Cordova Coolers™

In the red-hot cooler market, a new standard of cool & SCOTT CAMPBELL, JR. Star of Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch”

by Tom Innis, Avantech

Imagine the scene.

It’s a scorcher of an afternoon in late-summer of 2014. You’re out on the lake, entertaining friends on the MasterCraft™ powerboat for which you’ve spent the proverbial boat-load of hard-earned money. Your buddies are duly impressed. The sun is blazing, the wake-surfing is intense, and the muscles are tired. You idle the boat and kibbutz about crushing some serious waves as the thirst factor surges.

CordovaThere’s an audible “ahhhh” as you lift up the seat cover, open the hatch lid, reach into the cooler, and hand your parched friends a beer. The setting couldn’t be better: wake-surfing on a picture-perfect summer day; a cold beer your worthy reward for an afternoon well-spent.

Your friends crack-open their beers; they take a deep draw. You do the same. Nobody says anything for a moment, but everyone knows. The beer is warm.

Wait a minute. You’re onboard a luxurious powerboat, the skies are blue, the sun is shining, and you’ve just completed an epic day on the water with your buddies. Suddenly, the perfect day has gone seriously wrong. “Sorry about the warm beer, guys…”

Flash-forward to a few months later. In Kodiak, Alaska, Scott Campbell, Jr., captain of the 109-foot crab-fishing boat the Seabrooke, has just finished another season of battling frigid, treacherous Bering Sea waters to hit his seasonal quota of Opilio and Bairdi snow crab. Campbell, aka “Junior,” as he is known on Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” program, has been captain and owner of the Seabrooke since 2000. Life is good for Campbell: he’s a successful business owner, television celebrity, and is able to enjoy the finer things in life – like his MasterCraft™ boat – when the crab-fishing season is over.

But with seas raging around him, competition chasing him, and another successful season behind him, Campbell has only one thing on his mind: that otherwise perfect day on the water the previous summer, sullied by warm beer in the cooler.

Focused on a cooler future.

Now it’s early 2015. Though he maintains ownership of the boat and the crab-fishing business, Scott Campbell, Jr. has spent his last season aboard the Seabrooke, and is eyeing up his next career challenge. Together with Mike West, his friend from high school days in Walla Walla, Washington, Campbell’s next move is to develop a line of rugged, feature-rich, high-performance coolers worthy of keeping beverages cold on the hottest of days, and offering consumers a “Made in the USA” promise. 

Campbell and West – founder and owner of Arizona-based BBQ Island™, a marketer of outdoor grilling equipment and culinary environments – make a formidable team: young, hungry, successful entrepreneurs who’ve built industry-leading businesses through creativity, hard work and competitive savvy.  With Mike’s brother and host of the Outdoor Channel® series “Steve’s Outdoor Adventures,” Steve West recently joining the Cordova Coolers™ team, it’s clear that if anyone can successfully launch a cooler in the hyper-competitive high-performance cooler market, it’s these guys.

Imagine a hypothetical conversation among Scott, Mike & Steve: “OK, so we know there’s demand for high-performance, made in the USA coolers, and we know we’re the guys to bring it to market. We have capital, we have business savvy, we have an audience, we have channels of distribution, and we have marketing muscle behind our names. The only thing we’re missing is a cooler.”


Scott Campbell, Jr., captain and owner of the Seabrooke, and star of Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch.”

Connecting with roto.

Despite having a rudimentary cooler design, Team Cordova knew they needed help in completing their design and converting their cooler concept to reality. Though familiar with successful rotationally molded cooler brands, after several fruitless attempts to connect with interested parties, they figured the next best move was the oft-used business search tool, Google.

With the BBQ Island business based in the greater-Phoenix, Arizona area (BBQ Island operates an e-Commerce business and two retail locations in Tempe and Scottsdale, respectively), Cordova partner Mike West’s search landed on Mold In Graphic Systems, located a few hours north in Clarkdale, Arizona. Given Mold In Graphic Systems’ unique industry position, broad product offering, and myriad industry connections, it was this link-to-roto that proved to be the turning point in the project, and a catalyst in developing the uniqueness of the Cordova Coolers™ brand.

From the initial meeting between Mike West and Mold In Graphic Systems, it was clear that Cordova was well-positioned to successfully enter the cooler market. “Cordova’s business plan and credentials were sound,” recalls Scott Saxman, Business Development Director with Mold In Graphic Systems. “They had a clear path to the market, and they understood the importance of building a brand – not just another cooler.”

