The Inverter Service Center is now serving the boat and RV owners of the southwest Florida area with its brand new location in Fort Myers. With two locations in the southeast region of the United States, the Inverter Service Center has over 80 years of combined experience in technical systems for boats, RV’s and Solar Power systems. The Inverter Service Center is a one-stop-shop resource for installation and inverter system projects.
When you bring your project or repair to the Inverter Service Center, you can be certain that you’re in the hands of inverter and electrical system specialists – not generalists. The Fort Myers Inverter Service Center is under the leadership and management of Ray Barbee, who has over 25 years of experience of working in the inverter system industry beginning as a shareholder with Trace Engineering. Ray has experience working on projects and training others in over 75 countries around the world, while being recognized as one of the Solar Pioneers in the U.S. Ray works alongside his son Jesse, who serves as a repair technician and has 4 years of experience working in solar power for one of the leading manufacturers in the solar industry, Midnite Solar, prior to joining Inverter Service Center.
As electrical system experts and an Authorized Warranty Service Center for most major inverter brands, the Inverter Service Center is now able to offer Florida customers experiencedinverter repair service for their inverter system problems. From in-house warranty work to complimentary over-the-phone technical support and design consultations for inverter and electrical systems, Inverter Service Center can help. We also stock the products from industry-leading manufacturers for inverters, battery chargers, complete electrical system packages and more.
Stop by and say hello to Ray and the team at the shop located just off of Alico Road & I-75 at 16130 Lee Road in Suite 140, or reach them by phone at (615) 285-0611. Business hours are from 8Xam-5Xpm Monday through Friday.
Navigating the marine industry has brought its challenges, but Matt Harvey has never looked back. Born and raised a stone’s throw from Marysville Marine Distributors (MMD) in Port Huron, Mich., he didn’t expect life would bring him full circle 33 years later.
It all began in high school auto shop where he started working on cars. His first inclination was toward automotive, but his dad and his dad’s friends owned boats. So he started working on those.
He found that marine engines were a lot cleaner than car engines. Plus, “it was a whole lot more fun being around boats,” Matt said, so he decided to pursue the marine industry.
To that end, he stopped by a local marina where his dad stored his boat, asking if they had any openings. “I would have been happy scrubbing boat bottoms to get my foot in the door,” he said. After months of coming in, the marina owner said, “If you’re serious about going into this business, here’s what you need to do.
“There’s this guy who works for me. He went to this school in northern Minnesota. He can tell you about it.”
In walks Brian Hunter. For those of you who don’t know Brian, he’s been the Branch Manager of our Wisconsin location since 1998 and a Marysville Marine employee since 1984.
Brian was working at the marina where Matt so desperately wanted to work. “You should go to this school. Here’s the number,” Brian said. (Matt rattled off the actual number like it was yesterday!)
Matt wrote to the school. They sent him a catalog. The application was on the back cover of the catalog; you filled it out, tore it off and sent it in. (Boy, those were pre-Internet days!) Matt’s parents drove him to Detroit Lakes, Minn. where he attended the one-year tech program for marine technology. That was spring 1983.
“Brian has been one of those constants in my life. If it weren’t for Brian Hunter, I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d be doing,” Matt said.
The technical school was one of the few schools graduating trained technicians. Marinas around the United States knew about it. When he graduated a year later, there were over 85 job postings for 12 graduates. Matt always wanted to live out west. So when the opportunity presented itself, he followed his desire.
To Reno and Back
His first job was in Reno, Nev. where he worked for a season on Lake Tahoe. It was a fun time in his life. He moved back to the Midwest and worked for a big marine dealership in Illinois as service manager. After three years, Matt yearned to come back to Port Huron and start his own marine repair business.
He partnered with a guy who worked with him at the Illinois dealership. Thirty-one (31) years later, Pro Marine, the business they started is still thriving, but life for Matt had other plans.
Rod Smith, founder and Mark Knust, his son-in-law, reached out to Matt about coming to work for MMD.
As an owner of a marine repair business, Matt bought parts from MMD regularly. They wanted to open a branch in Nashville. The luxury houseboat industry in southern Kentucky was growing and, as a Westerbeke generator distributor, expanding into the South represented a growth opportunity. With inventory close by, they could better serve the majority of their houseboat customers.
Inverter Service Center Evolves
Inverter Service Center (ISC) evolved out of the Nashville location. MMD served the marine customer, but word got around to the bus and coachbuilders. Bus builders knew MMD had the switchgear and electrical components they needed. They came to rely on them for parts and, over time, inverter sales and support.
In 1991, Trace Engineering reached out to MMD because they represented the Westerbeke product to the houseboat manufacturers. It made sense seeing how generators and inverters complement each other on larger houseboats. Once MMD had their foot in the door, the bus builders started coming to them because they use inverters on luxury entertainer coaches.
Because inverters are electrical, it was easy to blame them for electrical issues on the coaches. Customers would return new inverters saying they were defective. MMD would box up the product and ship it back to Trace in Washington State. Trace would then test the inverter and find nothing wrong.
