Follett keeps Rainy Lake on ice
One might think the last thing an operator in northern Minnesota would worry about is not having enough ice, but it’s a big concern for Steve Lindberg, co-owner of Rainy Lake One Stop (International Falls, MN). Seven years ago, he and his wife Nora purchased the existing store, which sits on Highway 11, about four miles from International Falls on the way to Minnesota’s famous Rainy Lake and Voyagers National Park. The store’s claim to fame is that it’s “the only stop you need to make on your way to or from the lake.”
“Our customers are accustomed to us always having what they need,” says Lindberg, whose store offers a propane and an RV filling station, live bait, complete tackle and sporting goods shop, full grocery line, regional gifts and souvenirs, hunting and fishing licenses and, of course, ice. “For locals or visitors going fishing, we have everything they could possibly need,” Lindberg says. “If we don’t, it’s a long four miles back to town, so we make sure we’re ready for anything.”
While the Minnesota winters produce enough ice to give a polar bear a chill, the summer heat makes packaged ice a hot commodity. Lindberg might sell as many as 300 5-lb. bags a day when the tourists roll into town, so his cooler has to stay in stock. He used to purchase ice but realized it was costly, plus he constantly ran the risk of running out. Lindberg invested in an icemaker shortly thereafter so his staff could bag it themselves and he would never have to tell fishermen he’d run out of ice for their coolers. But none of his employees relished the chore: scooping load after load into bags they had to struggle to keep open, tying them off, loading them onto a cart and then trucking them to the cooler.
“Everyone in the store hated to bag ice; it was hard work,” says Lindberg. “We have a short summer season here in Minnesota and ice volume drops considerably [at season's end], but on those 90 degree days you can never have enough ice.”
About a year ago Lindberg spotted an advertisement for an automatic bagging and dispensing system from Follett Corp. (www.follettice.com/ice) called the Ice Pro. Once he looked through the literature the company had sent, he saw the system as a wise investment for his business.
The Follett Ice Pro, which has a storage bin capable of holding up to 1,000 lbs. of ice, automatically dispenses cubed ice into bags, carts or other receptacles at the touch of a button, eliminating the need to shovel or scoop ice from a bin. It includes a blower that “puffs” bags open for high-volume dispensing and a timer to fill bags to a consistent level quickly and easily—up to eight 10-lb. bags per minute. The system also features an automatic agitation cycle that prevents ice from forming bridges with two agitator bars to keep ice free-flowing.
“Before we got the Follett Ice Pro, we had to dedicate someone to bag ice,” says Lindberg. “Now my people enjoy [bagging] ice. And because the process is much simpler now, my staff can use their time to wait on customers or keep the store clean. The machine has a dual purpose: It’s eliminated the hassle factor and has given me my employees back.”
The Follett Ice Pro has given Lindberg the opportunity to increase his ice “presence,”— he’s become an ice wholesaler for the liquor store next to his property. This season his ice sales went up 50% compared to previous years, all while streamlining his operation.
“If [operators] sell 250 bags a week, they can add over $450 to their bottom line, and the return on the investment could be as quick as 18 to 20 months,” says Curt Gammer, product marketing manager for Follett Corp. “We offer a two-year warranty on the ergonomically designed product, and a labor savings because the machine is six times faster than scooping by hand.”
Based on the equipment Lindberg already had, his investment for the ice bin and dispenser was about $8,900. It’s an investment he’s not only seeing returned to his bottom line, but it’s made a world of difference to his employees.
“The Follett Ice Pro has fit the bill for my business,” he says. “The machine is so userfriendly; for the young adults in my stores, it’s safe and easy to use. The biggest benefit is not having to fight with anyone to go back and fill ice bags. Now it gets done with no hassle.”