The origins of ice vending and Kooler Ice.
The ice vending industry effectively started in Georgia in 2003.
Until the introduction of ice vending machines, packaged ice was purchased in front of a retail store or inside a grocery store. Customers had to wait in line to purchase ice and then deal with ice that was clumped into big blocks from thawing and re-freezing due to the ice boxes being opened and closed by customers. After buying ice, customers had to slam the bag of ice on the ground in order to be able to render it useful to use in a cooler – let alone in a beverage! In addition, customers had no idea how long the ice had been sitting in the freezers, and so stale tasting, freezer burned ice was not uncommon. For years, customers accepted this because there was no other option available for buying packaged ice in bulk.
With the introduction of ice vending machines, a major disruption in packaged ice had begun! Entrepreneurs and retailers saw that the packaged ice business had the ability to change and that ice vending would revolutionize the way people bought their ice for years to come! Customers would now have access to fresh, high quality bagged ice, 24/7. The ice industry would never be the same!
Kooler Ice started in Montezuma, Georgia back in 2007. Partners, Kerry Seymour and Jeff Dyson opened up their company after seeing larger ice houses popping up around Southern, Georgia. After studying the market, similar to “Red Box Videos” they realized that ice vending was disruptive technology. However, they also realized, that the larger machines being introduced at the time, were too expensive, too large, too complicated and costly to operate. So they set out to design a machine that was simpler, smaller and more efficient to operate with the goal of providing owners a higher return on investment. Today Kooler Ice is the leader in Ice Vending with the most innovative and expansive product line in the world!
In July 2007, Kooler Ice introduced their first ice vending machine – the KI810. The design of the machine was revolutionary. It was smaller, easier to operate and maintain, and more energy efficient than the large units that were available, with an aesthetically pleasing, clean design. In addition, the price point for owning a machine was a fraction of the cost of the larger units. Seymour also saw a potential safety issue with having ice delivered from a chute without a bag, so Kooler Ice decided that their machine must automatically bag the ice to keep the product sanitary, as well as for consumer convenience. So they invested in the research and development of the bagging system. The KI810 was the smallest ice vending machine that automatically bagged ice, but was also highly productive and more energy efficient to improve the owners return on investment. And, it was highly successful.
Seymour and Dyson were still working on a design to make the machine even more energy efficient so that its profitability could be even stronger, and they designed and introduced the first KI810 model without a refrigeration unit in Fall 2008. This idea came from the recognition that it was cheaper to make the ice, than try to keep it frozen in the bin. By removing the refrigeration unit and replacing it with a specialized and well-insulated bin, utility costs were dramatically reduced – increasing owner profitability. And, it was an additional “earth-friendly” step for the ice vending industry.
Although the KI810 machine was “smart” using messages and alerts on an LED screen that advised owners and customers about the machine, Kooler Ice found that its owners wanted more detail and information and didn’t want to have to physically go to the machine to get it, which led to Kooler Ice to develop a partnership with Prism Systems in Mobile, Alabama. We worked extensively with Prism to develop the first remote monitoring system for ice vending machines which allowed owners to access machine information from a smart phone or computer. This feature was a huge time saver for owners since they no longer had to go to the machine to find out that something needed attention. The monitoring system automatically sent alerts to them if the machine was out of bags, out of ice, etc. In addition, they could also monitor their sales! This feature allows our owners to work more efficiently so they spend less time at the machine, again, increasing their return on investment and enhancing their ownership experience. Kooler Ice became the first and only manufacturer to introduce its own iPhone application. Since this time, Kooler Ice has worked with Prism to continually improve and add to the features of the system that we now call “IceTalk”. In the summer of 2013, Kooler Ice and Prism Systems were awarded the Siemens Customer Excellence award for Innovation from their accomplishments using Siemens electronics. We continue to lead the industry in our extensive remote monitoring features today.
Kooler Ice has always prided itself on listening to the wants and needs of its owners. After getting customer feedback from various markets, Kooler Ice designed a filtered water vending feature which could be built into the same ice vending unit to allow owners to add water sales through the same unit very affordably. Recognizing that some areas of the country had poorer water quality than others, Kooler Ice also offered an RO (Reverse Osmosis) water vending system to improve the water and ice quality in those areas. Because ice and filtered water are naturally compatible, this was an easy and cost efficient way to offer Kooler Ice owners another income source through the same machine, again increasing their potential return on investment.
Kooler Ice introduced the IM1000 ice vending machine. The design of this machine was completely different from the original KI810 because it was designed with retailers and businesses in mind. It had all of the cost efficient features of the KI810, but it was designed to look like a soft drink machine (on steroids!). It was the first machine that Kooler Ice designed using Lexan graphics for a sharper look, as well as for ease of cleaning. Its design was intended to aesthetically blend cleanly with a storefront with its more contemporary design. Shortly after it was introduced, Kooler Ice back-lit the graphics on the Lexan so that the machine could be seen more easily at night to help increase its presence and its ability to be seen from the road. The Lexan graphics that we used on this machine were so well received that Kooler Ice now uses Lexan graphics on all of its machines.
