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Detective work returns product to market

John Seelmeyer

Behind every start-up, there’s a story.

Few are as good as the one told by Ben and Barbara Bachman: The Gardnerville couple was preparing to leave on vacation with their travel trailer last August.

They learned their Recair evaporative cooler that’s a “swamp cooler” to most of us didn’t work.

The guys at Carson RV told them the manufacturer of the cooler had gone out of business a couple of years earlier, and there was no hope of getting parts.

Which for most folks would be the end of the story.

Not so for Ben Bachman.

“I’m always looking for opportunities,” he said a few days ago.

“By the time we pulled out of the parking lot, I told Barbara we needed to look into this.”

Some Internet sleuthing by Barbara found that the cooler manufacturer had, indeed, gone out of business after its founder died.

The couple tracked down the founder’s widow who lived near Jackson, Calif., a short hop over the Sierras.

Not much was left of Recair just the molds for its plastic parts.

But those molds created the eight key components of the Recair cooler, and the Bachmans bought them from the California woman.

Eight components, no matter how key, are only the skeleton to a piece of equipment created with about 100 parts.

Enter Guy Gardner, president of Quality Plastics in Sparks.Working with the Bachmans, Gardner figured out that the molds could be refurbished to make new parts.

“They’re in great shape,” he said recently.

“They’ll go for 200,000 more parts.”

And Gardner joined the Bachmans in tracking down suppliers for the other 90- plus parts involved in making the cooler a job that took seven months.

Little of it was easy.

A 10-inch bolt? Ben Bachman spent weeks looking for a source of precisely the right bolts, finally discovering an outfit in Florida that could make them.

“From the beginning, every door has opened for us miraculously,” he said.

Meanwhile, the couple put together a new company Bachman Enterprises Inc.

and developed marketing materials for the product they renamed “TurboKOOL.” By mid-April nine months after the couple discovered their swamp cooler didn’t work they shipped their first TurboKOOL unit.

Like most entrepreneurs, the Bachmans have high hopes.

At its peak in the early 1990s, the Recair cooler appears to have sold about 5,000 units a year.

“I know there’s that much market out there,” Ben Bachman said, adding that the RV market has tripled in size since the Recair’s peak.

Barbara Bachman said the company’s marketing focuses on the West evaporative coolers don’t work well in the humid parts of the nation and emphasizes that the $549 TurboKOOL is a 12- volt system unlike the 110-volt systems that run RV air conditioners.

Then, too, the cooler can be solar-powered.

To the surprise of the Bachmans, many of the early orders came from RV dealers looking for replacement parts.

The couple estimates as many as 40,000 Recair units may be installed on RVs.

Busy as the little company has been lately, Ben Bachman said its owners also recognize that theirs is a highly seasonal business.

That’s why the Bachmans are working hard with export officials in the U.S.

Commerce Department to develop markets for their cooler in Australia and South Africa two RV-crazy countries where the season is opposite that of the northern hemisphere.

The TurboKOOL is a nice piece of business, too, for Quality Plastics, which will handle much of the manufacturing and assembly Gardner projects the cooler business ultimately could boost his company’s revenues by 20 percent a year.

In the meantime, he delights in the engineering expertise represented by a product with one moving part created a quarter century ago.

The creator of the cooler, he said, “was a real genius.

And he’s been watching out for us.”