“We decided to test the inverters ourselves before shipping them off,” Matt said. “We were able to help the customer understand the problem and save a lot of time and money wasted on freight.” This is about the time PJ Gonzalez stepped up.
PJ started tinkering with things. Then, as the product changed and became more field serviceable, he was a natural fit for that role. From there, the business exploded and ISC was born. The company hit its stride in 2001 when they moved into their current White House, Tenn. location. At that time, ISC had grown to the point it was a three-person operation and was moved to another location due to space constraints.
On boats that don’t have a big electrical load, boaters will use an inverter. This allows them to run lights, the refrigerator, the ice maker, and so on. There’s no noise, no fumes, no wear and tear on the generator. An inverter doesn’t take the place of a generator; it’s a great accessory because it works well with a generator.
With advances in technology, inverters are becoming commonplace. You can put them in your car or truck. A lot of new cars come with inverters as standard accessories.
Opening a Florida location (slated for early 2019) lends itself to a lot of growth opportunity. “Boating is a lifestyle there more so than any other region in the country,” Matt said.
Coming Full Circle
Matt left MMD and worked for two different companies. One was Gibson Boats building fiberglass houseboats. The other was Forever Resorts overseeing boat and marine components manufacturing. Those experiences have been invaluable in giving him the tools necessary to stay competitive in a tough industry.
“I look back at my time away and don’t regret the move. If I hadn’t left, I would not have gained experience and knowledge in operations, manufacturing and business administration. Things that prepared me for my role today.
“Leaving equipped me to step into this role and to lead MMD to the next level,” Matt said.
Make no mistake. Matt has faced challenges.
Mark Knust owner and president of MMD approached Matt in the fall of 2015 about returning to MMD and running the company. They planned to continue talking after the first of the year. Matt didn’t expect the role to be thrust upon him.
“When Mark died unexpectedly in early January 2016, that expedited the whole process,” Matt said. When the founder, Rod Smith, died five months later, “it was tough; he was like a father to me.”
With the support and goodwill of the extended family, Matt and his wife, Shelly, moved back to Port Huron to continue the legacy of two great friends.
A Man on a Mission
Matt’s mission is to harness the company’s technical expertise and its great reputation to reach more people and grow the business.
“I’m committed to reaching new markets with all the things that make Marysville Marine great — our technical expertise, our people and the great line of products we represent,” Matt said. “I want to be that company who cares, who listens and who helps.”
Here’s a parting leadership nugget from Matt:
“Be humble, hungry and smart. Help people find what they need, go above and beyond, always look for the good in people and opportunities.
“Every day is a gift. No one’s guaranteed a tomorrow.”
Early in the development of the solar power era in the U.S., everyone knew everybody. Ray Barbee found himself on the ground floor of a new industry. A small manufacturing company, Trace Engineering, had designed a product which advanced inverter technology making it accessible to the average person. Ray became an early employee. He parlayed his aviation electronics experience gained in the Marine Corps into a 10-year career with Trace.
But that was just the beginning.
After only a few short months, the company promoted Ray to Customer Service Manager. Within a year he was also given the opportunity to start their Mobile Division, (boats, RVs, & mobile power). Early in 1993, he crossed paths with Marysville Marine Distributors (MMD) who became one of Trace’s wholesale distributors. When Matt Harvey opened the Nashville location, he became Ray’s advocate. (Matt is now President of MMD.) As he was growing the Middle Tennessee branch, Ray was growing the Mobile Division for Trace, and MMD became Trace Engineering’s largest East Coast distributor.
More on Ray’s new role with MMD later in our story.
The Solar Pioneers Get Their Start
In fact, when anyone in the solar/renewables industry wanted to know something about inverters, they would call Ray. The industry was small and tight-knit. Recently, when industry veterans formed The Solar Pioneers to document and honor those early solar industry people, they invited Ray to join. The two founders, Jeff Spies and Jason Vetterli, wrote and directed a documentary, Solar Roots, inviting Ray to be a part, given his history within the industry as an “Inverter Pioneer.”
The film debuted November 2017 and “tells the story of how a small group of backwoods engineers and business hippies brought solar photovoltaic technology down from space into homes around the world.”
You can read about the evolution of the industry and the history of the project here. They hope to release the film for distribution within a year.
Ray’s Excellent Inverter Adventure Continues
By the time Ray left Trace Engineering, he held the title of Director of Customer Service. He was also the managing director of the mobile division. Ray was now part of a thriving business, managing more than 60 people within a multi-million dollar company. He continued his journey in the inverter industry when Trace sold to Xantrex in 2000.
It was the beginning of the renewable energy market. Both Outback Power and Magnum Energy emerged as startups founded by former Trace employees.
Ray’s five years at Xantrex took him all over the world, establishing backup power in third world countries.
Ray left the solar industry for a few years to lead a company to build houseboats. When Schneider Electric bought Xantrex, they tapped Ray to head up their battery-based products (mobile, RV, marine, backup, renewable) group. He left Schneider in early 2015 then spent a brief time working with Outback Power.
