two rooms.
• The Twilight, the world’s first indoor/outdoor fireplace, is making its debut. This completely weatherproof two-sided fireplace features 37,800 BTUs, thermal efficiency, a sealed combustion chamber and natural venting to the outside.
Aglow with Quality
Every Heat-N-Glo gas fireplace comes with a lifetime warranty on the four major parts: firebox, fiber logs, stainless steel burner and heat exchanger. To ensure safety and quality, the company tests products in its Reliability Laboratory and has an Underwriters Laboratories-certified test lab on site. Additionally, Heat-N-Glo is the first U.S. fireplace manufacturer to be ISO 9001-certified.
To support its quality program, the company conducts a comprehensive training course that certifies more than 1,000 field technicians annually. Further, the University of Minnesota has granted Heat-N-Glo $400,000 for training initiatives coordinated with the University of St. Thomas and Pine Technical College.
Commenting on the market for gas fireplace equipment, Hughes cites consumer trends. “There has been a trend toward gas over the past 10 years and a tremendous changeover from wood,” she says. “Gas offers cleanliness and ease of use. People are busy and they enjoy the convenience of gas, so they are converting wood-burning fireplaces.” Hughes estimates the current conversion rate at 30 percent.
Hughes explains that Heat-N-Glo considers education about efficient gas and wood-burning products an important part of its consumer program. “We are working on a program to educate consumers on the importance of indoor air quality,” she says. “A direct-vent gas fireplace will not alter indoor air quality, whereas unvented systems use room air, and some states have banned unvented products.”
On the subject of costs, Hughes states, “Considering the increasing cost of gas and that people spend 80 percent of their time in 20 percent of their home, consumers can heat those areas that are used with an efficient gas fireplace. And, in areas where conditions do not allow wood-burning fireplaces because pollution levels are unacceptably high, a gas fireplace can be the answer. Furthermore, certain models can duct the heat from the fireplace to different areas of the home”
Heat-N-Glo publicizes its consumer-oriented messages through a national advertising campaign, press releases and dealer information sheets. This campaign enlightens potential customers to a company with a creative spark.