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Domestic vs. Import Commercial Refrigeration

New trends in the commercial refrigeration reach-in cabinet market

Just when we thought prices couldn’t get lower in the commercial refrigeration equipment industry there has been a huge surge of new equipment landing on the market at even lower prices! Manufacturers out of Asia are churning out product that is significantly lower in price than the products manufactured in the USA.

Is price the only change?

Prices are lower for these units that have the look of a standard “made in the USA” unit but what else is different? Let’s use the number one, most recognized brand in the USA, TRUE, as a reference point. The import units can at times be nearly half of the price of a TRUE cabinet and look very similar. The recessed door handles and traditional exterior design of TRUE units are incorporated into these oversea import units. They also use stainless steel, (sometimes even on the interior of the cabinets) so from 5 – 10 feet away they look almost identical to a TRUE. Unfortunately, oftentimes it looks like they just copied TRUE with very little innovation or custom work involved. These copycat brands, if you will, even offer pretty significant warranties on their products. Question is, will they be around in a few years time to honor that warranty and how accessible/user friendly will that experience be?

So what is the difference, really?

Let’s get real folks. We all know that “you get what you pay for.” Although these units do come with a two year parts and labor warranty and five year compressor warranty (made in the USA units like TRUE usually come with a three years parts and labor warranty and five years on the compressor) there is a significant trade off in quality regarding fit and finish. Don’t kick the tires too hard, they may fall off! That may be a bit harsh but the castors on some of these units look like they should be on a pair of roller skates and not a few hundred pound (empty) reach-in cabinet. What seems to be the norm is the cheaper brands invest the dollars into the look of the unit so you get the stainless steel. In a catalog or again, from 5-10 feet away they look very very similar to more expensive brands.

What Else?

The rest of the build on these units just feels weak and the materials used, especially the plastics, are lower grade. Usually the fan motors are low quality and the way these units are put together leave a lot to be desired. The actual refrigeration system and components, what is “under the hood,” is of lower quality but you don’t see that from the exterior. The overall feel of this equipment is that it was made to last a minimum number of years: more like a disposable unit rather than something that is supposed to last ten or so years. I recognize that has been an ongoing trend, not only in the refrigeration industry, but across most consumer products, but this new import equipment highlights the fact. Quality has dropped, overall, even when looking at brands manufactured domestically. When I started in the commercial refrigeration and HVAC industry in the early 90’s we were still working on units from the 80’s and even 70’s. When we finally removed them for replacement you could feel that the units were just different back then. Built to last, heavy steel and the fit and finish was more like an old Cadillac.
This fact can be partly attributed to the new energy requirements that equipment must meet.
I guess it is the way of the world and it appears that most consumer products are made more cheaply, light, etc. Sometimes this implies higher efficiency and new green standards. That is partly the case with the import commercial reach-in’s as most of the manufacturers do meet EnergyStar requirements and that’s respectable. However, the low quality of these units can be an issue and should be considered before purchase.

Beyond fit and finish

The biggest difference beyond the fact that these units are produced in countries with low manufacturing standards (environmental, wages to workers and workplace standards) is in the support aspect. The units made in the USA have excellent customer support, especially TRUE. As a refrigeration repair company AJAX Refrigeration in Santa Barbara and Ventura appreciates the high level of support offered by TRUE and other domestic brands. Their technical support technicians are top notch and are readily available to help out when needed. The parts department at TRUE, for example, is world class and will send out replacement parts, even entire condensing units, on their dime. The product is supported and they pay the service contractor for the work rendered fairly and on time.
The reality is the price point for domestically manufactured equipment is quite good and you get a quality, made in the USA product that is made to last and is well supported.

The challenge for domestic manufacturers is to really highlight their value proposition in
relation to the end user’s needs and pain points. The proliferation of internet retailing of equipment has served domestic manufacturers well in the short-term but it may turn against them as the internet has devalued higher quality equipment and the dealer supported network that was the backbone of the refrigeration industry for so long. The internet and the high volume dealers that work through it have continued to lower the price point for so long now that local equipment dealers are struggling to compete and the market has been primed for new-comers as the barriers to entry have been lowered substantially. Both of these factors are detrimental to small businesses all across the U.S. The point is, where the end user invests his/her dollars has a tremendous impact on the future of equipment manufacturing and dealer support.

Take Away

If price point is the only variable, (is it really ever the only variable?) well then, a low cost product may be the way to go. Otherwise, spend the extra dough and you will be rewarded in the long run. Especially when the unit fails three years after the purchase was made and now you need customer support, (quickly!). Good Luck!

My personal story…

I once owned a little Honda motor scooter that was a high price point/high quality brand/product and it never quit. The plastics faded a bit but they remained flexible and strong for years, the electrics like switches and buttons worked fine for years and the engine just kept on running along. I rode it all through high school and college and finally sold it for top dollar. Then, years later, I bought a Chinese made scooter and was amazed at the price point as it looked just like my old Honda from back in the day. I knew I was buying something that probably wouldn’t last but it was too tempting so I bought the low cost unit. Well, five years later the horn, turn signals, taillight etc. all didn’t work properly or at all. The front brake failed and the speedometer and odometer stopped working within the first year. The plastics faded and fell apart. In five years it looked 10x worse than my Honda looked after 10 (and to top it off the Honda still worked perfectly)! Enough said.

Contact the AJAX sales and leasing team to get more information on all your commercial refrigeration sales service and leasing needs in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. Some of the major brands that AJAX Refrigeration sells, services and leases are…
TRUE, BEVERAGE AIR, TRAULSEN, FOLLETT, ICE-O-MATIC, MANITOWOC, KOOL AIR and HOSHIZAKI among many others! Full Service Leasing available, ask for details!

Water filtration products from SOUTHEASTERN, CUNO, EVERPURE.

Our sales and leasing department is looking forward to help you find a solution to meet your personal, unique requirements. We’re happy to discuss more about the commercial refrigeration cooler and freezer choices you face and what options will work best for you.

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