Coincidentally, Matt Harvey called about the same time. (We told you it was a small tight-knit community.) He laid out plans for a Florida expansion of Marysville Marine and Ray was on board.
Leading the Charge for Inverter Services Expansion
Here’s where Ray sees the industry headed and why he wants to lead the charge in our expansion:
I see true growth potential in distributed generation combined with some type of power storage technology. Typically, we assume this is solar, maybe wind, small-scale hydro, or some type of biomass, tied to storage or batteries.
But it could also be other technologies scaled to fit the local need, being created and used in the same place. You would need to define ‘local’ in this statement – perhaps a single home, or a village. But it would not include a public utility using a distribution web of wires to bring it to a needed location.
The electronic/power side of technology can – and is – advancing at an incredible pace, and will easily keep up with the development of new storage technologies. But the most used storage technology today is some variation of the same lead-acid technology that we’ve had since the early 1900’s.
Lithium is now gaining ground quickly and will probably overtake lead-acid at some point, but there is still a lot of development required for that to happen on a larger scale. There are also things like zinc-air being advanced for that type of use, as well as many other potential technologies.
Some of these new technologies can produce AC power, but most produce DC – and, remember that you cannot ‘store’ AC power for use later. Storage only happens with DC power, so there will always be a need for some conversion technology, i.e. inverters – and the advancement of the pacing item in development of all of this today is the storage. We need better batteries.
Why Choose Inverter Service Center
“What Inverter Service Center offers that not a lot of other companies can is to provide both stock on the shelves and technical expertise. There are a lot of electricians who understand AC; there are a lot of mechanics who understand DC well. Not many people understand both. Our service technicians do,” said Ray.
And we are always happy to take the time to assist our customers in understanding their systems better. If you need help with power inverter repair or systems design advice, just give us a call.
From a young age, PJ Gonzalez, Manager, Inverter Service Center, had an aptitude for fixing things. Anything having to do with tools or technology inspired his curiosity. “I was the type of kid who would take the phone apart.” (Just ask his Dad.)
As you would expect, he’s a hands-on kind of guy. Each day brings something new. From handling IT issues to working on a van or taking online orders, PJ prefers to be doing a variety of things.
He started in the marine and RV industry in the mid-90s, getting to know electrical systems inside and out. Over time, he naturally gravitated toward inverters and generators. He found working on entire electrical systems more gratifying than handling a number of non-electrical smaller repair projects.
While running his own service business, PJ started doing warranty work for Marysville Marine Distributors (MMD) South. Matt Harvey, Branch Manager (and now President), liked his work ethic and hands-on know-how and offered him a job!
So in January 1999, PJ left self-employment behind and became part of the MMD family.
Inverter Services Grow Organically
The company sold inverters as well as marine parts and accessories. The inverter repair and service part of the business grew organically. They would sell an inverter and get one in for repair. Trace Engineering, based in Washington state, was the early market-leading technology, but it took at least 10 days to turn around most repair jobs.
Long lead times on repairs didn’t provide the best customer experience, so PJ decided to start testing the inverters that came in for repairs. Once he started testing, “the curiosity thing kicked in.” What he found were simple fixes and began making repairs in-house. When Trace learned what he was doing, they invited PJ out to their facility to be trained on their equipment. Thus, the first Inverter Authorized Service Center was born.
For those of you familiar with the early days of renewables and solar power, it was a tumultuous time. As the market dramatically increased and mergers and acquisitions became the norm, new manufacturers and products began emerging. All the products needed service and repair as well, and business quadrupled as a result. Within a year, PJ and his crew outgrew their space. Inverter Service Center was born.
Technology Advances Inverter Applications
While the inverter as a basic product hasn’t changed much since those early days, the technological advances have been massive, PJ said.
For example, “with renewables and grid interactivity, an inverter can take solar power and pump it back into the grid and basically sell it back to the grid. Or you can take solar power and offset what you’re using from the grid. Also, smart technology allows for that to happen ‘intelligently.’ Hubs with a GUI interface give you a way to access the system via a web browser and make changes to the system.”
Inverter Service Day In and Day Out
Inverter Service Center doesn’t engage in system design but instead has stayed laser-focused on their niche market. They repair and service inverters day in and day out. They’ve stayed true to doing what they do well, and it shows in their reputation.
What they will do is guide their customer in the right system design and supply the correct components, such as solar panels, breakers, wire, including an inverter.
If you need help with backup power or creating a balanced power system for your home, business, RV, boat, specialty truck, or even your hunting cabin, give PJ at Inverter Service Center a call at 800-621-1271. He and his team are always happy to answer your technical questions.
The Inverter Service Center will be posting regular tech related articles. Stay tuned for some interesting and/or useful information. In the coming months, you’ll also see some new tech videos. Instead of the conventional long video showing everything related to an item, we will make them short, to the point, and easy to search and find exactly what your looking for!