Would you put a bucket on your Christmas wish list? YETI thinks you will. The company shot to fame, and is well on the way to being a US$1 billion, privately held business on the back of its premium priced $US400-to-$1,500 Tundra coolers. YETI has a cult like following in the US whose devotees would happily shell out US$40 on a five-litre, injection-molded, beyond-industrial-strength bucket this holiday season. 📷 Urchin Associates
YETI was co-founded by brothers Roy and Ryan Seiders. Frustrated by their own experience as fishermen, they transformed a cheap, unreliable mass-market beverage box into the gotta have cooler, first for hardcore outdoorsmen and now they’re turning their attention to surfers.
Fans of the do-it-yourself ethic behind Quiksilver and Patagonia will instantly warm to the YETI story. The man entrusted with telling that story ‘down under’ is former Quiksilver Executive Simon Traynor, whose expertise in melding Australia’s outdoor lifestyle with our obsession with surfing are second to none. After a brief hiatus from work life, Traynor was targeted as the YETI General Manager for Australia & New Zealand.
YETI’s ‘secret sauce’ lies in the art of story telling and brand building. YETI are masters at the craft of making ordinary objects, extra-ordinary and in the process even a bucket can become an object of desire.
“We identified an opportunity in the run-of-the mill, everyday five-litre plastic bucket,” explains CEO Matt Reintjes, “it was something that’s been cheapened to drive to a price point; it breaks, it doesn’t last.”
So YETI created one that is indestructible and added versatility. The YETI LoadOut is a bucket with accessories, including a plastic lid and an organizing tray insert. The bucket is food safe, so you can keep your lunch in it, the fish you just caught or the duck you just shot. You could probably even put a mop in it, too. But unlikely.
The YETI ‘Down Under’ story is a classical exercise in brand-building, and storytelling. And its a time honoured tradition that the surfing industry once mastered in. Are there parallels with our greatest brands ? You betcha.
According to the Seiders, the story goes there was a gap in the market. If you fished the Texas Gulf Coast, the available gear was all up to scratch except the cooler – so they fixed it: “If we can’t find what we want,” says Roy Seider, “we make it.” It’s said that the resultant design is so strong they’ve been successfully tested on a hungry grizzly bear – leaving only a Spencer Gulf Great White as the next level in testing.
And that may well be tested in the near future with YETI recently engaging with former World Qualifying Series surfer and now South Oz based hellman Heath Joske. Joske joins a band of waterman who are field testing YETI products right now, somewhere, out there, including Ry Craike, Wayne Lynch and Tony Ray.
Just as Patagonia successfully globalised the legend of Yves Chouinard tinkering in his shed, so too the YETI is on the move. Full-priced uber-cool coolers (and buckets) might just be the next big category in surf here in Australia. With that in mind, Simon Traynor, fixed us a mess o’ crawfish and spoke exclusively to ASB about YETI Australia.
ASB: When did YETI Australia form, and how many staff and offices do you have?
ST: We’ve just clicked over one year. Like many start-ups, I started on the family kitchen table in Torquay for the first three months. Samples were in the garage next to the boards and wetties, while catalogues could be found throughout the house. I’m stoked that we now have an office in South Melbourne in a cool, co-sharing space with 50 other like-minded brands.
We’ve got a team of four making the shit happen: Luke Merritt, finance and ops manager, who was the finance guy for Quiksilver retail, Tim Persse, our sales guru who is ex-Oakley for many, many years and the glue of the biz, and Hayley Denholm, who’s been working and living down the East Coast.
My background is Quiksilver boardshorts, Nike kicks, Roxy bikinis, G-star denim, Esky coolers and DC sneakers. Basically, I’ve played in sports, lifestyle, fashion and outdoor for the last twenty years, always with the mantra “product is king”.
ASB: What structure was formed – under license, distributor or registered office?
ST: We’re a full subsidiary of YETI Inc. I get to report directly to the Global CEO and sit on the global Senior Leadership Team. We’re responsible for both the Australian and New Zealand markets. We’re the first international market for YETI, which comes with its opportunities and its challenges.
