Has your ice machine ever broken down on a busy night? Hey, we’ve all been there, and we know that, sooner or later, it will happen again. Can a new wrinkle in the ice machine business—subscriptions—help you avoid this problem?
Many operators deal with dish machine problems by outsourcing the maintenance and care to national companies like Ecolab and JohnsonDiversey or to smaller local or regional suppliers. Outsourcing is more costly than handling it yourself, but having both your sales rep and a dish machine technician show up to bail you out of a dish machine breakdown is priceless. Many, many operators find this tradeoff makes sense.
Similarly, restaurants that do a lot of deep-frying don’t think twice about turning over the storing, handling and disposal of cooking oil to third parties like Minneapolis-based Restaurant Technologies, Inc. As with dish machines, do-it-yourselfers can save a buck, but focusing too much time and energy on cost-cutting in the back of the house may well create costs seen or unseen in other parts of the operation. RTI doesn’t handle equipment breakdowns per se, but its service is still a godsend for certain types of operations.
Ice machines are the latest piece of kitchen equipment to experience an outsourcing push. Companies like ICEsurance have offered leasing options for decades, and legions of operators are happy with how their leasing programs work out. But at least one company, Gwinn, MI-based Easy Ice, is offering a new model: the subscription. Here’s how company c.e.o. Mark Hangen describes the deal:
“By transitioning to a subscription plan that maintains, cleans and repairs their ice machines, owners and operators can eliminate the nuisance of dealing with machine malfunctions and high repair bills,” he says.
“Beyond managing repair costs, Easy Ice adds value by offering Energy Star-qualified air-cooled ice machines that reduce energy consumption,” says marketing boss Klarita Wildhaber. “We also provide emergency ice service as part of our standard subscription and handle regular machine cleaning and preventive maintenance.”
A company-backed survey of commercial foodservice operators helped convince the Easy Ice people their model will work. Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents said icemakers caused the most problems among their kitchen equipment, while only 3.9 percent said it was the dishwasher.
“The fact that dishwashers are no longer perceived as the most annoying machine in the kitchen indicates a significant industry trend,” Hangen claims. “Five years ago, dishwashers would have been at the top of the list, but third-party service providers changed how dishwashing equipment was provided, maintained and repaired. These providers have had a lasting industry impact by offering restaurants an alternative to the hassle of dealing with these machines on their own. Easy Ice’s subscription plans are taking ice machines down the same path, shifting the operational responsibility for the machines from foodservice managers to Easy Ice and its local and national partners.”
Here are a few other findings from the Easy Ice survey:
• More than 75 percent of respondents were not happy with their current on-site ice solution, citing frequent machine breakdowns, low ice production volume and poor energy efficiency as the reasons for their dissatisfaction.
• Half of survey respondents said they made two to five calls when their ice machine malfunctioned, including multiple calls to repair personnel and emergency ice providers.
• More than half of survey participants said machine repairs usually took between two and seven days to complete.
• Eighty percent of respondents said they spent up to $400 per repair on their ice machines.
We’re not endorsing the Easy Ice program per se. Among other things, the company locks its subscription customers into a single brand of icemaker, albeit a good one in Hoshizaki. If you prefer to use another brand of icemaker, you’re out of luck. Another caveat: Let’s see how the company performs as it expands the scope of its service from its current 2,000-unit customer base to full nationwide coverage.
But we have to admit that the no-contract, pay-as-you-go subscription model is something that might appeal to a number of operators. The basic premise—“pay me now or me later”—can be hard to argue with. We’ll find out soon how many operators are looking to offload their ice machine headaches to someone else for a flat monthly fee.
Interested readers can find out more at. www.easyice.com.