Pines RV Refrigeration at the RVIA National RV Show.
David Force & Larry Miller discuss aftermarket refrigeration in Kentucky.
MRV: The Buzz, Your Outdoor Lifestyle Insider.
THE TEXTURE OF COOL: PINES RV REFRIGERATION
Principals For Aftermarket Cooling Company Talk Evolution & DIY Capabilities At RVIA National RV Show in Louisville, Kentucky
The aspect of custom made pieces in the aftermarket is always a tricky precipice. For most aspects, unless one has specific tools or training, it becomes harder to replace simple components. Pine RV Refrigeration manufactures with both the dealer and the DIY contingent in mind. David Force and Larry Miller, both principals in the company, sat down with The Buzz at the RVIA National RV Show in Louisville to discuss user interface, evolution of product and ease of installation.
The Buzz: With business, especially with refrigeration or manufacturing, you never know what's going to happen because you want to keep it at a certain price point…you want to keep it at a certain standard. Could you talk about that?
Larry Miller: Well [with] the price, we needed to make a little bit of money but like, how should I say, I don't need to make an excess amount of money. Our goal is to make some money and have the dealer get a reasonable product at a reasonable price and then [by extension] the end user gets a good deal on his refrigerator.
The Buzz: How did you guys come into refrigeration? Was it a family business...
LM: It was a family business. Actually in 2003, I bought the wholesale side of the RV business. At that time, we were selling...we sold like 350 to 400 pool units. Last year we sold like 3,500 proper.
The Buzz: Nationwide? Regional?
LM: Nationwide. A little bit into Canada, mostly just the lower 48. So yeah, it's growing considerably.
The Buzz: Can you talk about how that works in terms of integration of the unit because you manufacture, but they install it.
LM: Well, basically, the dealer sells the RV to the customer, and in 5 years, 10 years, the refrigerator quits working, so they take their RV back to the dealer. So they diagnose the cooling unit, and they order a replacement cooling unit from us, and they get a working refrigerator again. The thing is styles and sizes change, so putting in just the replacement cooling unit versus a new refrigerator...they can it in the existing opening. Otherwise, they have to modify. Maybe cut a little more opening because the newer refrigerator's bigger.
The Buzz: Now going from that...we were also talking how you deal with the DIYers. Could you talk about how that works because people want to do stuff themselves now too.
David Force: What they would run to, like Larry was saying, is that when the individual has an older model refrigerator, they tend to go to the dealerships. The refrigerator's bad. The cooling is bad. They don't make that refrigerator anymore. So we've got to replace the whole, complete refrigerator. Well, you find out the refrigerator's is like 2-3 inches taller and an inch wider. Now that takes [custom] work...that takes a specialist. Then you need newer paneling that goes on the door so it will match your existing. So that's where the customer is kind of upset at that point. Now they come in, and they start searching for alternative methods. They find out that the cooling unit's available to replace what they got so this is something they can do themselves. They keep the original box...the same paneling, same everything. And the cost factor is probably less than half the price of a replacement refrigerator. So with the do-it-yourself option, knowing that there's no special tools, no special skills.
The Buzz: So no special tools?
DF: Nothing special. No charging. Everything comes fully charged. All they do is slide the refrigerator out, set it on the floor, take the screws out, lay it down, pull the coils out of the back, put them back in, put the screws in, stand it up, slide it back in, and hook it all back up. Plus [you get the bonus that people are happy. They're proud of their product they finished. Like a talking about a house he painted himself.
The Buzz: How has the psychology or the mindset of an RVer or a do-it-yourselfer changed in the current time?
DF: Years ago back in the 60s, 70s and 80s everybody did their own stuff. They changed their own light bulbs. They changed their own toilets. They changed their own water heaters.
LM: Did their own brakes.
