Until now, the humble cooler has been a functional product—a large plastic (or styrofoam) container that gets dragged along on camping trips and to tailgating parties to keep your beer cold. But Yeti’s new model, dubbed the V Series, will make you rethink the entire concept. It’s a gorgeous, shiny affair, made from stainless steel and equipped with vacuum insulation for 50% better thermal retention than the brand’s other coolers, which are already known for how long they stay cold. And with a price tag of $800, there’s no doubt that this is the world’s first ‘luxury’ cooler.
A beautiful high-end cooler might seem like an odd product to develop. But that’s kind of Yeti’s thing. The company has cultivated a cult-like following—and generates half a billion dollars in annual revenue—by selling premium versions of everyday insulated products, such as mugs, tumblers, lunch bags, and coolers. The company’s more basic coolers start at $250. That makes the brand significantly more expensive than Igloo and Coleman, but customers swear by Yeti’s durability. When locked, a Yeti cooler is literally grizzly-proof. And don’t take the founders’ word for it. Their coolers were put to the test by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and found to withstand a bear attack.
The brand was founded in 2006 in Austin by brothers Roy and Ryan Seiders, who were disappointed by the quality of the coolers they encountered. Ryan recalls once trying to stand atop a store-bought plastic cooler to cast his line on a fishing trip, and it crumbled beneath him. So the brothers set out to create a sturdier version. They found a factory in the Philippines that helped them craft a cooler body from powdered resin that is heated and spun—a process known as as rotomolding, which creates a hardier product. All of the cooler’s other components were made in a modular way, so that if something (such as a handle or the lid latch) breaks, it can be easily replaced. The very first cooler they created retailed for $300.
The brothers began selling their products through outdoor and hardware stores but had trouble gaining traction for the brand. For about a decade, Yeti tended to appeal primarily to people in need of heavy-duty coolers as they headed out on fishing and hunting trips. But around 2011, something began to change. The brand began to take off more broadly in the outdoors community and then spread to people who spend a lot of time at barbecues and tailgates. Yeti’s products began to be perceived as more than just durable; they carried the sheen of a luxury product. “At one point, the brand made a tumbler so they could give it away as a free gift with the cooler, but customers began asking us to sell the tumblers,” says Rob Murdock, Yeti’s SVP of direct-to-consumer, who oversaw the development of the Yeti V Series. “The tumblers became a kind of entry-level product into the brand, for people who couldn’t yet afford a cooler. That’s when it was clear that the brand had a real following.”
These days, the brand’s $40 water bottles and $25 mugs are increasingly popular, helping drive Yeti’s growth. According to Inc., the company’s sales grew from $5 million to $450 million between 2009 and 2015. The brand is sold everywhere from Whole Foods to REI. And last year, Yeti launched its own brick-and-mortar stores in Dallas and Chicago, with more coming, to strengthen its direct relationship with customers.
To keep accelerating this expansion—and stay one step ahead of competitors, who have since launched more durable coolers—the company is continuing to invest in product innovation—hence, an even more luxurious cooler. The Yeti V’s key feature is that its thin walls are equipped with vacuum insulation, a new feature for the company. (The mainline Yeti cooler has Permafrost insulation, which uses foam to keep contents cold.) As a result, this new cooler has the same capacity as the $350 Yeti 65 cooler but with a smaller physical footprint. But the Yeti V is also a gorgeous piece of equipment, with its glossy stainless steel exterior. It’s designed to fit beautifully with your boat, deck, and even upscale camping gear. And while $800 may seem like a steep price for a cooler, Yeti could be onto something, given how much people spend on, say, a status-symbol grill.
“It’s something you want to have out when you’re entertaining,” says Murdock. “It keeps your ice cold, and it’s supposed to look very good doing it.”
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