While we don’t mean it in the “paintbrush-wielding, colour-matching” way, building a fridge is definitely not a work of simply putting parts to keep things cool either. It is a process; and one that Fridgemaker’s founder, Robin Low embarked on since a young age. He was exposed to the difference between a home fridge and a commercial one when school holidays meant tagging along with his father, a service manager, to eateries or food and beverage outlets to carry out maintenance works on the industrial fridges. His main responsibility was to carry the compressors and these excursions filled his holidays and in writing an essay on how he spent the school break, the question he got in return was “What is a compressor?”
Engineering fridges runs in the family as his grandfather started one of the first refrigeration companies in Malaysia which was later acquired, renamed and still exists today. The company’s hard work and determination to bring awareness on the importance of refrigeration even caught the attention of the country’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman who took time off to visit the factory and understand the works of building the equipment.
It was certain that his grandfather’s tireless endeavour and attitude towards the principles of refrigeration rubbed off on Robin, with what Fridgemaker is today. Yet, his foray into the industry did not directly begin in this field. He first started as a contract worker for renovation projects in Malaysia – painting, putting in the necessary fixtures and all the works. His foray into refrigeration only begun when he joined a refrigeration company for a more stable career. He was first a deliveryman and progressed to being in charge of installation. As he continued, he soon learned the ropes and became a technician. At one point of time, he noticed that the operation side can possibly be improved and asked for an opportunity to enter the purchasing department to learn more. In a way; equipping himself with all-round knowledge from the technical and business side of things.
COMING TO ITS OWN
In 2004, following the footsteps of his grandfather and father, Robin decided to give running his own business a try. Together with a partner, FRIDGEMAKER started in a 10,000 sqft space with only 3 bending machines and less than 10 workers. His working stint in Malaysia helped him decide upon this country to begin his venture, saying that “as a manufacturer, I believe Malaysia was a good choice, rather than returning to Singapore to start a new business. Cost in Singapore is definitely higher and we were at the point that we were still very much dependent on physical labour and not machines to develop these fridges. And Malaysia had the advantage not only in labour costs but real estate as well.” It was also easier to source raw material as a fridge is normally the biggest item in a kitchen – tall and imposing. With a flat surface that is highly visible, the handling of stainless steel is vital and Malaysia had a formidable pool of contractors who could support Fridgemaker in the cutting of these SUS parts when it could not be done in-house due to its unique shape.
The company started with standard units like the uprights and counters but was also bold enough to take orders for fridges that require some level of customisation. Indeed, the move paid off and despite being relatively new at that time, customers came to know and trust them to design and create a unit that will work for them. “Because of what we could offer, variety and customisation – our customers were happy to work with us, despite our prices being a little bit higher. They knew that with Fridgemaker, they could purchase standard units and also have unique and customised units built in a uniformed look”, said Robin.
In just over 2 years since its beginnings, Fridgemaker moved to a bigger rented facility of 24,000 sq ft in Subang and purchased used machines to help ramp up production. Staff force doubled and OEM orders started coming in together with a variety of standard models adding to the lineup. The company proved to be on the right track as 2012 marked one its most momentous occasions where it moved into its own factory space of 45,000 sqft in Johor. It is backed by supporting offices in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur with more than 40 personnel – in production, administration and sales. The company has also started making tracks into markets in Australia on their own with a partner.
THE FACETS OF A FRIDGE
Speaking from experience, Robin shared that “everyone thinks that a fridge is just a storage cabinet or ice box. But it is a very important, if not most important equipment in the kitchen. It is the only equipment that can make or break your costs. Imagine if there was no fridge – you would be paying more every day for logistics/delivery of your produce. And even if you could have them delivered daily, the fridge is the only one that can help you to keep them fresh and maintain the quality. Without fridges, the quality of your produce will go from bad to worse and in the end it would only incur high wastage!”
Yet, there are still many operators who think that any fridge will do but he advises to look at the purchase of a fridge critically. Buying one that is not aligned to your needs can possibly bring cross contamination, resulting in issues with the health inspectors. The other aspect would be making sure it comes with warranty and a support system that is able to respond quickly as the fridge needs to operate 24 hours a day.
The essence of refrigeration is to maintain a temperature to keep any type of food items in its best condition and experience has paved the way for Fridgemaker to manufacture these cooling equipment in multitude expressions. Its range includes glass doors, showcases, wine chillers, islands, gondolas, cake showcases and even to building fridges that churns out block ice for carving. Their customer profile ranges from hotels, fast food, restaurants of various sizes, schools, Quick Serve Restaurants and even to individual provision shops and because of its OEM customers,Fridgemaker’s refrigeration systems has gone all around the world.
Yet, as its name suggest, making a fridge for an individual customer is its greatest satisfaction. Custom making a fridge is a process that begins with purchasers accessing components such as controllers, compressors and others; going directly to the source instead of going through an agent selling it at bulk price. Although Robin acknowledges that they might end up paying a bit more, it is worth it for the company as they are in a better position to get the right information and also to give the component manufacturer a better understanding of what is needed for our orders. Each order comes with individual crucial points that need testing and the factory’s test room is where technicians conduct tests tuned to the required environment of customers. It believes that its current practices sustains the company in the market for there is always demand for individuality from operators; thus going into mass production is not something to concentrate on although it will consider OEMs on a larger scale should there be opportunities.
Instead of manufacturing other range of equipment, Robin affirms that Fridgemaker is maintaining its focus as it believes that the product is core of the kitchen and will always be needed. Therefore, it is looking to explore ideas in developing fridges with improved efficiency as Robin opines that the technology of refrigeration is old and has been in the market for a long time. He hopes that there would soon be a new technology that would cut down emissions and the use of unnecessary materials in the production of fridges.
Like its name suggests, making fridges will continue to be THE way for the company to which it regards to be a process that constantly requires fine tuning and refining in order to be a piece of equipment that is truly valued by its owner.