This article was originally posted by a Borgen Systems employee on LinkedIn Pulse.
It’s no secret that budget cuts and fewer inspections have led to a decline in refrigeration system maintenance. While it’s recommended to clean the coils in commercial refrigerators every 30 to 90 days, the reality is many grocers are fortunate to have their equipment serviced every 12 months. Refrigeration systems are the most important assets for supermarkets; the quality and safety of food products as well as the grocer’s reputation depend on the proper operation of this equipment.
So how do maintenance technicians and equipment manufacturers convince managers and owners to invest in system upkeep and upgrades?
Start with cost savings and incentives.
Cost Savings Through Regular Refrigerator Maintenance
According to a study conducted by the Food Service Technology Center, commercial refrigerators and freezers with dirty coils used 90% more energy than appliances with clean coils. That means stores can potentially cut their energy costs in half with regular system maintenance.
What else do dirty coils mean for commercial refrigeration equipment?
- Frequent service calls — equipment manufacturers say that dirty condenser coils are the number-one reason for service calls.
- Decreased system longevity — refrigerators must run longer to maintain cool temperatures.
- Sudden equipment failure — clogged coils cause the refrigerator to overheat, burn up, and malfunction, which can lead to expensive repairs or replacements.
If regular refrigerator maintenance were so simple and saved so much money, grocers wouldn’t hesitate, right?
Well, it’s actually not as simple as it seems.
Maintaining Refrigeration Equipment Is a Process
With everything else to keep track of in the store — customer service, employee support, inventory, budgeting, and so on — cleaning the condenser coils in refrigerated display cases tends to fall toward the bottom of a manager’s priority list. Not only are the coils out of sight and out of mind, but the process to clean them is no small undertaking.
For anyone unfamiliar with commercial refrigeration maintenance, all food product must be transported to a new unit or sealed and contained during cleaning. Reach-in refrigerators usually require work from at least two people: one to operate the shop vacuum and another to catch dust and dirt in a receptacle to prevent the debris from blowing around. All outer surfaces must be wiped down and the cleaning area should be swept and mopped. Once the refrigerator is reconnected to the power supply and reaches a safe temperature, the product can be replaced.
Cleaning the coils requires an entire case to be out of commission for at least half a day, which, depending on the size of the store, could be hundreds of dollars in lost revenue.
Benefits of Maintenance Programs Outweigh Initial Investment Over Time
It’s important to keep in mind that preventative maintenance programs provide a better return on your investment long term. The downtime and labor required to maintain a refrigerated display case pays for itself in:
- Improved energy efficiency — refrigerator and freezer equipment will reach and hold the desired temperature while operating fewer hours per day.
- Extended lifetime of equipment — stores can postpone the cost of equipment replacement by prolonging the operating life of the existing system.
- Fewer emergency repair calls — not only will store managers save money on emergency repairs, but they will also be able to prevent early system failure by having a technician identify potential problems before they lead to more substantial repairs.
- Product recovery — preventative maintenance reduces the risk of product loss by limiting unexpected equipment failures.
- Overall energy and repair costs — by decreasing the system’s energy consumption and cutting down on the need for repairs, stores can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year.
Cost Savings and Incentives Through Refrigeration System Replacement
Usually, refrigerator coils just need a thorough cleaning before the system runs in tip-top shape again, but refrigerator components may last as few as seven years if not properly maintained from the start. Plus, if the system is 12 to 20 years old, grocery stores will be more profitable by replacing old refrigerators with newer models. Energy-efficient refrigeration systems are often priced comparably to standard systems, and the initial investment has the potential to save thousands of dollars per year in energy costs.
In most cases, upgrading the refrigeration system with the right equipment alone will earn back your investment and more in one to five years, but there are many incentive programs that will cut the length of time to see your return on investment in half. California, for example, has numerous incentive programs for commercial energy efficiency, some of which include assistance up to or exceeding $150,000. Find the incentive programs for all states at energy.gov. If you are a store manager looking for more assurance that replacing your refrigerated system will save you money in the long run, check out this case study on the effects of incentivized upgrades for a Canadian grocer.
Lack of time and resources plague department managers as they perform their day-to-day tasks, and implementing a consistent maintenance program or replacing an entire refrigeration system is no small feat. Taking the time to research and speak with technicians and manufacturers can definitely alleviate some of the stress associated with these tasks. There are even some free tools to help make managers’ lives a little easier. The Food Service and Technology Center has a free calculator that allows you to input your equipment, energy, and maintenance costs so you can determine if and how much money you’ll save by upgrading your system.
But It’s Not All About the Money
Supermarkets need to make a profit in order to stay in business — that, of course, isn’t news to anyone. What’s more important than the raw cost savings, however, is the impact refrigerator systems have on customers. Refrigerated cases that are constantly down for system maintenance cause consumers to lose trust in the store. Likewise, food that is unsafe for shoppers to purchase due to warm temperatures is a serious health risk and drives customers away.
Any good business owner will say that the success or failure of a company relies largely on the quality of customer service. The way to distinguish good customer service from outstanding customer service is by tending to the issues that customers often don’t even see or think about. Ensuring the refrigerator equipment is performing at optimal operating levels is one of the best ways store owners and managers care for their customers.