And as he has successfully done throughout his career, Saxman connected his prospective customer with key roto industry players who could help catalyze project success. Thus, while immediate conversations focused on permanent branding and labeling strategies, Saxman pointed Team Cordova in the direction of other capable industry contacts: “I also knew (Cordova) needed help from a product design, tooling, and roto-production standpoint – that’s when Avantech got involved.”

The tools for success.

With cooler designs still in the preliminary phase at this stage, Saxman connected Cordova Coolers™ with Tom Innis (president) and Jeff Herwig (sales engineering manager) of Avantech, a well-connected, industry- leading tool-builder. From an initial meeting at BBQ Island with Campbell, Jr. and West, Avantech established an understanding of design requirements and performance expectations, and quickly assembled a team of internal and external resources to accelerate completion of design.

“We knew from the onset that Cordova was looking for a feature-rich cooler with unique aesthetics and superior ice-retention performance.” said Herwig. “We also knew we had to tap-into outside resources to optimize design-for-manufacture outcomes.” Thus, by combining Avantech’s engineering team with outside industrial design, plus the input of local rotational molder, Stern Companies (Brainerd, MN), various iterations of the Cordova Coolers™ were developed, reviewed, and revised, until a final design emerged in late-2015.

However, with tool production set to kick-off, another opportunity presented itself to Cordova: the chance to “close the loop” which opened almost two years earlier (HINT: it involves warm beer on a hot summer day).

A boat-load of opportunity.

You’ll recall that Cordova’s journey to market started aboard Scott Campbell, Jr.’s MasterCraft™ boat, when warm beer pulled from an onboard cooler catalyzed an idea that eventually materialized into a line of high-performance rotationally molded coolers.

“I’ve been a loyal MasterCraft™ owner for many years, and I’ve always been impressed with their commitment to quality, service and attention to detail,” commented Campbell. “But I when I drank that warm beer on the boat that day, I recognized the need for a cooler solution worthy of the MasterCraft™ brand.  So I called ‘em up, pitched the idea, and the Cordova Coolers™ brand was born.”

With his status as both television celebrity and loyal customer firmly established, Campbell was welcomed to MasterCraft™ headquarters to discuss outfitting new boats with a customized version of the Cordova Cooler™. Upon receiving an enthusiastic response, Campbell decided to temporarily diverge from his proprietary (Cordova) cooler launch and focus on developing an exclusive design for MasterCraft™. 

As Campbell can personally attest, MasterCraft™ owners’ brand loyalty rivals that of Harley Davidson® and an exclusive list of other high-profile consumer brands. As such, it was absolutely critical to deliver a cooler to MasterCraft™ that met their needs in a number of areas:

  • Branded visual appeal;
  • Feature-rich;
  • Meticulously manufactured;
  • High-performance;
  • Exceed expectations;
  • Made in the USA;
  • Fit within existing on-board cooler hold.

“Working with Avantech, we had a platform from which the MasterCraft™ design could readily emerge,” stated Campbell, “and we were able to deliver full renderings to MasterCraft™ within a couple of weeks.” Following several face-to-face meetings and incorporating resultant design tweaks, the official green light was given, and tooling production for the MasterCraft™ version began at Avantech’s Brainerd, MN (the company has since relocated all but its foundry operation to a new facility in Baxter, MN) in early 2015.

From stem to Stern.

In addition to providing the required branded appeal and ice-retention performance, the MasterCraft™ cooler by Cordova Coolers™ had to nest within the on-board cooler hold.

In addition to providing the required branded appeal and ice-retention
performance, the MasterCraft™ cooler by Cordova Coolers™ had to nest
within the on-board cooler hold.

With tooling production underway, and with prototypes due at MasterCraft™ in less than 90 days, the cooler manufacturing strategy began to crystallize. Located within close proximity of Avantech, and having contributed input to the design process, Stern Companies – Rotomold Division emerged as the rotational molder for production of the coolers. After building a dedicated manufacturing cell, investing in upgraded foaming equipment, and lining-up component suppliers, they were ready to tackle the challenge of the MasterCraft™ project.

“We recognized the opportunity and ‘fit’ of the Cordova project right away,” commented Shawn Hunstad, owner and CEO of Stern Companies. “We have a strong team, extensive manufacturing capability, and the tenacity to deliver to deadlines and expectations.” The proximity to Avantech was also a plus: “with Avantech nearby, it’s easy to get together to review design issues and manufacturing challenges on the fly,” added Hunstad.

