March 16, 2010

Maine dealers to get promised pellet stoves


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John Patriquin/ Staff Photographer:Tuesday, July 1, 2008. Pellet stoves for sale at Aubuchon Hardware store in Portland and financed through Northeast Bank.

Blethen Maine News Service

More than a week after they were told orders for hundreds of pellet stoves would go unfilled, Harman dealers around the state now believe they will eventually receive the stoves they were promised.

Officials at Harman, who have already ramped up production to three times the originally planned number, blamed the confusion on a computer glitch and the record pace of sales.

''It's a good company. They're going to help people out,'' said Rocky Gaslin of Rocky's Stove Shoppe in Augusta. ''There's a ton of people that need stoves and they're going to produce them.''

Gaslin was less optimistic last week after learning that orders for hundreds of stoves would go unfilled. He was told that Harman could supply just 22 of the 350 stoves he sold based on figures originally provided by the company.

Gaslin and other Harman dealers met with company officials in Pennsylvania last week and learned how the miscommunication occurred and what Harman was doing to correct the problem.

Orders for Harman's pellet stoves reached record levels last spring as oil prices began to soar, and between May 20 and June 9 the company sold nine months worth of demand, said V.P. Berger, vice president of Harman Stove Co.

The orders were received as Harman was installing a new computer system, which went online May 27. All the orders were entered into the new system and automatically generated an order acknowledgment and date of delivery that was faxed to the dealer.

It took two weeks for officials to learn the computer was automatically replying and generating unattainable delivery rates. The company stopped taking new orders, and focused on developing realistic delivery dates for existing orders, on June 15. It took another three weeks to build a new production schedule and fax revised dates to dealers, Berger said.

Harman has hired 120 new employees, purchased several million dollars worth of capital improvements and is meeting with suppliers to ramp up their production.

Even with production at three times the normal rate, Harman, like other stove manufacturers, is still falling behind demand.

''We're going to do everything we can to increase production, but it takes time,'' Berger said. ''We're part of the solution, but we've still got to work through this.''

Usually, companies build an inventory April through August in preparation for peak demand in the fall, but this year demand began months ahead of schedule.

''We've never seen this type of demand in the spring in this business,'' Berger said. ''It's historic.''

Gaslin expects Harman's updated delivery schedule next week. In the meantime, he has added three new lines of pellet stoves that are comparable to Harman in quality and price. He expects to give refunds to about one-third of the customers who purchased a Harman, but the rest will be filled.

''We're giving customers options,'' Gaslin said. ''I won't say it will be a Harman, but they will have a stove.''

All manufacturers, particularly those considered to be top-of-the-line producers, have struggled to keep up with the pace of sales this year, said Wade Bullard of The Stove Barn in Winslow. He and Gaslin said that those who have not already ordered are likely to have to wait until at least the first of next year for delivery.

Existing orders are experiencing a delay of a couple of weeks, Bullard said.

''There are pellet stoves to be had, (but) it depends on the brand you get,'' Bullard said. ''The best ones have already been bought. We're into the second tier, but those are the ones that are in stock.''

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