Right now, we’ve engaged agents across Australia, who are smashing it as we speak: a combo of true watermen and outdoor enthusiasts selling the YETI story. We’ve just come back from NZ and about to appoint an agent and will launch the brand in the Long White Cloud next year. I’m quietly confident that the brand will do well over there.
ASB: How did you come to YETI?
ST: She’s a small world, and in many ways my background was a bloody good fit. Top-line, the current CFO of YETI is the former CFO of Quiksilver back in Huntington. When my Quiksilver Asia Pacific role was made redundant, Sugar (Greg Healy) generously gave me the intro, and from there a couple of video conference interviews, a week-long trip to Austin, Texas and by the time I got back home, the contract was in the inbox.
Working closely with the Urchin boys, we put together a long-term and sustainable growth strategy.
Our GTM is based on old school face-to-face connections and authentic relationships that run well beyond the commercial transaction. Based on the USA ‘anti-gravity’ growth YETI has experienced in recent years, we know the dollars will eventually flow for Aussie retailers, but right now, it’s about building strong and deep roots.
ASB: Can you explain the challenges starting a full-price premium brand here?
ST: The Aussie market is an Esky and chilly bin-obsessed culture. We’ve all been surrounded by many 2nd rate products that have been based on the mentality of “I’ll just buy a new one when it breaks,” but with a premium ‘buy one for life’ YETI product, we have a real opportunity to evolve Aussie and Kiwi mindsets.
Like any new brand, and in many ways a new category, we need to tell a compelling story to convince retailers to take a punt.
For those that have come onboard, many are now onto their 3rd or 4th replenishment order. Now remember this ain’t $49.99 tee shirts: this is $449.95 coolers.
ASB: How have you applied lessons learned at Quiksilver regarding brand identity, brand building and awareness?
ST: As we all know, Quiksilver (along with the industry) has faced their challenges. Having had the opportunity to work through that tough period with guys like Sugar (Greg Healy) and Spurter (Garry Wall), I saw the importance of being humble, but being true to your roots. Their tone, their approach flowed through the team, both operationally and culturally.
I’ve tried to start every conversation with what our athletes needed in product, then expanding into a diverse mix of community conversations, powerful visual storytelling, killer content creation and experiences that were curated. Great brands tell great stories. And as I watch from the sidelines today, I’m stoked to see the Quiksilver brand back doing what it does best.
YETI is no different. Killer product. Amazing roster of elite outdoorsmen and women. Some of the best content I have ever been part of: authentic and curated and offering a window into the YETI lifestyle.
Product being sold by specialty outdoor retailers across the country.
ASB: And the YETI founders (Roy and Ryan Seiders), are just like the Quiksilver founders, Alan Green and John Law in so many ways.
ST: In YETI’s case, the Seider boys grew up on boat decks and deer leases. They loved their fishing and hunting, but were frustrated with their coolers. They lost good times to handles that broke and lids that caved in. And every adventure, they always outlasted the ice.
So like Alan and John, they built a better product and along the way fueled their own lifestyle. As the business grew, they employed their friends. As the word spread, serious hunters and anglers embraced the product, then became diehard fans of the brand. Over time, they built a community of influencers and evangelists, all fueled by passion and restlessness. Now, ten-plus years later, it’s a serious business and a powerful brand.
Sounds just like Quiky in the old days doesn’t it? Just change coolers to boardies, fishing to surfing. Keep passion and restlessness and a focus on making great product and it’s the same amazing story.
YETI has grown from a product brand to a lifestyle brand. What I learned from those tough times at Quik was the need to stay true to who we are, as you experience wild sales growth.
ASB: What has been the response?
ST: Core consumers get it – they understand superior product. They want best-in-class product that does exactly what it promises.
For a small percentage of crew, they already know who we are ‘cause they’ve been exposed to our product and brand in their USA travels. For others, they’re starting to hear our brand story, our product story across the 80 fishing, hunting, outdoor, surf, marine dealers around Australia. These core independent store owners get it: specialty retailers that core consumers trust for premium gear and good old-fashioned, no bullshit advice.
