Today, it is impossible to imagine a world without refrigeration. From the upright units at our local store to massive warehouses safeguarding the food we eat by storing it at precise temperatures, refrigeration is a marvel we take for granted. And for the past eighty years, Master-Bilt has dedicated itself to designing and manufacturing systems and solutions for a vast range of needs.
Master-Bilt was founded in St. Louis back in 1938 to make milk canister coolers for dairies and relocated to New Albany, in Mississippi’s Union County, almost six decades ago. The company has since increased its manufacturing space and office to about 500,000 square feet and has approximately four hundred staff, depending on the season. A team of workers handles welding, fabrication, solder work, copper bending, electrical, and everything that goes along with assembling refrigeration devices. Master-Bilt is a great deal more than another company: it is an institution that has proudly served its community for decades.
“I feel fortunate to be part of Master-Bilt, a company that has been around for eighty years,” says long-time employee Lynn Burge. “We have good leadership and the ability to sustain it. We have built up a lot of good relationships over the years and have had some customers for thirty years. I think that is a testament to our desire and ability to service our customers, and that’s one of the great standout things about Master-Bilt.”
Burge, who serves as Master-Bilt’s advertising and promotions manager, has been with the business for twenty-three years and says there is a tremendous amount of longevity and pride among the company’s employees. This includes third-generation staff in New Albany, which has been home to the successful refrigeration business for almost sixty years. “It’s interesting, the recognition we get within the United States as a brand, but also the recognition we receive locally as having sustained the community. We have been at this location since 1961.”
Echoing Burge’s sentiments is Chris Karssiens, Master-Bilt’s vice president of sales and customer service who says the company’s longevity and reputation for quality and customer services are key factors in its ongoing success. “There’s not that many eighty-year-old companies in our industry,” comments Karssiens. “History is very important, and it brings depth and color to the brand name. The Master-Bilt brand is very well-known in our industry and is up there with the top brands in terms of recognition. On top of that, we have an enormous customer base that have used and continue to use our products.”
Master-Bilt works with clients to find the right solution for their refrigeration needs. The company has two divisions of its business; it makes walk-in coolers and freezers all the way up to drive-in refrigerated warehouses, and the associated refrigeration systems to go with them. On the other side of the business, it manufactures refrigerated cabinets.
The company is active in many markets and does much business in what is called small footprint retail. Drug stores and other retail outlets, for example, have glass door merchandisers to sell cold foods and beverages. Master-Bilt also produces prep tables used for pizza and sandwich preparation, upright refrigerators, display refrigeration, refrigerated cases, ice cream and gelato cabinets both for storing ice cream and displaying ice cream cakes and ice cream dipping. In fact, Master-Bilt is only one of very few companies that manufactures and sells both walk-in refrigeration and cabinet refrigerators.
The company is able to take on massive projects and is currently quoting an $800,000 distribution warehouse for refrigerated food storage, which will have a frozen section in the middle of it.
Its reach extends well beyond the foodservice industry for clients of all sizes. It also manufacturers refrigeration units for use by well-known chemical companies, the medical sector for applications such as blood plasma storage and morgues, and for technology firms for computer systems, chip manufacturing, and server rooms.
In many countries, soaring rents have forced retailers, restaurants, and other businesses to maximize the use of the room they have as much as possible. By listening to its customers and their needs, Master-Bilt is creating space-saving refrigeration products designed for the greatest possible efficiency. Durable and efficient products like the PRS-2 series refrigeration systems combine the condensing unit and evaporator coil together in one package – saving time and installation costs – and are designed to maximize storage space, since the evaporator section mounts flush. Other models, such as undercounter refrigerators and freezers, are able to integrate into existing kitchen counters due to their refrigeration system design. Chef bases also help maximize space in that an oven can be stacked on top with the base providing refrigerated storage space beneath.
“The more you can do with less space is always going to be in demand,” says Karssiens, “so we try our best to develop products that you can store more in at the same or less square footage in terms of what it uses in floor space. All manufacturers of commercial-grade cooking and refrigeration equipment are looking to do the same thing, and we consider ourselves to be right on top of that game. The use of our products will give you as high or higher utility per square foot of floor space, as compared to any of our competitors.”
Along with customer demands to maximize space, there is an ongoing push from government to use more environmentally-friendly refrigerants and make products more energy efficient. For businesses such as retailers, restaurants, and refrigerated warehouses, lower energy use is not only better for the planet but the bottom line.
Master-Bilt’s product line includes many features and options to assist with energy efficiency – for example, Energy Star qualified models which may be eligible for rebate programs, LED lighting, used in many models to lower electricity costs, digital alarms to alert employees when a door is left open, standard four-inch thick walls and optional five or six-inch thick walls for walk-in coolers and freezers, thermal breaks to minimize heat transfer, and other energy-saving initiatives. The refrigerators are cooled via scroll compressors – which are fifty percent more reliable than reciprocating types and up to twenty percent more efficient.
One of the most outstanding options is the Master Controller Reverse Cycle Defrost system, which is used with Master-Bilt walk-in cooler and freezer refrigeration systems. The Master Controller works to increase food safety. It completely removes frost build-up in coils and works much faster than electric defrost heaters. Its patented design also saves up to 27 percent more energy than an all-mechanical system.
Master-Bilt knows refrigeration inside and out, as the company also manufactures its own refrigeration. “Some walk-in companies buy out all of their refrigeration; Master-Bilt builds its own refrigeration,” states Karssiens. “The benefit is we can custom-design and build to the customers’ specs. And we can build refrigeration to match customer needs across a wide variety of markets.”
Rack refrigeration systems are another area of expertise that sets Master-Bilt apart. Rack systems combine all the refrigeration capacity needed for a business location into one system which is typically located next to a building or on a roof. Customers benefit from the improved energy efficiency, reduced in-store noise and lower installation costs.
The company sells through a dealer network and also directly to a few accounts. The company supports independent manufacturers’ representatives throughout North and South America with over 20 independent manufacturing representative organizations that help create demand for Master-Bilt products.
“We are a service-based company. We’ve been at it a long time, and I think that’s worth a lot,” says Burge. “We built our own refrigeration systems here, and we’ve got folks in our plant who have decades of experience. They are very highly skilled, and we have a lot of expertise in refrigeration system design. There are other companies that have that, but not to the degree that we do.”