DF: They did the whole thing. Then there got to be a little bit more...I don't know...of a lazier style of individual. Maybe not necessarily a lazier style but husbands had to work, wives had to work. Nobody's there to do that job. They had to rely on [getting] it somewhere else. But then as things changed...everybody wants to go RVing now. Now they carry their refrigerator to the RV dealer to get it worked on. But it's going to be a month, six weeks before they can even get to it. But their vacation starts next week....and now we back to the do-it-yourselfer. They search for alternatives. I could do this myself. So they save money...and now they got more money to spend on their vacation. So back to being very happy. They really enjoy it and it works. It works no different than what a RV tech can do because they can take out a screw and put a screw back in...same as RV tech. Nothing special. No skills. No training.
The Buzz: You ran a shop for a while...
DF: I had a shop for 40-some years. I've retired. I've looked at all the new stuff and I see more and more trends of styling. That's what I look for. But if you really go back years ago, with these internal refrigerator styles, the looks stay [similar] on the outside, but the brains or functional part, the cooling part changes.
The Buzz: Can you talk about digital versus just practical?
DF: The only disadvantage is in electronics. Neither the RV tech nor the customer knows anything about it. So what they do? They change the whole part out. There's no repairing it. It's like a digital TV. You don't carry your TV to the shop to repair it. You throw it away and buy another one. It's kind of like the manufacturers have wanted to get into that throw-away design.
The Buzz: That's why the aftermarket's gotten so big lately.
DF: Right. Aftermarket is big, but you got to replace the part. Some things you can but the electronics and rewiring your PC boards and the circuitry, that's a different situation. It doesn't go into repair. Nobody repairs it.
The Buzz: We're talking about standards, right? When there's a certain standard, you can't cut corners. And that's sort of the part where RVIA comes in.
DF: It's the standard when I'm doing something correctly. Air conditioning, refrigeration...certain standards should be met, like ventilation, sealing...because with the cooling unit, there's real no wrong way of doing it. You simply want it air-tight and sealed, and you want to put it back like it was. But the cabinetry in which it was put in...85% of the RV industry doesn't build it correctly. They have plenty of room behind the refrigerator for heat to get out. But in refrigeration, you need air flow through the condenser fan, not heat. I always use the example, "You're a radiator. Your fan in front of the engine is not to blow air on the engine. It's to pull air in through the radiator, to keep your car running correctly." So say with refrigerators here...and sometimes an RV tech cuts corners...he won't correct that air gap. He won't air-tightly seal. He use tape over the seam to which works fine for a week or two. Then the customer comes in and says it's not [working]. You didn't get a bad cooling unit. It was bad installation...bad air flow through the condenser.
The Buzz: David...you're still interested in this sector, even after you retired. So that shows the passion there. Same with you Larry. Could you talk about what keeps you guys both engaged in what you do?
LM: Today was kind of something that really motivated me. I had a lot of the people we do business with that come. "Oh, we love your product. It's so great. It fits." That fires me up for another year. But I also, I enjoy the work. And just every once in a while, just hearing feedback of people that are totally satisfied with what we do.
The Buzz: And for you David?
DF: Well I've been coming to this show here for 48 years. I guess you get into a certain lifestyle of working and doing certain things you enjoy. And then, in the RV field, you'll get more fellowship from people. And if you do a good job or you have a good product, you get more even closer. And the people call up. I don't need to advertise.
The Buzz: The key to many businesses today though is word of mouth through online reviews...
LM: We don't have Internet so I don't follow that too much. But my brother, he thought it was really funny because somebody posted a negative comment about our product. This was a year ago. And he said 8 to 10 people commented right after that...and they were just like, "Hey, there's nothing wrong this." Now, I don't know what this guy's experience was. I mean, we try to do the best we can, but they defended us.
A graduate of New York University's Tisch School
Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim
has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde
Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct
craft beers among other things.
Make Sure To Check Out:
Pines RV Refrigeration, who provides re-manufactured and new RV cooling units for the discerning dealer as well as avid DIYer. All of their parts are American Made right here in Indiana.