ASB: Can you explain the inter-relationship between surfing, camping and fishing? Victoria’s oldest retailer Surf Dive N’ Ski was founded on that principle.
ST: YETI product fuels a life of adventure. Plenty of surfers when they ain’t on their board, are in a boat having a fish. You only have to have a look at what the WSL boys do on lay-days at the Fiji Pro.
In the USA, YETI in some ways ‘fell into surf’ through the Malloy brothers, Shane Dorian and Mark Healy.
YETI ambassadors, in many parts of middle America are known for their hunting and fishing exploits mostly. But as time progressed, core surfers discovered our brand through following these guys’ respective lifestyles, a very natural and organic way to see our gear perform in the toughest environments around the world.
ASB: Do you think the ‘fishing trend’ is a manifestation of outdoor gear in surf distribution or is there a deeper movement towards authentic, technical gear?
ST: An old colleague of mine would often say “buy cheap, buy twice”. We believe that the consumer of today is moving towards a greater appreciation of brands and products that deliver on their promises.
In our world of selling kick-arse coolers, that is about having a cold beer when you need it. Or the fact that we are ‘certified bear resistant’, so no matter what you put our product through, we know it will still be performing at the other end. This movement can be seen in so many categories, so many spaces around the world. It’s definitely not specific to the surf space.
ASB: Or is the ‘fishing trend’ a movement towards apparel-based ‘lifestyle’ brands like Mad Hueys, Salty Crew etc.
ST: We think it’s more about the spirit of adventure, rather than a fishing trend per se. We believe that surfers are modern-day explorers. We have an endless quest to find the most perfect, uncrowded wave with no one around except you and your buddies.
It’s life on the road, in boats, in the back of wagons, moving through airports, sleeping where you fall, eating to get by, all to fuel the adventure of riding waves. YETI fuels that travel, that nomadic lifestyle, both in our product and in what we stand for.
Depactus and VSTR were onto this movement in the early, early days…maybe too early for their own good. I still remember the VSTR opening in Byron many years back … a bunch of nomadic, authentic, restless and humble crew from many walks to life getting together in the spirit of following your own path.
But right now, Mad Hueys, Salty Crew, TSFS (the secret fishing society), OuterKnown and others seem to have tapped into a space that the big surf brands are now really going after (Billabong Adventure Division is a great example). Obviously, Patagonia have been doing it from Day One and the more we tap into these communities, the more we realise how successful they have been.
Right now, YETI Oz aspire to their storytelling and their ability to partner with the right accounts.
Retailers who can tell a compelling brand story and then articulate the features and benefits of a premium product. It can be a hard combo, when you’re used to selling a basic tee with a pocket logo for $49.99.
YETI are in the fortunate position to completely complement all these brands that are pre-dominantly an apparel offer. As they each enjoy their own respective successes and fuel the adventure movement, then YETI can only benefit.
ASB: What stores have picked up the brand and what are the key pieces?
ST: We play in three categories: hard coolers, soft coolers and drinkware. It’s all about insulation. And in the drinkware, it’s about keeping stuff icy cold or piping hot.
Our hard cooler, the Tundra 110 is loved by surfers and fisherman alike. It’s a size that fits a boat really well or in the back of the car. At $699.95, this top-selling style tells us there is an Aussie consumer who is willing to pay a premium price for a premium Esky!
The soft cooler we call Flip 12 is probably the last thing you should call ‘soft’. It’s 100% leak-proof and tough as nails. Ultimate portability in its DNA. $349.95, and has been the #1 selling soft cooler in the USA for the last couple of years and early read, it will do the same downunder.
Among the drinkware, there’s the Lowball, 100% over-engineered and selling like hotcakes…seriously. It replaces your morning coffee cup, or it’s perfect for the rum and coke in the evening. $24.95 and retailers have found that in many ways, this has become the gateway into YETI for their customers.
Time and time again, I hear about a customer buying the Lowball during the week, then coming back on the weekend wanting to buy a Tundra. Once someone experiences our product, they’re hooked.