Yeti makes coolers. They’re very good coolers–they can keep ice for longer than the competition, they’re very sturdy, they can survive being mauled by a bear (a valid concern if you’re the sort of person who takes a cooler into the wilderness for a long enough time to need a Yeti)–but ultimately, they’re still just coolers. Which means that when it comes to furthering the connection the brand has to its customer base, Yeti tends to go hard.
To that end, they have an in-house content team that tells outdoor stories through film, text, and photos. They accessorize their coolers with hats, t-shirts, and other gear that lets fans show off their commitment to the outdoors via osmosis. And, when it came time to launch their first retail store, the goal was less “find a way to sell a lot of coolers to people who come inside” and more “create a permanent brand activation that allows people to interact with Yeti in ways that they’ll hopefully take with them in the future.”
That flagship store opens in Austin, Texas–Yeti’s hometown–on February 23. The store is located in an historic building just south of the city’s South Congress Bridge (the building was the only one on the block to survive a 1935 flood, a fact that the store honors by marking the high-water line throughout the store). And while you can buy a cooler there, the space was created with that being a secondary–or maybe even tertiary–goal.
“It’s meant to be much more of an immersive Yeti experience-it’s our version of Disneyland–than it is to be a transactional space,” explains Corey Maynard, Yeti’s Vice President of Marketing. “Yes, we’re selling coolers, and you can get drinkware and shirts and hats and stuff, but it was much more important to us that people could have fun with the Yeti brand and see it brought to life in the three-dimensional world than just be a place that’s driven by transaction.”
To accomplish that, Yeti didn’t tap an architecture or retail design firm to build them a cool store–rather, they turned to the brand’s longtime agency, McGarrah Jessee, to curate the shop.
What they came up with very much feels like a museum, complete with a variety of displays and marquee exhibits. It’s kind of a tiny natural history museum. There’s a boating exhibit, featuring a skiff built by angler fisherman Flip Pallot to navigate the shallow waters of Florida’s Hells Bay. The boat is on display, sitting in a resin replica of the muddy water of the everglades, complete with taxidermy redfish, stingrays, brown shrimp, blue crabs, and more. The BBQ exhibit features the backyard BBQ pit of legendary Austin pitmaster Aaron Franklin, along with a display that tells the story of Franklin’s own quest for smoked meat perfection. The “Yeti Vs.” exhibit includes a video of a Yeti cooler being dropped from great heights, exploded, and set on fire–as well as the cooler that survived (more or less) the experience. At the entry to the building, a 1989 BJ74 Land Cruiser that tracked the 148 miles of Arizona’s El Camino Del Diablo sits parked next to a national parks-looking sign display that tells its story.
That approach folds into the retail displays, too. The display for the Tundra–Yeti’s signature cooler–features half of a pickup truck, so visitors can get a feel for how much space a cooler takes up in a truck bed, and what it’s like to lift it up and put it in there. The Rambler display, which shows off the brand’s drink ware, is housed in a giant replica of what you’d see if you cut a Rambler mug in half. That sits right in front of the stage, which is set up for live music and presentations, with a custom-made neon display from Austin artist Evan Voyles. Also, there’s a giant taxidermy bear right in the store.
“We wanted to create a space within our hometown that could bring the brand to life, bring the company to life, and be a place where people in Austin could get together, hang out, have a cold beer, and experience a little more of the Yeti story,” Maynard says. “I like to think of it as like a children’s museum for Yeti, where there’s a lot of fun things that you can read, play with, and interact with.”
That’s a smart approach for Yeti, which has interesting territory to navigate. While they already feature a robust online store, the brand’s main customers are actually other retailers–and running the flagship store more like a museum than a place with a shopping imperative, Yeti suspects, will help them avoid stepping on toes.
“One of the success metrics for this store is truly less about sales and more about number of visitors. They’re gonna be focusing on how many people are walking through that door. It’s less about making sure everyone walks out with a piece of merchandise and more about how can we make sure that everyone who walks in has that Yeti experience,” explains Lucas Lane, Account Supervisor for McGarrah Jessee, who’s been working on the project since September 2015. “Because you really can buy these things anywhere.” There are some unique items to the store–a few t-shirt designs, and the opportunity for cooler customizations–but those are the exception to the rule. “In general, everything that’s available here is also available online, and in our other retail partners.”
The goal with the Yeti store, ultimately, is as a year-round brand activation that gives people a chance to interact with Yeti whenever they’re in Austin. To that end, it’s built to appeal to people who live in Austin, as well as visitors–the shop is located next to two hotels–and to attract both Yeti enthusiasts who might make a special trip to see the space as well as passers-by who are intrigued by the design (and the bar, which features a giant Texas flag display made of 12,000 bottle caps).
“Any brand that’s going to make an investment in a store has to have a pretty wide set of goals,” Lane says. “One of the challenges of something like this is how do you create a store that embodies your brand to where it’s intriguing and great for people who love your brand, and in our case are avid hunters and fishermen and outdoorspeople, but also not be so elite and exclusive that someone who’s just walking down the street won’t be incredibly bored when they walk in. So that’s why there are various levels of things that are super detailed, like the Land Rover exhibit, and also just really interesting, like having a bear in the store.”