There is no well-respecting hipster, boomer, next gen, or everyone in between that doesn’t turn to Yeti first in solidarity for the health and wellbeing of the planet. Whether it’s at a tailgate in Minneapolis, transporting artisanal food from Chicago to Lake Michigan for a summer vacation, or hauling provisions to the desert for Burning Man, Yeti is the brand of choice for its product performance and what it stands for. And its loyal customers are its brand ambassadors. Yeti is a Retail Radical in capturing the imaginations and wallets of a broad customer base who is as passionate about the outdoors and extreme sport as it is jogging through the park. A quick glance at their website, a striking visual brand statement, includes an urban as well as wilderness vibe.
What makes Yeti such a Radical is its brand ambassador program; these outdoors enthusiasts test, use and provide feedback on products and are at the heart of the brand’s innovation. In fact, these ambassadors collaborate with Yeti product development teams to bring category-redefining products to market.
Ryan and Roy Seiders founded Yeti inspired by their father Roger while growing up in Driftwood, Texas in the hill country. The family motto was “If we can’t find what we want, we make it.” The elder Seiders was an entrepreneur creating his own fishing rod coating for major brands. His sons caught the innovator bug and wanted to emulate the same lifestyle. Yeti’s site has a section for charming customers’ stories, not the least of which is a video on the family. The key takeaway, in addition to strong values and a respect for the natural world is “The easy path is not the right path.”
In 2006, Yeti was founded with a simple mission: “Build the cooler you’d use every day if it existed.” Growing up, the Seiders brothers had a passion for the outdoors. “Hunting, fishing, traveling to outdoor industry trade shows with our teacher-turned-entrepreneur-father, we were raised with an appreciation for wild game, unfamiliar territory, and high-quality gear.”
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the brothers got to work figuring out how to build a better cooler (at the time they were called ice chests) so that the handles wouldn’t break, the latches wouldn’t snap off, and the lids wouldn’t cave in. Against trend, the approach was product innovation that came from necessity and firsthand experience, not from market research and data analysis.
The solution is pricier, but built to last. Yeti originally started for the serious outdoor enthusiast rather than the mass market. The brothers designed Yeti gear to “take the abuse it would be put it through out in the field and on the water.” Today, Yeti products perform “when it matters most – whether that be an excursion into the remote Alaskan wilderness, chasing redfish on the Gulf coast, or just getting together with friends in the backyard.”
Authenticity and Transparency
What makes Yeti such a Radical is its brand ambassador program; these outdoors enthusiasts test, use and provide feedback on products and are at the heart of the brand’s innovation.
In fact, these ambassadors collaborate with Yeti product development teams to bring category-redefining products to market. For example, the Yonder plastic water bottles were produced based on feedback from users of the original insulated stainless-steel bottle that was too heavy to carry while on long treks in the wild. Outdoor enthusiasts and consumers wanted a lighter water bottle, so the Yonder products were strategically engineered to be lightweight and virtually shatter-resistant with a leak-proof cap. Your customers as product developers? More radical thinking (even though it’s common sense).
The company has its own state-of-the-art research and development center in Austin, TX where it generates prototype products. Yeti uses the research center and the ambassador program to test product performance. According to the company, once the final design and specifications of a new product are approved, it partners with global suppliers and specialized manufacturers to produce products according to its exacting performance and quality standards.
Yeti hits all the high marks. Since its customers are its brand ambassadors, many of their stories are posted on the Yeti site and on YouTube. More than product endorsement, the human-based stories are about everyday heroes. From ranch, rodeo and fishing to food and beverage and the outdoors, you can get a taste of their lives through Q/A interviews. It’s a great strategy to bring the joy and passion of their lives into your own. There are also plenty of Yeti podcasts with more interesting individuals who are making a difference.
Customers can tell their own stories through customizable Yeti products. They can design their own “brand marques” or choose from the company’s design gallery including everything from zodiac and holiday to collegiate and pets.
In the Wild
Yeti was founded on the principle of bringing people into the wild outfitted with highly durable gear for any situation. It is dedicated to the practice and preservation of our wilderness. Its Rescues program gets its “nearly indestructible” gear back into the wild – where Yeti says, “it belongs.” Its repurposing program gives dented, dinged, scratched, and scuffed gear a second life releasing it to a new home.
With its purpose-driven North Star as a guidepost, Yeti’s products are designed to “deliver exceptional performance and durability, committed to the safety and quality standards that help protect our customers and the environment.” Their North Star is also leadership with supply chain partners. Its Restricted Substance List (RSL) Program, provides guidance to “enable responsible product development and chemical management within the supply chain.” You can check out the 95-page statement specifying the “chemical restrictions applicable to substances used in manufacturing Yeti components, products, and packaging. In addition, it outlines the responsibilities of suppliers to Yeti and identifies resources available for support. All raw materials, components, and finished good suppliers to Yeti must meet the expectations detailed in the RSL Program.” So, in a word, Yeti is a poster child on how to build a brand with a purpose and create a consortium of partners committed to change. That is radical change-making.
Yeti is also dedicated to exploring and leveraging its community as brand evangelist. “Modern maps make 90 percent of the world’s roads, streets, and highways clearly accessible. We set out to find and record the hidden trails that make up the last 10 percent.” The brand asked 15 of their ambassadors around the world to “document their favorite, lesser-known hikes. Equipped with a pole-mounted GoPro MAX 360 camera and a Hopper cooler “packed with enough provisions and cold refreshments for a day out, they recorded the gaps between where the current path ends, and the good stuff begins. They traversed boardwalks in the rainforests of British Columbia, hiked up hillsides in Victoria, Australia, and crossed Santa Fe deserts, uncovering the best, unmapped spots on the planet.”
Yeti’s 13.1 percent year-over-year growth in revenue with a three-year compounded annual growth of over 20 percent is partly due to the shift to more emphasis on the direct-to-consumer business. The company has 75 percent more sales in 2022 than it did pre-pandemic. The return on assets is 8.3 percent with a profit of 5.6 percent for 2022.
One for the World
Yeti believes that “what is good for the planet is synonymous with what is good for business,” and they remain determined to tackle the impacts of climate change. Their approach to keeping the wild, wild, is science-based, data driven, and encompasses the entire life cycle of their products. They continue to push forward a commitment to innovative, high-performing, durable, and built-for-the-wild products by separating growth from environmental impact.
It’s radical to actually walk your talk, and in Yeti’s case, the talk is a chorus of voices of customer stories, brand ambassadors and inspiring, inventive individuals who are the poster children for rugged, independent thinking and reverence for the natural world. This is radical leadership we all can benefit from.