Friendly Fire: YETI And The NRA...A Self Inflicted Wound
Last week, the third week of April 2018, a veritable firestorm erupted between the YETI cooler company and the NRA. In a statement made by Marion Hammer in an email to NRA members and friends, the NRA informed its considerable member base about a drastic change in the 7-year relationship between YETI coolers and the NRA.
The message dated April 20th explained how YETI stopped taking orders from the NRA effectively dropping the organization.
Three days later, YETI released a statement claiming that they had merely "eliminated a discount program" and were offering the NRA and other organizations a "customization program available to consumers and organizations, including the NRA Foundation."
On April 24th, the NRA responded to YETI's statement, in which YETI had claimed the NRA was not telling the truth about being dropped by YETI. A firestorm erupted.
Over the next several days, several angry NRA members and supporters expressed outrage, destroying coolers, or at least replacing the YETI logo with NRA stickers. Shops took YETI gear off their shelves. It seemed that YETI had joined in on the "boycott the NRA" bandwagon that Delta Airlines, Allied Van Lines and other companies had jumped on since the February 14th Parkland shooting.
However, YETI hardly fit the profile of an anti-2A company. They have worked closely with a variety of pro 2A groups and vendors for years, like the NRA, Ted Nugent's Spirit of the Wild, and Deer and Deer Hunting.Com, to name just a few. It seemed odd that a company that had built itself on the support of hunters and gun enthusiasts had joined the ranks of foolish companies taking the advice of Parkland anti-gun activist teen David Hogg.
It begged the questions, what was going on at YETI? Why had they stopped taking orders from the NRA? What was this "customization program" they claimed to offer? What other organizations had YETI dropped? What had caused YETI to change its policy?
In searching for answers, I found that there is more going on at YETI than you may know.
YETI's History and "Recent Events"
Formed in 2006 by brothers Roy and Ryan Seiders, this exclusive cooler company had earned the unofficial rank of "gold standard" of coolers, the "Cadillac" cooler, if you will. Extreme durability and cooling ability were matched with a pretty extreme price. YETI grew its brand despite the unusually high price point by being featured in specialty hunting shops and on hunting shows like "Spirit Of The Wild" with Ted Nugent. It was its powerful reputation among the hunter crowd that helped sell coolers at more than double the price of their competitors.
YETI's reputation as a desirable luxury item was greatly strengthened by its relationships not just with exclusive shops and celebs. Organizations, and in particular the NRA, played a huge role in helping YETI grow its market share. By offering YETI coolers as door prizes, auction items, and perks for generous sponsors, the NRA promoted YETI products to its vast membership as a "prize" to be desired. Without the discount program YETI had worked out with the NRA and other vendors and organizations, these groups would have been unable to cover the high cost of YETI products. It was a wise decision by YETI to create these relationships with organizations like the NRA because the cost of the discount program was more than worth the value of the promotion of YETI by the NRA, and the customer loyalty that relationship built.
However, like any company that seeks to be the highest priced luxury item in their market, YETI started to see itsits competitors improve in quality, offering more and more similar products at a more reasonable price. YETI needed a way to stay on the top of the market. Their launch of the YETI tumbler held promise, but before long the competition was once again knocking at the door. The YETI bucket wasn't met with as much enthusiasm, and the company started showing signs of struggling to keep its market share at the top of the heap. In addition, the company's majority ownership was sold in 2012 to a private equity firm, creating a new more corporate energy at the company.
In 2016, perhaps filled with enthusiasm for a Trump economy, YETI launched a bid to seek its IPO, and filed paperwork to go public with the New York Stock Exchange. It was seeking to raise $100 million to $500 million in stock sales thru the IPO. It ambitiously claimed its valuation at around $5 Billion dollars. However, interest was low in the boutique cooler company's ambitions to be a public company at what seemed to many potential investors as an over-valuation.
YETI responded to the lackluster reception of its possible IPO with a new corporate strategy. In order to keep competitors from the natural free market process of creating a comparable product for less, YETI began suing any company it could that made any product even slightly like YETI. They sued Walmart, Home Depot, RTIC Coolers, Bayou Icebox, Creekfire, Takeya, and many others. Some suits were won, some settled, some were dismissed. Throughout 2017, YETI sued nearly a dozen companies over "similarity" issues or logo use.
At the end of 2017, YETI also began to cut ties with smaller vendors, sending several "break up letters" to vendors with mixed reactions. Some vendors were shocked that YETI was no longer going to be available to their customers at a price that vendors could afford, or not available at all. Other vendors were surprised YETI hadn't noticed that sales of their coolers had dropped off, and these vendors no longer wanted to even carry YETI product.
By the start of 2018, the toll of years of market pressures on the company at the top had started to show. Their bid for an IPO was going nowhere. Their once stellar reputation had been tarnished by a year of lawsuits. It appeared things were not so cool at the luxury cooler company, and no amount of legally putting the competition "on ice" was enough to make up for market forces. There were certainly troubles in cooler paradise already brewing by February 2018.
Bad Times and Bad Timing
The February 14th shooting at a Parkland, FL high school started a public battle with Leftist activists and the NRA. Anti-gun groups falsely blamed the NRA for the violence, and rather than expressing outrage at the botched handling of the shooting by the Broward sheriff's department, they called for companies doing business with the NRA to break ties with the organization.
