Where best to place refrigeration assets

by Sebastian Hills. Store layout requires maximum planning for the best exposure for retail refrigeration units.

by Sebastian Hills. With the cost of refrigeration for retailers being substantial in terms of the OPEX costs and CAPEX costs, placing it instore for maximum exposure becomes important. Here are some considerations to factor in when planning your store layout. The first is to decide what type of refrigeration you require. These fall into two categories, i.e., remote cabinets and self-contained cabinets. Both have pros and cons and ultimately the right combination in your store can yield more profitability in terms of increasing your sales and decreasing your costs, if placed correctly.

To define these terms for clarity, remote cabinets are typically larger systems where the condensers and compressors are located at some distance from the cabinets themselves. For example, the isles of frozen food sections in supermarkets. These are built into the store and become permanent fittings with pipes circulating refrigerant through long lines. Self-contained cabinets on the other hand feature a system that is one integrated unit, i.e., plug and play. These are then able to be moved around.

Remote cabinets


  • More cooling – you can do more cooling using a remote system.
  • More variety – the complexity of remote systems allows for a variety of different temperatures needed by different foods.
  • Versatility – system can facilitate a variety of HVAC & R functions for the store.
  • Quite – less noise in store as well as no additional heat load to the store environment.
  • Customisation – diversity means that the sum of installed refrigerant capacity is less than the load of each cabinet combined.


  • Permanent feature – you are then not able to move these around to suit changing needs.
  • Greater risk – if the system goes down it can affect the entire cold chain in store.
  • Costly – the capital investment is large as this is driven by one system, so also costs to maintain by specialist providers.
  • Specialist technical personnel – requires a more specialised skill set to maintain it, i.e., engineers as opposed to technicians.
  • Leaks – leaks can lead to complete system downtime and massive amounts of lost refrigerant amounting to tens of thousands of rands.
Self-contained cabinets


  • Ease – units are plug and play, so easy to plug in and then after a few hours can refrigerate.
  • Flexibility – in terms of position, massive flexibility as can easily move to where needed.
  • Scope – scope for expansion is easier as you can invest in cabinets as needed.
  • Less risk – only one cabinet goes down in case of failure – not the entire store.
  • Only small amounts of refrigerant get lost in case of a leak.
  • Environmentally friendly refrigerant such as R290 are more cost effective in self-contained units.


  • Heat Load – due to the units being self-contained, they do contribute a heat load to a store when running.
  • Capacity – where a remote unit can focus on display within its footprint, a self-contained unit has to sacrifice some of its footprint to the condensing unit. This usually means a reduction in either visible display area or internal volume.
  • Energy intensive – not necessarily the case but normally in like for like comparisons. If there is a large refrigeration requirement, self-contained units can be more energy intensive to run compared to a remote / plant-based system.
  • Noise – self-contained units can be noisier due to the compressor and condenser fans being in the unit / store.

When considering these pros and cons, note can be taken that at a point in terms of the size of the store, it becomes more cost and energy effective to switch from primarily self-contained cabinets to remote units. In any retail space, deciding on the right combination between the two becomes critical, with often a marriage of the two to suit the retail space being the normal practice. Secondly, the decision is around where to place the combination of the units in store. Specialist companies such as refrigeration contractors should be consulted, to give you direction and guidance. Factors that will be considered are:

  1. External heat loads – i.e., the bakery department should not be close to refrigeration cabinets.
  2. Cold – you don’t want to make the environment too cold for shoppers.
  3. Open cases are sensitive to drafts and should not be placed close to entrances or drafty areas such as air conditioning vents.
  4. Power capabilities – the stores back of house and front of house should be well configured in terms of power. You don’t, for example, want extension cables running to power outlets.
  5. Drainage – remote cabinets may require plumbing for drainage.
  6. Space – where to place the remote condensing systems (e.g. on the malls roof etc).
  7. High traffic versus static areas – dependent on the expectant behaviour of your customers at certain points where units are to be placed, consideration should be given to whether a hinge door unit (door opens in the aisle – decide on hinge point, i.e., open to left or right or vice versa); or a sliding door unit (no intrusion into the aisle), is the best choice.
  8. Branding – decisions to make with regards the branding requirements of products inside the cabinets. Self-contained units give more scope for branding for example on the header panels. This can suit impulse purchases and drive more sales.
  9. Avoid the temptation to merchandise in front of condenser intake on self-contained units.

The store layout or changes to the store layout, requires maximum planning for the best / maximum exposure to ensure ongoing profitability.


Main image credit: Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash.


Sebastian (Seb) Hills is the Sales and Marketing Manager for Staycold International. His physics background, experience in hospitality retail management, catering and refrigeration; as well as an interest in all things mechanical and technical, allows for a unique perspective on problem solving and finding solutions for customers’ needs.





Staycold International is a sponsor on and with Retailing Africa, will be publishing a series of thought leadership articles on the refrigeration industry in South Africa and Africa. Staycold International is a South African refrigeration company which manufactures self-contained commercial fridges and freezers for South Africa and the African continent from their factory in Parys, South Africa. Their business began in 1979 in Parys, where their home base factory is still located; and where they manufacture units primarily for the beverage and hospitality industries. They have been running for over 40 years with the principles of quality, efficiency, performance, reliability and durability.


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