Coolers hit a high note … But retailers wonder, ‘Will it last?’

The cooler category saw a 62 percent increase in dollars sold in the 12 months ending June 2015.

Outdoor recreationists aren’t snobby about sleeping on the ground, but hand them a warm beer and their nose might turn up — especially since preventative measures can be taken. For this reason among others, the cooler category saw a 62 percent increase in dollars sold in the 12 months ending June 2015 compared to a 15 percent increase during the previous time period, according to numbers from global information company The NPD Group.

It's a trend we spotting rising back in 2013.

And everyone we talk to points to one brand for leading the trend: Yeti.

Joe Butler, owner of Black Creek Outfitters in Jacksonville, Fla., said the brand has been flying off the shelves. “We sold everything that I had that had the Yeti label. I sold out of everything, every gosh darn thing.”

Why the rush?

“There are two things happening,” said Matt Powell, sports industry analyst. “Some are leaps in terms of technology where the coolers are much more efficient and much easier to use. They really stay cold a long time, and they’re lighter weight. And then at the same time you have this millennial generation who wants to experience the outdoors but doesn’t want to give up a lot of the creature comforts.”

Of course these coolers are still great for more traditional uses. Outdoor retailer Mitch Mode, owner of Mel’s Trading Post in Rhinelander, Wis., noted fishermen seek out the heavy-duty containers to store food they bring with them into the backcountry, as well as the food they catch there. Yeti is a favorite among his customers as well.

“They’ve seen it used someplace else, maybe on vacation in Florida and seen some of the fishermen with it, or at the opposite end up in Canada or Alaska and seeing guides use them up there,” Mode said. “Yeti especially has an established reputation as a quality cooler. They say, ‘I know this is expensive, but I know it’s worth it.’ People acknowledge the price, but it’s not turning them off completely.”

Coolers may be riding high for the time being, but Butler warns the bubble will eventually burst. He likened the trend to the rollerblading days of yore. Once everyone had a pair, sales plummeted. “These Yetis are even worse because they’re not going to break and there isn’t anything to replace on them. Everybody in the country might want one, but once you have one, you don’t need another,” he said.

What’s a retailer to do? “You ride that wave and then when it’s over, you close out. You want to make sure you’re not the guy who has a bunch of coolers after that [drop],” Butler added.

On a broader scale, sales of camping equipment, apparel, footwear and accessories across all outdoor stores is up 6.7 percent for the 12-month period ending June 2015.

--Courtney Holden

Outdoor Industry
ManufacturerOutdoor Industry



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