Reactor stove delay sparks changes at MSR

When Cascade Designs announced that MSR was delaying the shipping date of its much-anticipated MSR Reactor Stove System, it marked an announcement that has become oh too familiar for retailers.
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When Cascade Designs announced that MSR was delaying the shipping date of its much-anticipated MSR Reactor Stove System (click here to read news release on SNEWS®), it marked an announcement that has become oh too familiar for retailers.

After all, this wasn't a first time event for MSR in the minds of retailers, having delayed the release of its redesigned XGK EX stove in 2005, then in early 2006, it canceled the production of its Vapore stove and killed plans to create a high-end two-burner stove.

SNEWS® spoke with Ken Meidell, outdoor group vice president of Cascade Designs, who told us that the company simply guessed wrong on the shipping dates this time around, primarily because internal testing revealed a small problem MSR felt obligated to address.

"When we arrived at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in 2006 with our sample Reactor stoves to show, we needed to decide when the stove was going to be shipping so we could tell retailers," Meidell told us. "January was batted around, but we pushed the date to late March to be safe.

While MSR said it had a detailed project plan as per normal, what the company did not know was exactly how long specific things were going to take during the production and testing process, and if anything might crop up in the meantime.

"As we got closer to March, we realized that date was not achievable, so we pushed it to April 20, and then we pushed the date to later in the spring, but soon realized that was not going to happen either," said Meidell.

During testing, the stove was meeting all the specs of every regulatory agency in the United States, Canada and Europe, but a few stoves exhibited higher CO2 output than MSR deemed acceptable. What that meant is MSR had to redesign a part, change the production process, and then start production up again along with a new round of testing.

The result is, according to Meidell, a stove that will be every bit as incredible as all the press and design award accolades bestowed on it have indicated.

As a result, though, it also means that MSR is going back to being a more conservative company in terms of new product introductions.

"The lessons we have learned, with this stove introduction and with others in the past, are painful for us, and we absolutely intend to do better in the future," Meidell told SNEWS®.

He explained that the three stove incidents in the last couple of years are, while somewhat related, vastly different in terms of cause of delay or cancellation.

The company was, several years ago, already working on the Reactor stove, while it was also trying to develop a two-burner stove concept and the Vapore stove -- both of which were unveiled in 2005. MSR quietly showed the two-burner model to gauge retailer reactions. The company found that while retailers were enamored with the stove, the price it needed to be offered at was too high…so the company killed the project before it even got into production.

The Vapore demise was more a case of problems with the manufacturer of the ceramic discs used in the stove. "At some point, we might come back to (the Vapore)," Meidell told us, noting that the military is already in development of another version of the same technology.

"Toss in trying to complete upgrades to the XGK stoves at the same time and, well, we created delivery challenges for ourselves we didn't need to," said Meidell.

He underscored that none of the cancellations or delays have been a result of quality control issues. He also noted that while MSR will continue to take appropriate risks in how the company brings products to trade shows and to market, it will never try to release a stove before it is ready.

And, perhaps more importantly for retailers, Meidell will be mandating the company begin taking a more quiet and conservative approach to product launches -- like it used to.

SNEWS® View: Music to our ears. All the slips and bumps over the last three years were very un-MSRlike, and certainly not the MSR we'd known in the '90s and into early 2000. Though Meidell said otherwise, we suspect that perhaps the company was allowing market pressures to dictate how and when it unveiled products to retailers and the press. Fortunately for MSR, it manufactures all of its products in Seattle, so delays as a result of needing to change production processes were minimized. And we do expect the Reactor to be every bit as good as promised. Retailers simply need to think in terms of Christmas gift sales now, rather than summer camping sales -- and that's not all bad at all.

Though Meidell was not specific with us, we do suspect that what retailers and our media brethren can expect of MSR in the future is product announcements and launches being made ONLY when the product is already in production and ready to ship. Sure, that cuts down a bit on the pre-market hype and hyperbole, but it also prevents post-hype hiccups like the ones MSR has been getting all too afflicted with of late.

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