Accordingly, a feature-rich cooler entails a number of customized components required for optimal product value and functionality. Stern’s capability in sourcing components was crucial, as in addition to molding and foam-filling the cooler bodies and lids, the complete cooler assembly requires handles, gaskets, latches, feet, Mold In Graphics® and other components. “Across the spectrum of rotomolded products, a cooler represents a relatively high degree of manufacturing difficulty,” added Avantech’s Tom Innis. “To make a project as demanding as the MasterCraft™ cooler happen, we had to put together a complete supply chain solution for Cordova Coolers™.”

Despite some initial – and at times painful – hiccups, the decision to launch the MasterCraft™ cooler prior to the Cordova line appears to have been a wise one. For starters, MasterCraft™ has spec’d the customized cooler as a standard item for new boat builds; proof that their exacting demands of a high-performance, brand-worthy cooler have been met, while providing “hey, we can do this!” confidence for Team Cordova. Equally important, the MasterCraft™ cooler has generated sustainable business for Cordova, providing fuel and momentum for the launch of proprietary Cordova cooler line.

“We certainly learned a lot by launching the MasterCraft™ version first;” commented Campbell, “much of which we’ve successfully applied to launching our Cordova Coolers™ line. We understand the importance of managing the details and making certain communication is air-tight throughout the supply chain – particularly with a project as demanding and with as many ‘moving parts’ as a cooler.”

A new standard of cool.

Having successfully executed the MasterCraft™ launch, Team Cordova turned its attention to finalizing designs for its namesake line of coolers. Performance-wise, the objective was to replicate the ice-retention capability of their MasterCraft™ version, while offering aesthetic appeal and added functionality unique to the Cordova line. “We knew we had a winner with regard to ice retention;” commented Campbell, “the testing by MasterCraft™ proved our cooler rivaled and even out-performed established brands already in the market.”

To achieve desired design objectives, Cordova collaborated with Avantech design engineers to dial-in unique aesthetics, while optimizing consistency of manufacturing outcomes and maintaining cooler durability and performance. “We wanted the Cordova line to stand-out from the crowd and have instant visual appeal, which is necessary in an ultra-competitive market sector,” said Campbell.

In addition to its ice-retention capability and design aesthetics, the Cordova Coolers™ line offers patented features such as anodized aluminum handles, built-in bottle opener, “Lid-Lock” feature, and gasket technology to enhance sealing performance. Additionally, “TruBlue” Thermochromatic MIG5® graphics from Mold In Graphic Systems provide an at-a-glance indicator of internal cooler temperature. Commented Campbell: “All of these unique, patented features, combined with visual appeal and ice-retention capability give our cooler a strong combination of looks, functionality and performance that’s hard to beat in the market.”

The Cordova cooler (Large size pictured above) boasts a formidable combination of aesthetics, functionality, and ice-retention performance.

The Cordova cooler (Large size pictured above) boasts a formidable combination of
aesthetics, functionality, and ice-retention performance.

A brand of brothers.

Predictably, market response to the Cordova Cooler™ has been overwhelmingly positive, and Team Cordova’s initial efforts to promote the coolers have proven fruitful. In addition
to exhibition at several trade shows, Cordova is a sponsor of “Steve’s Outdoor Adventures (in which Team Cordova member Steve West stars),” and receives promotional air-time during each episode – reaching 1.6 million viewers per show on the Outdoor Channel. Further, Cordova Coolers™ has launched a new website with e-Commerce capability, and is aggressively marketing through traditional and social media channels.

Taken individually, the members of Team Cordova are marketing powerhouses in and of themselves. Combined, and with a multi-faceted marketing strategy as a catalyst, the brand-building potential for the Cordova line is staggering. “We know that building a sustainable brand is more than having a good product,” commented Campbell, “and we’re investing significant resources in reaching as broad an audience
as possible through a variety of platforms.”

Campbell also shares Team Cordova’s desire to be a part of manufacturing resurgence in the U.S., and feels a “made in the USA” message can be leveraged effectively in positioning the Cordova brand: “We’re extremely proud that the Cordova Coolers™ are manufactured in the USA, which helps create jobs here, and can drive economic growth in our country. We’re working exclusively with U.S.-based supply chain partners – people like Avantech, Stern Industries, Mold In Graphic Systems and others – so that as Cordova grows, so will
their businesses. It (made in the USA) is a crucial component of our brand.”

Warm memories. Cool future.

Thinking back to that hot summer day on the water almost three years ago, Scott Campbell, Jr. reflects on his journey from crab-fisherman to rotomolded cooler entrepreneur: “It’s pretty amazing how quickly this has all happened,” commented Campbell. “And looking back, it’s a good thing we didn’t have a good cooler on-board that day: opening that warm beer on my (MasterCraft™) boat kick-started this whole crazy adventure.” We can’t imagine a cooler story.