Built-in refrigerators and freezers are hot, and Northland Corporation is the niche market leader. Mark Devaney takes note.
In this day and age of over consolidation — where conglomerates try to be all things to all people and where complementary acquisitions become commonplace — it’s refreshing to find a company that focuses on one specific product for one target market. Northland Corporation has such a focus: The company makes high-end, custom built-in refrigerators and freezers for the home.
“It’s a small but profitable market for our dealers because it is not as susceptible to predatory pricing by mass merchants,” says Ed Smith, Northland’s vice president of sales and marketing. Smith estimates the total market to be approximately $400 million worldwide.
It’s great work if you can get it. Northland is getting it, in large part, because built-in refrigerators are the rage — particularly the stainless-steel variety. Business is strong anywhere in which there’s a high-end market. According to Smith, West Coast trends always seem to start home design interests. Built-in units first became popular in California and then jumped to the East Coast, with New York, Boston, Washington and South Florida as profitable pockets.
Out of the Box
Northland Corporation has been located in Greenville, Mich., since the company’s origination as Ranney Refrigerator Company in 1892. The firm manufactured iceboxes until 1938, when it converted to mechanical refrigeration. Three generations of Ranneys headed the company until its sale in 1970, when it became the Fedders Refrigeration Division of Fedders Corporation. Under Fedders, the facility produced side-by-side refrigerators/freezers for both the Norge label and private brand models.
In 1978, the Fedders Refrigeration Division was purchased by its president and a local investor, at which time it was renamed Northland Corporation. Since that time, Northland has made several acquisitions in the refrigeration and office furniture industries.
Located in Richmond, Ind., Marvel manufacturers a variety of refrigerators as well as specialty products, such as wine coolers, beer tappers and ice makers. Northland Refrigeration, located in Greenville, manufactures large commercial refrigerators and freezers for the restaurant trade. This division also makes refrigeration systems for various commercial applications.
Today’s kitchen is not only the focal point of the home; it is also a reflection of the discriminating owner’s taste for functional beauty. Northland Designer Series built-in refrigerators lead the way in satisfying these high expectations.
“Only Northland can design and custom-build a refrigerator that offers the ultimate in performance, convenience and true integration with any kitchen motif,” says Smith. With the Northland Designer Series, the owner can specify more than 57 different sizes and configurations of refrigerators, freezers and combinations including all refrigerators and all freezer models. All-metal interiors in sparkling Arctic white or functional stainless steel are available, as well as a choice of commercial-quality steel wire and glass shelves.
With Northland, the refrigerator becomes an integral part of the kitchen cabinet design upon installation. Because of the unique Northland Power Module refrigeration system, there is no need for a cutout in the base cove for an exhaust air grill. Doors may be specified to open right, left or center to provide the ultimate in owner convenience.
“With the Northland Designer Series, you can design your refrigerator to fit your kitchen, rather than having to design your kitchen to accommodate your refrigerator,” says Smith. “This flexibility of functional design has established Northand’s superiority in convenience, performance and styling.”
Designed for Designers
Northland concentrates its marketing efforts on educating custom designers. After all, it will be those designers who eventually recommend Northland products for the magnificent kitchens they build. Since Northland custom-manufactures built-in refrigerators, designers know that they can request a virtually unlimited number of design specifications. In fact, Northland offers a staggering 150 styles while the commodity built-ins are limited to approximately 20 models.
“Our approach to market is to build to order to meet the lifestyle of the client,” says Smith. “The designer works with the client and decides what’s the best Northland fit. Then we custom-build to order, one at a time.”
Northland is a 108-year-old company with a lot to look forward to. For example, the recent trend in stainless-steel refrigerators and freezers for the home has shown no signs of abating. The company is the only one that builds stainless-steel interior doors and panels.
“We try to stay ahead of the trends and it’s clear that this one is far from over,” says Smith. “They seem to like heavy-duty-looking equipment. It’s been hot and has been for years now. We’re playing to that market.” That means Northland eschews mass manufacturing, even though it could experience significant sales. Instead, the company will concentrate on what it does best, consequently dominating the competition.
“Our growth is steady, and we’re content with the pace,” says Smith. “We don’t want to get into a mass merchant-like distribution channel. We could increase sales 10-fold if we did that, but that means abandoning the flexibility of the current design. Northland custom built-in refrigerators and freezers are made to order for luxury kitchens.”