Because of the success of its product line, Kooler Ice relocated to Byron, Georgia to occupy a 30,000 sq.ft. facility to accommodate its increased production needs. Kooler Ice’s Vice President of Operations, Bob Fosson, designed the new facility to be a state of the art, lean manufacturing facility and oversaw the training of the plant employees so that everyone was focused on building the highest quality products available. Our dedicated work force is a big part of Kooler Ice’s success!
Kooler Ice introduced the IM2500 ice vending machine. It is our largest and most productive unit to date. In designing this product, Seymour still kept the smallest footprint possible in mind, but designed the unit so that it could accommodate additional ice makers, which could also be installed in the field, depending on the needs of the owner. This unit is the closest in size and capacity to our larger competitors. Hoever, this model allows owners to purchase the unit with one or two ice makers initially, but expand and contract their production (and therefore their utility use) as the season and production needs dictate – affordably. It has quickly become our best selling unit due to its more modest size, energy and space efficiency, and high productivity. And, consumers find the look of the machine more aesthetically pleasing because of the graphics design. Its presence is not an eyesore to the community. This unit can also be equipped with a water vending station as well!
Kooler Ice introduced the new IM500. This model was designed to have a trimmer depth to fit on the sidewalk of storefronts, allowing for more sidewalk space and more efficient traffic flow with the unit. Its size was designed to fit in the space of the businesses ice freezers to seamlessly replace their current ice delivery system, allowing business owners to retail their own ice and fix their ice costs into the future (which were previously affected by rising fuel and labor costs). It was also an ideal solution for locations that wanted to affordably add ice as a secondary income stream to maximize their revenue from their high visibility location, but had limited space available. The IM500 is our lowest priced machine in our model lineup.
Due to the continued growth and sales in the ice vending business, Kooler Ice began another plant expansion which will increase the facility from 30,000 sq.ft. to 45,000 sq.ft., providing additional production capacity, a larger parts warehouse, and the addition of a R&D area where Seymour and his team can continue their work on future product innovations. Our machine owners keep telling us what they would like to have – and we keep listening and incorporating new features and improvements into our designs. Today our models are the top selling ice vending machines in the world.
Kooler Ice introduces the first industrial-sized, non-retail ice and water dispenser, the Hydration Pro. The Hydration Pro becomes the first ice and water dispenser made with the ability to go indoors or outdoors. The Hydration Pro comes standard with a 550lb ice storage bin and it can dispense ice and filtered water into various container sizes from a 1-quart personal container to a 10 gallon water cooler With ease-of-use in mind, we designed the Hydration Pro so that all users have to do is push the ice button continuously to dispense ice and the water button continuously to dispense purified water. The Hydration Pro large capacity heavy duty design allows companies to hydrate their employees for a fraction of the cost compared to buying bagged ice or storing and taking delivery of 5-gallon water bottles. Kooler Ice’s Hydration Pro is a low-cost way to hydrate your employees!
Kooler Ice introduces the IM600 and IM600XL, the smallest, most productive ice and water vending machines in the Industry. The key design criteria for the IM600 was to allow the unit to be easily placed out in front of a retail center, with as small a footprint as possible, realizing ADA was becoming more and more important in the ice vending industry. The IM600 was designed to allow for ADA access since the unit is only 3’ deep and 4’7” wide. This compact design makes placement easier, while still boasting a 550lb insulated ice storage bin that holds 50 10+lbs of ice ready to vend every morning. The IM600XL was also introduced at the same time. The IM600XL is 17” wider than the IM600 to allow for a water station and reverse osmosis filtration system with a storage tank. At 6’ wide, the IM600XL offers both purified ice and purified water, all in one machine! When it comes to production, both machines can produce as much at 90+ 10lb bags of ice per day depending on the ice maker chosen. Since being introduced, the IM600/IM600XL quickly became a standard in the ice and water vending industry!
Kooler Ice introduced the IM1500 Ice Vending Machine. The IM1500 was designed to provide owners with a machine that is very productive with the ability to add a 2nd ice maker at a later date while still keeping the footprint relatively small. The IM1500 offers a 1500 lb vaccuum formed, double walled, insulated ice storage bin and can be equipped with one or two 1900 lb. Scotsman Ice Makers. The IM1500 can fit in one parking space, comes equipped with a high efficiency LED lighting package, easy to clean high gloss lexan and the best monitoring system on the market. The unit was designed with a water vending station and reverse osmosis water filtration system as well. The IM1500 quickly became the number one selling ice vending machine in the world.
Throughout this growth process, Kooler Ice has had one goal – to provide owners with the most reliable, durable and innovative machine in the industry, and to support its owners to the highest standards possible!”
It is this philosophy that has made the Kooler Ice brand of ice vending machines the best value for its owners. And we couldn’t have grown and advanced to where we are now without them (and you!)