Visitors to this year’s National Restaurant Association show got to see something very new and exciting at the Master-Bilt Products booth. Existing customers, dealers, sales representatives and industry trade reporters saw what the company described as “the new frontier in food-service equipment.” The company’s collection of new product launches served to remind the show’s attendees that Master-Bilt has made a definite statement as the one-stop shop for refrigeration equipment targeted at food-service customers.
On display at the NRA show were Master-Bilt’s new reach-ins, entry doors, salad/sandwich preparation tables, undercounter refrigerators and merchandisers. Among the hits were the Deli-Master™ merchandisers, which appealed because of their cost-effectiveness and versatility; and the V-Series entry door, which grabbed the attention of those looking for the latest in walk-ins.
“The reception for the new products was extremely good,” says Duane Stockburger, Master-Bilt’s president. “Our traditional customer base has been dealers for convenience stores, ice cream stores and the dairy industry. Our goal with the food-service products is to hit the restaurant market with a total package, and we really geared the show so that we would get to a broad reach of the restaurant dealers. The show attendees really liked the looks of our products.”
A New Look
The goal of becoming the food-service one-stop shop has been a central theme for Master-Bilt, which was first profiled by US Industry Today in its March 1999 issue. The company has been a key vendor to convenience stores, ice cream stores and the dairy industry for more than 60 years. In the past two years, Master-Bilt has boosted its product line to the food-service segment — with the new products seen at the NRA show as the most recent moves in this area — and has refocused its marketing effort around the “refrigeration solutions” approach.
The facets of the marketing effort include a new Master-Bilt positioning statement, a new logo and the booth seen at the NRA show. The words “refrigeration solutions” are now a prominent part of the company’s logo and literature. The new products themselves will provide a further push to the reconfigured marketing, says Lynn Burge, Master-Bilt’s advertising coordinator. “These are exceptional products,” Burge says. “They’re not me-too products, and the phrase ‘me-too’ is something we use internally, all the time, as something to avoid. These products use the latest in digital technology. Our new technologies are critical to our success going forward.”
The food-service initiative is the latest step in Master-Bilt’s evolution, which has been ongoing since Stockburger became president of the firm about four and one-half years ago. “When I joined, Master-Bilt was a niche player in the convenience-store, ice cream-store and dairy markets,” Stockburger recalls. “Then we expanded into the warehouse market with our line of coolers and freezers for food distribution warehouses.
“The food-service market is the largest and fastest-growing segment. We didn’t have the right products to service this market. Our walk-in was overdesigned for food-service uses, and we didn’t have the cabinets required by the market. But then we signed an agreement with another manufacturer to provide cases with our brand name on them. We also redesigned the walk-in with a new entry door, designed a high-ambient refrigeration system and started a quick-ship program with which we could ship small boxes in five days. The recent NRA show was a big, big step in the food-service direction for us.”
Partners in Service
The quick-ship plan illustrates another Master-Bilt strength: customer service. “We’ve put in place a philosophy whereby we build our business by being partners with our dealers,” Stockburger says. “We provide excellent front-end and after-market services, and we’ve created partnership agreements with dealers that really want to promote Master-Bilt products.”
The Master-Bilt partners program has gained strong momentum over the past two years. From just a handful of dealers early in 1999, says Burge, the program now numbers nearly 200. “Our customer service has really been incredible,” he adds. “We now work with our dealers and evolve with them to meet their daily needs and to promote the fact that we are a complete supplier for the food-service market.”
Another area in which Master-Bilt shines is new technologies. One recent new product launch illustrates both the company’s leadership in technologies and where these technologies are leading product development now and down the road. “We’ve just unveiled a new electronic controller board in several of our low-temperature reach-in products,” Burge says. “This controller board improves on the efficiency, convenience and reliability in these reach-ins by replacing several different mechanical components in the refrigeration system.”
Commenting on Master-Bilt’s technological expertise, Stockburger says, “As you look forward, it’s just a matter of time before refrigeration products are going to have energy-efficiency ratings the way appliances do. Commercial products haven’t had this yet, but California is looking to establish the energy rating system for these products. So we need to evolve our products from mechanical and electrical controls to exclusively electronic controls. The new controller board is a step in that direction.”
Food for Growth
The niche orientation maintains a strong presence in Master-Bilt’s marketing, as can be seen in its target for the food-service products. “We expect to get the business from private and regional restaurants and chains,” says Stockburger. “We do have some current business with fast-food chains, but that isn’t a primary focus for the food-service line.”
Growth opportunities are still presenting themselves in the convenience-store channel, according to Burge. The retail segment, with major drug-store chains such as Walgreens and CVS, is another major business opportunity. The grab-and-grow concept offers still more opportunities. This product category has come to the fore with the increase in two-income households, in which both spouses find that they have little time to prepare a full meal after the end of the workday. A variety of retailers now offer prepackaged meals that customers can simply heat up in the oven or the microwave.
Ever mindful of where the food industry is headed, Master-Bilt has responded to this trend. “We’ve recently undergone extensive testing in our open-air grab-and-grow merchandiser line, to upgrade the products to meet the current NSF-7 standards,” Burge says. “This is part of our ongoing effort to stay on top of the listings and classifications that affect our customers.”
Clearly, Master-Bilt sees growth prospects from every direction in which it channels its growing product lines. “If we can continue our good record in our traditional convenience-store, ice cream-store and dairy markets, we’ll see good growth from those areas,” says Stockburger. “Food service is a truly exciting new market segment for us, and we plan to expand our product offerings to that customer base as we go forward.”