The Famous Stove Lady
Belgrove Appliance Inc. looks beyond restoration and repair
Carlita Belgrove, CEO of Belgrove Appliance Inc. in Mount Vernon, New York, says she always knew that she wanted to have a business. “I just didn’t know what business I wanted. I never imagined it would be an antique stove restoration business.”
When her father died unexpectedly in 1999, she took over his appliance sales and repair business. “He worked so hard that I couldn’t see letting his business go,” Carlita says. That and a request to help an old stove get a second life led Carlita to rebrand her father’s business, Belgrove Major Gas Appliances, to Belgrove Appliance Inc. and to take on a new identity as “The Famous Stove Lady.”
Belgrove Appliance specializes in antique, vintage and retro gas stove restoration and repair. The company also sells fully restored antique gas stoves and professionally cleans high-end residential and commercial stoves. Belgrove Appliance repairs brands including BlueStar, Caloric, Chambers, Crown, Garland, Quality, Roper, Viking, Vulcan and Wolf. Carlita also sells new appliances in bulk to developers and contractors under her Minority- and Women-owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) certification.
Belgrove Appliance also does some work on electric stoves, but the focus is on antique and vintage gas stoves and out-of-production commercial stoves. “People who cook with gas love cooking with gas,” Carlita says. “There is something about the way it cooks that is a lot different than electric ranges. Our ancestors didn’t cook with electricity—they cooked over open flames.”
Contractors and high-end homeowners who are renovating a property and have a beautiful but dirty vintage or commercial stove they want to keep “may want us to come in and make it look like they bought a stove without spending $20,000,” Carlita says. She recently worked on a La Cornue range and a Viking range. Both are high-end brands, and the owners appreciated the fast turnaround time, she says. “One lady was having a baby and needed her stove done, and the other lady had four kids and couldn’t use the stove until it was cleaned and repaired. We went in, broke the stoves down, cleaned and polished some parts instead of replacing them and repaired both so they worked properly within one day. Both women were so appreciative. Those are the type of jobs we love to do.”
The Stove Lady serves customers across the United States, but most of her business comes from the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. She is the only company of her kind in the five states surrounding New York. People bring their stoves up from Florida, over from Minnesota and down from Vermont and Maine.
“I love what I do, and I love the appreciation,” she says. “I started helping people that others wouldn’t help, and that is how I ended up doing antique stoves. A lady said her mom was moving into a senior facility and she loved her stove, and she wanted it to go into a loving home. So she paid me to pick up her stove, and before I could get it off the sidewalk outside of my shop, a guy walked up and said, “I want that stove.”
Carlita told the man that the stove would cost between $800 to $1,100 once it was cleaned and repaired. “And without batting an eye, he said, ‘I’ll take it,’” Carlita recalls. “Of course my interest was piqued because my father had been selling new stoves for $250, and here is a guy who didn’t bat an eye at $1,100.” She cleaned it, made sure it was working and delivered it. Then the customer showed her that same stove on a website selling for $4,000.
Seeing Promise In the Past
Her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in. In June 2000, six months after her father died, Carlita started her own appliance sales and repair company in the same shop where her father’s business had been. “It wasn’t easy. It took me five years before I turned a profit,” she says. The first cleaning job earned her $150. The vintage restoration side of the business didn’t come into play until four years later. She hates to think where she would have been if she didn’t specialize. She now charges several thousand dollars for most cleaning and restoration jobs.
After her encounter with that first customer, Carlita called the company that was selling the stove and traveled out of state to spend a week training with them. “I came back from training and spent thousands of dollars to create a website—belgroveappliance.com (now stovelady.com). Within a month, I got my first job from the site.”
Carlita says that everything she has done in her life has prepared her to be the successful entrepreneur nicknamed “The Famous Stove Lady.” Before taking over her father’s business, she had worked for Transamerica Leasing, GE Capital, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Goya Foods, Inc. “I had sales training. I dealt with money. I was a customer service rep,” she says. “I went on to be an auditor. I was an investment analyst. I did total quality management. I had all these different positions that lined everything up for me.”
Moving the Business Forward
Her entrepreneurial spirit is leading her to keep the Belgrove Appliance brand fresh. While antique stove repair and restoration remain her first love, Carlita wants Belgrove Appliance to join an appliance-buying group that will better enable her to also sell new appliances in bulk to developers and contractors for projects such as apartment buildings and new residential development. As part of that effort, she wants to leverage her company’s position as an MWBE in New York. Government entities and private business doing projects in some municipalities are often required to make a certain percentage of their contacts available to MWBEs. The private businesses can also get tax breaks and other types of credits, Carlita says.
She has also signed a deal with Houzz.com to help promote her brand awareness, products and services. Interior designers, remodelers, contractors, dealers and homeowners who use the online home remodeling platform can tap into Belgrove Appliance services and products and actually see how products would fit into projects. “So you can design a kitchen online and see what it looks like with the different appliances in it and other items of interest,” Carlita says.
Carlita is working on her own version of an all-things kitchen website called kicheen.com. “Other small businesses that are not tech savvy will be able to come on to the site and sell their products,” she says. “It is more of a social marketplace where people can chat and build relationships with other people and business owners. We need that in this COVID-19 environment.” Contractors will be able to post projects they’ve done, discuss future projects and communicate with their clients. “And then other clients can communicate with each other and have others vote on ideas for their projects.”
She is really hoping to franchise the business because some states have no person that can do what she does. She has been helping people repair their stoves through video chat.
The restoration of antique stoves remains Carlita’s greatest passion. She recalls the restoration of a Quality brand stove from the early 1900s. “It was in Lower Manhattan, and we couldn’t get it out of the house, so we had to do the restoration in the home,” she says. “We had to remove the doors and other pieces and get them restored and then bring them back and put them on. People had tried to do little ad hoc repairs over the years, and we had to fix all of their mistakes. This is better left to a professional and not a local handyman.”
Carlita says that her company’s willingness to do restorations on-site sets it apart from competitors. “Other restoration companies won’t restore a stove in somebody’s home. They will only restore the stove in their shop. You send them the stove, they do the restoration and they are in control,” Carlita says. “But my process is more complicated, a little more in-depth and therefore more expensive. I restore your stove to your needs, your desires and your wants,” she says. “I even give you a loaner stove to use while I work on yours so there is no inconvenience. It is like getting a loaner car while they work on your Mercedes or BMW.”