Foodservice operators have a lot on their plates these days. As many seek to reinvent their businesses, the last thing they should be troubled about is ice. However, Gen Zers – the population segment born between 1997 and 2012 – are driving a new trend that is raising the demand for ice in the marketplace.
“I don’t know anybody under the age of 25 who drinks hot coffee anymore,” said John Mahlmeister, COO of the full-service ice machine subscription company, Easy Ice. “The younger generations consume more iced beverages than ever, and this increased market pressures businesses to have a 100% reliable supply of ice.”
There’s one problem with that: ice makers are notoriously fickle machines that require a precise environment, maintenance, and quick repairs to avoid disrupting ice production. Business owners from cocktail lounges and cafes to coffee shops and hotels are in dire need of a guaranteed ice supply to meet customer demand. Easy Ice has built its business by addressing a common concern expressed by operators: ice machines are the least reliable piece of equipment in the kitchen.
Growth for Easy Ice hasn’t just been the result of an ice-obsessed market. The company recently acquired Icesurance, the leasing division of the packaged ice giant, Arctic Glacier. This strategic alliance netted Easy Ice “an operating base and skilled technicians that will enable us to significantly expand our market share in Metro New York,” Mahlmeister said.
With branches in New York and Los Angeles, Icesurance was led by Jeff Hendler. The industry veteran has built a family enterprise into a bi-coastal ice resource for the restaurant and foodservice industry. “We are very excited to become part of the Easy Ice family, because we share so many key core values,” noted Hendler.
The success of Icesurance was due in part to their strategy of pairing machines that produce perfectly square ice cubes with those that produce chewable nugget ice in high-end cocktail bars and restaurants. This strategy lends itself well to the nation’s increased desire for specialty cocktails. “The size and shape of the Kold Draft cube has become an essential ingredient of the signature cocktail,” Mahlmeister noted. He added that it is the company’s intention to eventually “migrate this vision of specialty ice” to other metropolitan markets.
“When exclusive cocktails are a fundamental part of your brand and image, renting an ice machine creates the flexibility to evolve your beverage program without the major capital outlay of purchasing an ice machine that you might outgrow as your ice needs change,” he said. By the same token, Mahlmeister is under no illusion that all operators require specialty ice. For 95% of the market, customers do not return to a food or entertainment establishment just because of its ice. “To most people ice is just a commodity. In reality, if a restaurant or bar is out of ice there’s an uproar.”
Easy Ice provides full service of its ice makers, so that restaurateurs can focus on the bigger picture without the hassle of worrying over a broken ice machine. “No capital. No hassle. Just ice.” has been the hallmark of their value proposition since launching.
“The key to our success has been aligning our interest with those of our customers. When an operator owns their own ice machine, everybody that services them makes money when the ice machine breaks: the service companies, the repair parts suppliers, and the bagged ice providers,” he said. “They all benefit from a downed ice machine, while the customer is suffering. We maximize our profit by eliminating problems – which means our customers always have ice.”
The company has undergone much change since Mahlmeister and CEO Mark Hangen installed their first ice machine in Texas in 2009. They started the company with an Uber-like model. Uber solves a transportation problem by contracting the driving service to others and Easy Ice initially solved the maintenance problem by contracting the repairs to refrigeration companies. However, Mahlmeister said “We found it difficult to find service organizations that were both skilled and consistent when it came to working on ice machines. It was a great opportunity to ‘walk a mile in our customer’s shoes. That’s when we really decided to shake it up.”
Easy Ice hired their first technician in 2013, acquired their first company in 2015 and since that time haven’t looked back. Icesurance is their 12th acquisition over the last 8 years and coming out of COVID, the pace is accelerating. “Ten years ago, 100% of our ice machines were serviced by 3rd party providers, today over 80% of our machines are serviced by Easy Ice technicians, aka Iceologists.”
This shift has opened new frontiers for them to conquer in the way of training. “We invest heavily in training and development. We are committed to providing our employees a growth path with a special emphasis on creating opportunities for young adults who do not plan on going to college,” Mahlmeister said.
Extensive training and technical support are critical to the success of the service division of Easy Ice. In ice machine servicing, the troubleshooting process can be difficult because of the complexity of ice machine mechanics. “Ninety-four percent of the service issues we have are due to mechanical and electrical problems,” he explained. Therefore, “it’s important to train our technicians to be specialists in ice machines.” With their new national training center and meticulous training standards, Easy Ice is paving the way for the next generation of highly skilled technicians to develop with their team.
Mahlmeister and the Easy Ice organization have embraced technology to accomplish their goal of having 24/7 access to ice for restaurants and hospitality establishments. “An ice machine is a manufacturing device that produces a food product using a mechanical process,” he said. “Inevitably it will need physical service, so we will need to be on site with the asset. Over the last couple years, we have worked closely with numerous ice machine manufacturers to develop remote monitoring solutions that will give us insight into mechanical performance indicators of the machines we have in the field. This will allow us to better gauge the machine’s efficiency from the time it is installed to when it begins to show signs of lower output.”
With these technological advancements plus more acquisitions slated for the future, Easy Ice continues to focus on educating the food and beverage industry that owning or leasing an ice machine are not the only two solutions. There’s a third – subscriptions – and it singlehandedly alleviates all the major pain points of securing a safe, reliable supply of ice.
“Many operators simply don’t know that our full-service subscription model is available,” Mahlmeister explained. “It’s not a lease that comes with a 12 to 15 percent interest charge. We don’t view our solution as a financial service. We view it as an operational service.”
In addition, he pointed out that for new foodservice startups, their best bet is a full-service ice machine subscription. “We provide real value to our customers, and we love partnering with new businesses. We are committed to helping customers figure out the best way to run their business.”
Easy Ice’s recipe for success begins with the strength of their subscription model and the promise of 24/7 ice. Add to that the customer service reputation that Jeff Hendler and his Icesurance team have garnered, and you have a big win for the Metro New York restaurant and foodservice industries.
To learn more about Easy Ice, visit their website