It was in this highly charged environment that the first sign of trouble between YETI and the NRA surfaced. The NRA's ILA branch had started working with YETI on a logo print on their popular coolers for the NRA-ILA on February 21st and exchanged emails for a week working on the project until they were informed by YETI on Feb. 29th that the project was to be terminated due to, as YETI said, "recent events". Later, after the firestorm erupted, YETI claimed it was because it violated its policy of allowing political groups to use their logo on YETI products. The decision seemed abrupt and the vague reasons given fueled concerns YETI had joined the boycott trend. Considering that the project had already been in the works and no mention of the policy violation had been made during the week of email exchanges, the official YETI statement made in April about this first cancellation made no sense.
In March, YETI withdrew its IPO bid from the New York Stock Exchange, citing "market forces". Little could they know that the market was about to exhibit far more "force" then YETI could possibly imagine.
April Brought Storms
Whether due to the internal pressures mentioned above, or in response to "recent events" as YETI told the NRA, on April 4th, YETI informed the NRA Foundation it would no longer be offering coolers under the discount program and demanded that the NRA cease using the YETI logo or YETI products on any NRA website or communications. This move prevented the NRA from any further purchases of YETI, as the organization could not actually promote YETI coolers at any of its events or fundraising projects without use of the YETI logo. All orders of YETI coolers from the NRA came to a halt. According to the NRA, no new orders took place after the cease and desist demand from YETI. While YETI claims orders are still being filled, these orders appear to have been placed before the April 4th YETI demand. No new orders by any branch of the NRA have been confirmed at time of publication.
Over the next few weeks, word about the stoppage of the YETI/NRA relationship filtered up to Marion Hammer, who has been an integral leader in the NRA organization for decades, even serving as NRA president from 1995-1998, the first woman to do so. Her continued work as a lobbyist with the NRA-ILA and as a Florida area NRA coordinator gave her a unique insight into how big of a problem this break with YETI could become. Members who expected YETI coolers as prizes at events and sponsor add-ons would be very disappointed that the very popular coolers were no longer available. Marion decided that the NRA members had a right to know what was happening, and she posted her now infamous April 20th email letting members know YETI was no longer doing business with the NRA.
YETI's response on April 23rd answered few of the questions raised by the NRA email. In fact, it refuted Marion's claim that YETI had "dropped" the NRA. However, it failed to discuss the April 4th request to cease using the YETI logo on all NRA publications. Though it mentioned a "customization program", YETI has failed to either explain the program or provide any examples of the program being used by any NRA source. In fact, YETI has nearly completely avoided all interviews with the news media, providing no further information or evidence to support the claims made in its scant two statements released to the press since the story broke last week.
The NRA responded to YETI's rather baldfaced accusations of lies in an April 24th posting, providing more of the details of the YETI-initiated split with the NRA. Several questions raised by the NRA in that post remain unanswered, including the request to know what if any other organizations were affected by this so called "change in discount program". YETI's silence has led to even greater speculation about why YETI chose to distance itself from the NRA, leaving more and more people to presume YETI had gone snowflake on the pro 2A community.
YETI shoots itself in the pocketbook
While it is more likely that YETI's problems were internal, and the decision to break with the NRA was a poorly timed "cost saving" measure, the impact has been irreparable. The once honored cooler company has become the latest casualty in the culture war between freedom Constitution loving Americans and the rabid Left who seeks to destroy our Bill of Rights. The YETI logo, once a symbol of pride, has become something to be hidden or disdained. It seems that YETI's karma earned in the courtrooms of nearly countless lawsuits has come back to roost. YETI's year of attacks on its competition to protect its place on the market pedestal have ended with YETI knocking itself off the pedestal with an ill-timed, or ill-advised move.
The reality is this: YETI has caused this injury to itself. By turning its back on the small vendors that made it the exclusive brand it is, by using lawyers to increase the bottom line instead of innovation, and by damaging an invaluable 7 year relationship with the NRA, YETI has created many of the "market forces" that have forced it to withdraw its IPO, lose thousands of pro-NRA customers, and discourage thousands of others from investing in a high priced YETI cooler, sending all of those customers into the waiting arms of the competition.
If recent history tells us anything, the YETI company is not afraid of suing. YETI may be thinking about a lawsuit against the NRA over recent events, which would be an even more ill-advised move than the ones recently taken. Regardless of the legal result, the response by the consumers would be even more infuriated at a company they once deemed an ally.
YETI has also caused damage to the NRA, who is now forced to replace the highly popular item in its many fundraising activities. Making their members aware of the change was the first step. Now begins the search for a replacement from YETI's many eager competitors. Companies like Orion, Pelican and Orca coolers have all created comparable products, and the once sued by YETI cooler company, RTIC, has already expressed willingness to work with the NRA. It appears that the free market once again will have its say.
Yet, many coolers were sadly and unnecessarily destroyed in the melee. While YETI coolers will no longer be the go-to brand it was, the coolers are still useful. Angry YETI customers are encouraged to donate their coolers instead of destroying them, as there are many needy groups that could use them despite the tarnish of their brand. Additionally, the NRA has issued a sticker to cover the logo of your YETI cooler, instead of destroying or donating it.
In the end, while the NRA has been greatly forthcoming with information, YETI's silence has been in stark contrast. By not answering the questions many have about why YETI chose this course of action, the company has left the public to presume the worst. With the high price, improving competition, and aggressive corporate tactics, their unexplained silence in face of the NRA breakup has only added to the destruction of the once great name of YETI Coolers.
Regardless of the reason, the truth remains. If you want to buy an affordable and sturdy cooler, one that can resist bears and critters, one that respects free market principles and one that supports the vital work the NRA does to protect our precious 2nd Amendment, you're certainly not going to buy a YETI. YETI's self inflicted wound may very well be fatal, only time will tell. For now, the market has spoken. No more YETI.
Which is sad, because they once were a pretty darn good cooler....if you could afford it.