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With Business Aviation, Viking Brings Customers to Small Town
In the lobby of a brick-walled building in Greenwood, MS sits a vintage stove with a cast-iron oven that served as the inspiration for one of the most recognizable kitchen equipment companies in the country: Viking Range Corporation.
"That's the range that started it all," says Bill Crump, Viking's director of governmental affairs and executive assistant to founder Fred Carl, Jr. "Fred modeled the very first Viking stove after this one, which belonged to his wife's mother."
Carl, president and CEO of Viking, designed the first Viking range a number of years later, and he found that his passion for creating a quality stove set a company-wide culture of excellence that extends to their flight operations.
Aircraft Bring Clients and Vendors to Greenwood
Flying into Greenwood-Leflore Airport (GWO) in Greenwood, MS is impossible via airline, and driving 90 miles from either Memphis, TN or Jackson, MS wastes time and productivity, Crump says. So Viking Range uses its two Cessna Citation jets to bring clients and vendors from all over the country to Greenwood for sales meetings and training.
Carl said that the distributors and vendors selling Viking products require hands-on training and education, enabling them to be as passionate about the products as the people making them in Greenwood.
"Our training staff runs cooking and product demos every week right here in town," Crump says. "Many of our dealers don't have a live floor model to show buyers because our products are handmade for each order. So this classroom gives them a chance to work with the equipment and learn all about the products."
Viking products are found in more than 80 countries worldwide, making business aviation a necessity.
"With our airplanes, we can meet our vendors and clients right where they are, pick them up and bring them back here to Greenwood," explains Crump. "That could take a full day, plus the drive into Greenwood, if they flew in on the airlines to get here," he adds. "Our business airplanes just make sense for a lot of our missions."
"We'll do everything from short hops to connect with commercial traffic up in Memphis, to seeing clients in Boston, out on the West Coast, or in Mexico and Canada," says Barry Shelton, aviation department manager. "Our productivity and efficiency is tremendously increased by using our planes."
Using the Right Tool for the Right Mission
Viking's aviation department consists of five pilots (one of whom is also the department manager) and a scheduler/dispatcher.
The Citation Sovereign and XL fly a total of about 1,200 hours per year, and which model is used for a particular trip is based on the mission at hand.
"You need different tools for different jobs, and our missions are no different," says Shelton. "Having two airplanes has helped us be more productive and enhance safety. We're able to do business on the West and East Coast at once, without any deadhead or repositioning flights."
Carl first owned a share of a Beechcraft King Air 200 with other partners for many years prior to leasing a King Air for his business in Greenwood. In 1998, Carl purchased a Cessna Citation II, then upgraded to a Sovereign in 2000.
Investing in Its Community
Viking has been based in Carl's hometown of Greenwood, which is in the heart of the historic Mississippi Delta, since 1986 The original Viking manufacturing facility was a 35,000-square-foot former distribution warehouse built by Carl's father in the 1950s.
"I grew up here in Greenwood and would not want to have my company based anywhere else," Carl says. "Because we are able to reach our customers and vendors with business aviation, we are able to keep jobs in Greenwood."
Viking employs 1,100 people in Mississippi, and having the company based in his hometown means Carl can invest in his community. Viking's headquarters consists of four manufacturing facilities, support operations and a collection of historic buildings totaling nearly one million square feet. All of the downtown buildings are original structures of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and several have received historic preservation awards from the Mississippi Heritage Trust as well as the National Trust for Historic Preservation Award for commercial district revitalization. Viking also owns or supports 16 cooking schools, with one in Greenwood, that draw over 70,000 students each year.
Future Expansion at Viking, Greenwood
Carl says that the Viking flight department is looking into ways to expand its international reach with new aircraft.
"Viking's growth has led to the redevelopment and continued revitalization of Greenwood. It seems that with each new product and expansion, another historic building is restored," says Carl. "Having our aircraft means we can keep doing business in Greenwood, and doing business in Greenwood means this town will continue to be a gem of the Mississippi Delta."