This past Fall, I watched a pickup truck pull up to a gas station with a couple of guys sporting some camo and blaze. We exchanged nods and went about our business. Two of them went into the gas station store and came back out with some bags of ice and proceeded to fill up a cooler in the bed of the truck. Curiously, I took a peek and realized the cooler was not a Yeti, but had a big X on the front.
“Hey! What is that? A Yeti?”
“Nope, it’s a Bison, man. Go check em’ out. They’re pretty awesome!”
Fast forward a few months, the cooler has proved itself worthy as a dog stand, bench, step-ladder, and pretty much anything you can think of – including a hardy surface for me to type this on. A mobile work desk with access to cold beer? Sweet!
I’ve been thoroughly impressed with their coolers and have been spreading the word amongst my groups of friends and hunters looking into purchasing a premium cooler. Bison Coolers is constantly making strides to improve their products and continually innovating in a furiously growing outdoor industry.
I’ve had the great opportunity to interview Emily Denson of Bison Coolers. Their story, in my opinion, is quite the inspiration.
Starting a business, overcoming fears and obstacles, but ultimately seeing the fruits of your labor is something that embodies the American dream.
So without further ado, check out the interview below!
Could you tell us more about yourself? How did you find yourself in premium cooler business?
I am actually a former middle school math teacher which shocks people because I look like I could still be in high school! Our goal was always for me to be able to stay at home once we had children; so when Jeremy had the idea for the cooler company back in 2010 I was both excited and terrified.
I had never been in the business world in any capacity but I knew that Jeremy was meant to be an entrepreneur. It was in his blood; his dad had started a few small businesses and Jeremy was always studying about it and dreaming about doing that himself.
We teamed up with Jeremy’s parents, Lisa and Dennis, and started Bison Coolers (at the time Brute Outdoors) in 2011 and I was expecting my daughter at the time. I remember getting our very first truck of coolers; it was dang near 3,000 degrees outside and I was larger than most baby elephants and we had to unload every single cooler by hand at the end of the street, load every single cooler into the bed of a truck, drive them to the barn, and unload every single cooler.
It took hours! Our first goal was to sell one cooler a day. It took us over two weeks and our very first customer was a man named Marty. We were as giddy as school girls with our first sale! Since then we have gone from working out of Dennis and Lisa’s barn to moving to a super tiny warehouse/office space to recently moving into a 10,000 sq ft warehouse with a large office and a showroom. Hard work pays off!
How did Bison Coolers get its start? There’s stiff competition out there and the bar for outdoor gear is always being raised. How or what sets you guys apart from the rest?
First and foremost all of our coolers and softpaks are American made. That is key in this industry. It really speaks to our customers and we try to get as much of our accessories made here as well. We have been around since 2011 when there were only a couple of us out there. So we were able to build our name before the industry really opened up.
Our price is quite a bit lower than the leading competition and I really believe that we have the best customer service. When you call you are talking to someone who cares and has a vested interest in the company. Almost everyone that works there is family!
It’s a family business – how does that translate into your business model? Does it make running Bison Coolers easier? Harder? More fun?
It is a family business! It started out as myself, Jeremy, and my in-laws, Dennis and Lisa. Thank God I love them! We then brought on Tyler who is my sister’s husband and someone who I have known since I was 3 years old. Then came Jack who worked for Dennis previously for about 20 years and then we hired Lisa’s sister, Janis to run the front office and showroom.
Finally we added Walker, our only newbie that actually has no relation but we found him because he is on our Field Staff. He fits right in and we think of him as family too. Now we do have our head of sales, Rich, and our salesmen but they are not housed out of DFW.
Working with family has been great for us but like all businesses there are differences of opinions but we try to really let each person take ownership in their strength areas. For example Jeremy is the visionary, so he takes the lead on the product development, partnerships, etc… and Dennis is a numbers man, so he does the day-to-day and financials.
I am a chatter box so Field Staff was an easy fit for me and I work with Lisa on all the laser engravings. Since I do not work full-time Field Staff is something I can do at home a few hours a day.
How large is the Bison Coolers team? Do you encourage your staff to get outdoors and use your products?
There are 8 of us housed in the warehouse/office and a handful of salesmen. Of course we love when get out to use the products. I know I use my bottle and tumbler daily and my softpak all the time.
The best feedback is from people who use the products in different environments and settings. They may have an idea for something that I would have never thought of because it was never a problem I needed a solution to.
You have a pretty solid group of Field Staff members – how do they help Bison Coolers now and what do you foresee for them in the future?
We have the BEST Field Staff out there and here is why I know that. I cannot remember the last time we have posted about joining the Field Staff on our social media. It is up on our website and that’s it. I get numerous applications per day and so many talk about how they heard about it from one of their friends or they saw someone wearing the shirt, or they saw a picture on someone’s Instagram page. It’s awesome!
They are a huge advocate for our brand and they represent who we are. We work hard and love enjoying the outdoors. We have teachers, mechanics, military, police officers, fire fighters, students, moms, athletes, business executives, you name it and they are a part of our Team. I love that. I love showcasing how our products are built for the American people.
I think that we will continue to add the right men and women to the team and we will start promoting to Pro Staff as well. We have tinkered with the idea of an Elite Pro Staff for those that just go above and beyond, but we just aren’t ready to take that on just yet. But great things are in store for our Team!
The weekend warrior and “Works Hard – Plays Harder”…how did that part of the Bison Cooler brand come about?
We wanted a phrase that encompassed who we are and who our customers are. We are the weekend warriors. Americans work extremely hard to be able to enjoy those fun times with friends and family. That was important to us because that is literally who we are. I think a lot of people have the misconception of when you have a small business that you can sit back and hang out and everything magically falls into place. As lovely as that sounds, that just isn’t the case.
The office work starts by 7am and even after we close for the day we are still working at night doing emails, answering calls, connecting on social media, meetings, etc… We love what we do, but man, we work hard!
Where do you see Bison Coolers in the next 5 years and beyond?
I see Bison all over the US. We aren’t in every state yet but that is coming, I can promise you that! Still made in America but I see our coolers evolving and getting even better than they are. I also see us expanding into other outdoor products for the weekend warrior.
Any tips or advice for someone starting out in the outdoor/product industry?
The biggest piece of advice I can give to someone is to make it clear to a new customer/fan who you are and what you are all about. It has to be very simple as to what you are portraying. If you want to break into the kayak fishing industry as a pro then your social media should always tie back to that.
I follow people and then I randomly see videos of a cat or they talk about their favorite ice cream. That’s great fun but that isn’t for your business page, that is for your personal page. If I was a new fan I would be very confused and honestly I would probably stop following.
Your social media should tell a story. Selling a product? Tell the story of who the customer is, how you need that product, why it’s different, and what makes it special. Basically sell the brand to me and I’ll buy into whatever you have!
Also invest time in learning how to take quality photographs. Sounds crazy but pictures catch the eye and spark interest. No one is going to be interested in a blurry dark photograph. There are a lot of free tutorials on lighting, angles, framing, etc… And you don’t need a fancy camera either. There are tons of information on using your smart phone and there is free editing software you can download as well.
Finally, it takes time and a lot of work! Things will happen if you have a plan. Write down what your goals are and what paths will take you there. Then, get after it!!
Thanks to Emily & the Bison Cooler Family for a great interview and insight into their growing business.
Be sure to check them out here