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issue: December 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

People
Niels Wittus of Rais & Wittus


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The Greeks had Prometheus, the Native Americans had the coyote, and the modern hearth appliance industry has Niels Wittus. It seems that since the ancients kindled the first flame, man’s fascination with fire has never been snuffed out. Now, Mr. Wittus, president and CEO of Rais & Wittus Inc., carries the torch.

Niels Wittus

It’s clear that fire has come a long way since the days of rubbing two sticks together. One look inside the Rais & Wittus showroom in Pound Ridge, NY, U.S. would show a collection of 300- to 600-lb European-designed Rais Fireplace Stoves. Niels Wittus and his wife Alyce began importing these stoves from Denmark, Mr. Wittus’s homeland, about 25 years ago.

Like the stoves he sells, Mr. Wittus crossed the Atlantic from Denmark after graduating from high school in 1974. Mr. Wittus left for the states to attend Hunter College in New York City, NY, while juggling a job at Gimbel’s, one of the city’s oldest department stores. Able to stand the heat of multiple challenges, he founded Rais & Wittus in 1978 while selling real estate in Bedford, NY. He remembers running to the warehouse on his lunch hour, hurriedly shipping off stoves, and dashing back to continue selling real estate.

“I would say it’s really just been a ride,” Mr. Wittus says, proud to have built his business from scratch. “The whole thing has been an interesting ride.”

Rais products could more correctly be called warm furniture. They aren’t really wood stoves, but rather alternate fireplaces, so most sales don’t come from typical wood stove shops. Mr. Wittus relates that they are more difficult to sell in an American market hesitant about new designs, and he must seek out a distinct clientele. “These are new and exciting and sexy looking products,” he says. “It’s not just your grandmother’s old fireplace.”

America is slowly warming up to the difference, and the industry is beginning to take notice. This year, the Hearth Product and Barbeque Association trade show honored two Rais products. The Rais Pina wood stove won the Vesta award for design and innovation, and the new Gabo gas stove was a finalist. “Even though I didn’t design the stove,” Mr. Wittus says, “for us to see these units get recognition was really special, so we’re deeply touched.”

A healthy business is only part of Mr. Wittus’s well being. He says, “Mixing business and pleasure and family life and business life is important to me. I’m very fortunate to share this business with my wife Alyce…that makes it even more unique in that we can do a lot of things together.”

When he’s not out firing up his motorcycle, hunting, or fishing, Mr. Wittus tries to spend as much time with friends and family as possible. At home, Mr. Wittus enjoys entertaining his guests with barbequed meals on his Rais Gizeh Grill, proving that the art of fire warms any occasion.

 

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