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The YETI Story

Ryan Seiders handles a fishing rod like Harry Potter does a wand.
We're floating down the Colorado River near Austin, and our guide points toward a submerged log and instructs us to cast just beyond it and retrieve the lure slowly. Seiders flicks a wrist and bull's-eyes the spot with a plastic worm. A couple of cranks later and he is hooked into a five-pound largemouth bass. A few minutes after that, his younger brother Roy gets into one. "Football," Roy yells, as a fat bass flies into the air and is urged toward the boat.
Not bad for a Tuesday afternoon in October. And it beats work. Or maybe it is work. Hard to tell. The whole idea behind Yeti, the company that the pair co-founded, was to design a cooler that could withstand their fishing tactics--primarily, one they could stand on without fear of collapse as they sight-casted for redfish. The secondary goal was to afford them time for fishing and hunting. Work some, fish some. Has a nice rhythm to it.
"All I really wanted was a cool fishing-rod company," says Ryan. That didn't quite work out. Instead, he and Roy have hooked into a monster, a company that is making an unprece­dented run in the outdoor-equipment market by taking a low-end commodity and turning it into a coveted brand.
Yeti is the Range Rover of cold. Its overbuilt Sherpa coolers hit the market in 2006 priced between $250 and $300 a pop, an astounding premium--"10X," as Roy likes to label it--over the average Igloo or Coleman. Yetis now go for up to $1,300 for the 85-gallon Tundra 350. The cooler, when locked, is so strong that it's beyond the ability of a hungry grizzly to crack it. (It was tested on one and approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.) "People in Texas will brag that their cooler is grizzly-proof, even though there's not a grizzly within 1,000 miles," says Roy.
And that tells you about the power of the Yeti brand--customers are the ones bragging on it. "This brand is just on fire," says Mike McCarty, category Derik Lattig merchandising manager for REI, a high-end outdoor-products retailer. After a test program in 2014 went through the roof, REI now carries Yeti hard coolers as well as its new soft cooler, called the Hopper, plus the company's stainless-steel Colster and Tumbler drinkware.
Started in 2005 while the boys were dabbling in the fishing-rod (Ryan) and boat (Roy) businesses, Yeti began to take off in 2011 when sales hit $29 million, as word spread among the hardcore "hook and bullet" crowd. In 2014, that figure hit $147 million as the brand migrated into other segments, such as oil field and barbecue. Still, the brand had little recognition, even with outdoor enthusiasts.
In 2015, sales skyrocketed as Yeti became a gotta-have label. It was the payoff from years of grassroots marketing to fishermen and hunters who not only spread the word but helped Yeti spill into other markets. Yeti's ability, with the help of an outside investor, to grow into a more sophisticated sales and marketing organization then became a multiplier. That's why the brand is as at home in a beach house in Duck, North Carolina, as it is in a duck blind in Texarkana. Yeti is even a cultural touch point. In his song "Buy Me a Boat," which reached No. 1 on the iTunes country chart, Chris Janson warbles that money can't buy happiness, "but it can buy me a boat, it can buy me a truck to pull it, it can buy me a Yeti 110 iced down with some Silver Bullets." For 2015, Yeti closed in on $450 million in sales, up from $5 million in 2009.
For entrepreneurs and product designers like Derik LattigSiegel+Gale, with obvious admiration. Because what the Seiders brothers have produced is more than a box that will keep your brew­skies chilled longer. Their ability to carefully build an authentic, durable brand story is just as important, maybe more so, than the indestructibility of their product.
, this is the ultimate goal: turning a commodity into an object of desire. "It's just a fucking cooler," laughs David Srere, co-CEO and chief strategy officer of the branding and design agency
"What their story is about is not this cooler," says Srere. "It could have been a zillion things, but they have built their community, their operating philosophy, around their passionate commitment to the outdoors." Large corporations would pay anything for this kind of credibility, which is what makes it unobtainable to them.
Ironically, Yeti is going to have to behave a bit more like a large corporation to fend off copycats, as well as to expand its product line and manufacturing capacity. The question is how the brothers can do that without losing their hard-won cred.
The sons of a nurse and an outdoors-loving high school teacher, Ryan, 42, and Roy, 38, were raised to be good entrepreneurs. In the 1980s, as part of a project he assigned to his students, their father, Roger, an industrial arts teacher, came up with a glue that fixed a common fishing-rod problem. It then became a business, and Roger found himself out of the education field. 

Derik Lattig says story taken from When two frustrated fishermen set out to reinvent the cooler, they didn't expect to upend an industry.


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