About three years ago, YETI coolers exploded in popularity: These were high-end, luxury coolers (with price tags to match), designed to retain the cold for five to ten days, depending on the cooler size.
And this was a great opportunity for incentive merchandisers. Last holiday season for instance, Links Unlimited was selling about $100,000 worth of YETI coolers a week. Yet growing retail demand led Yeti to prioritize its retail business. Now Links Unlimited carries smaller YETI coolers like the soft-sided Hopper cooler and its vacuum-insulated stainless steel cups.
But for the larger premium coolers, Links Unlimited now offers the Grizzly, a growing cooler brand, which retains thermal temperatures for about five to 10 days, depending on the model. "We looked to see who wasn't in the marketplace in the corporate side," said Links Unlimited CEO Scott Kooken, adding that his company carries the 20, 40, and 60 quart models.
Other players in the large premium cooler space include Cabela's, which has doubled down in the corporate space, pushing its line of "Polar Cap" coolers which range in size from 25 to 100 quarts. These claim to retain temperatures from five to 12 days.
Meanwhile, the Coleman Company, which has long been a big player in the corporate incentive space, is looking to one-up YETI from a product standpoint with its Esky 10-day cooler series, said Paul Cernohous, Coleman's director of sales, special markets.
"We put all of our products through internal testing like heat labs," he said. "We design for thermal retention and there are lots of ways to do that: Quality of insulation or making sure there's enough draft around the bottom -- but not too much because that deteriorates thermal retention."
But even as competitors infiltrate, YETI remains a hot incentive item. "YETI has a cult following," said Kooken. "It's the hip cooler."