By Richard Wright
Photos: ©2015 Jeb Wallace-Brodeur photography.
|L to R: David Moynihan, engineering manager; Patrick Moynihan, president of Sólas with the Twenty6.|
The year was 1988 when Waterford Irish Stoves U.S. was founded and Pat Moynihan came over from Ireland to act as its president. North American headquarters for the company became West Lebanon, New Hampshire, on the border with Vermont.
The product was a high-quality, porcelain enamel, cast-iron stove. Its styling was traditional and it certainly was one of the better stoves on the market. Moynihan proved to be a charming and able point man for the company, which at the time had gross revenues of about $30 million, primarily from European sales of its central heating, large, hydronic cookstoves.
Eleven years later, in 1999, the U.S. division was sold to Fireplace Products International (Regency). At the time, it was selling approximately 8,000 to 9,000 units a year.
Rather than returning to Ireland, Moynihan elected to remain in West Lebanon, and to carve out a niche for himself in the hearth industry. That niche was in creating products and components for other hearth manufacturers, at least until 2007 when he began his own line of fireplaces.
Today that line is called Sólas.
Recently, we spoke with Moynihan about his progress.
Am I correct that, primarily, you’ve been an OEM manufacturer since you started the business?
Moynihan: “Yes. We started the OEM business in 1999 when Waterford was sold. I began by working with Jøtul and HearthStone just doing components, but as the business developed we got into building more and more finished product for companies such as European Home. We did some work with Rais and Morsø and various others. Spark Modern Fires is another customer.”
They seem to be doing well if their level of advertising is any measure, because I see them in a lot of different magazines.
Moynihan: “Yes. They have a different approach to their business model than the rest of us. They very much focus directly on architects, builders and designers. That’s where they spend big bucks on their advertising and it seems to pay dividends for them.”
Why would companies such as Rais and Morsø need you, considering that they have their own facilities?
Moynihan: “A lot of the products that we did for them are totally unique to the U.S. market, and the volumes are such that it just doesn’t pay to produce them in Europe. For example, we would build a gas product for Rais, and a lot of accessory items for Morsø that would be exclusive just to the U.S. market. They prefer to have us make it rather than ship it across the Atlantic.”
We were aware that you were creating products for others, but it was not until recently that we learned you have your own line.
Moynihan: “Yes, the line is called Sólas and we’ve been dabbling in it a little bit since 2007. But it’s only during the past two or three years that it has taken off for us. We’ve been very focused on the Canadian market because it is a bit ahead of the U.S. as far as contemporary styling is concerned. But now it’s really starting to gain traction in the U.S. market.”
|Sólas Model ONE6 firebox assembly being welded.|
Are you dealer-direct with reps on the road?
Moynihan: “Yes. Basically we’re going the direct route so we are using independent reps in key territories. We’ve got Adam Brewster here in New England; we’ve got Andy Todd out west.”
How many dealers do you have throughout North America?
Moynihan: “In North America we probably have about 65 or 70 dealers in total. As I said, it’s starting to gain traction. When I was developing the product, I didn’t want to get back into a more traditional stove or more traditional fireplace. I wanted to find some unique selling feature and felt that the wall-mounting aspect of the product had a lot to offer in terms of speed of installation and cost of installation. That’s why we came up with the wall-mount product, just to differentiate ourselves from everybody else.”
But other companies do wall mounts, correct?
Moynihan: “Well, there is not much out there in terms of high efficiency wall-mounts. We would consider ourselves the pioneers as far as the direct-vent, high-efficiency side of it is concerned. There are a lot of vent-free wall mounts out there. The only other company that has a direct-vent, high-efficiency, wall-mount model is Napoleon.”
I should think there would be great demand for wall mounts.
Moynihan: “Yes. It’s increasing steadily and, now that U.S. dealers are becoming more aware of contemporary styling and consumers are walking into stores asking for that look, they are turning to us more and more.”
It seems you’ve found an interesting niche.
Moynihan: “Yes. We’re very happy at the way this has developed; we purposely did try to find a niche that nobody was really exploiting.”
What retail price ranges are you working with for your products?
Moynihan: “We very much wanted to produce a quality product. One of the things we don’t do is cut any corners. The product is very substantial in terms of its construction, so it’s not the cheapest product out there. We have products that retail from $2,000 to $4,500 – in that range.”
That doesn’t sound outrageous today.
Moynihan: “That’s right. A couple of grand doesn’t buy you what it used to, I guess. I’ve been of the opinion for some time that it’s developing into an industry where there are almost two extremes. You either have to be in the real high end, or you have to be in the down and dirty side.
“The middle has been eroded away quite significantly. If you can produce quality product – good looking product – it does seem that people are willing to pay the price.”
|CO2 Laser cutting machine being prepared to cut Sólas Fireplace components.|
I think there will always be people willing to pay any price as long as they think they are buying the very best. They want those bragging rights.
Moynihan: “Yep. They do it with their automobiles; it’s a statement. One manufacturer that we build product for, one of the biggest accessories that they sell with their product is a kit to dump the heat. They want the flame, but they don’t want the heat.”
That’s precisely what annoys the Department of Energy.
Moynihan: “Exactly. Exactly. We’ll all pay the price for that, I guess.”
Earlier you mentioned that your son is working with you. What’s his name?
Moynihan: “David. He’s 30 years old and a mechanical engineer; I’m an engineer by experience rather than training.”
How many employees do you have?
Moynihan: “We’ve got about 20 people.”
As your own line increases in volume, is it your plan to discontinue the OEM portion of the business?
Moynihan: “I see the two happening together. The OEM side is an avenue that we have pursued since 1999 and done quite well at it. We’re probably building close to 3,000 fireplaces in the course of the year.”
You have about three different models, correct? You’ve got the 46, the 26 and the 16, and I can’t figure out what those numbers stand for.
Moynihan: “It actually is the width of the glass. So there’s one with 46 in. wide glass. The 26 is 26 in. wide glass and the 16 is obviously 16 in. wide glass. That’s the differentiation.
I think all you wanted to do was confuse the consumer so he or she would ask a lot of questions.
Moynihan: “(Laughs) Perhaps. But we did a total rebranding last year and that has been enormously successful for us. Previously, we sold under the Hearth Innovations name. That was seen as a bit too traditional. Since we rebranded it, the product has really come alive and now appeals to designers and architects much more than it did previously.”
What’s in a name? A great deal, it seems.