Igloo Products Corp.
Igloo Products Corp.
Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Brunswick Corp.
Sales: $150 million (1996 est.)
SICs: 3089 Plastics Products, Not Elsewhere Classified 6719 Holding Companies, Not Elsewhere Classified
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 1997, Igloo Products Corp. is a top producer of ice chests, a merchandise category whose U.S. sales totaled $300 million in 1996. Igloo’s most recognized product is the patented “Playmate” series of personal-sized coolers, but its product line includes insulated cups, trash containers, and thermoelectric products that can keep food hot or cold. According to a report by Sports Market Research Group Inc., Igloo continued its historical leadership of the segment into the 1990s with 43 percent of unit sales in ice chests and 42 percent of insulated jugs. The Houston-based firm was acquired by Brunswick Corp.—famous for its eponymous billiard tables and bowling equipment—late in 1996 and became part of the $3 billion conglomerate’s growing Outdoor Recreation Group.
Post-World War II Foundation
The Igloo saga begins in 1947, when several Houston investors joined forces to fill what they perceived as an important market niche. At the time, drinking water was carted to the hot, humid oil fields of the region in wooden buckets. This group of innovators developed an insulated metal container that would change not only the comfort level of thousands of oil riggers, but also broaden the beverage and menu options of picnickers for decades to come. Igloo Manufacturing Company’s handmade metal coolers featured a “double-locked seam” that kept water cold and prevented leakage. By the early 1950s, Igloo had acquired the Horton and Polar King brands of metal coolers. Over the course of the decade, the company added plastic and styrené liners to its metal coolers.
Soon after merging with Production Tooling Company in 1960, Igloo took on that firm’s sales and marketing operation, the John T. Everett Company. In recognition of Everett’s Nashville headquarters, the merged firm’s name was changed to Texas Tennessee Industries (TTI) in 1961. TTI used the proceeds of its 1962 initial public offering to fund an expansion of the Houston manufacturing plant. That same year, the company introduced a major innovation to its industry, the first all-plastic ice chest. At first, TTI limited marketing of the new product to breweries, but it soon found that sportsmen and other consumers favored the lightweight, durable containers. TTI built on the success of this initial 48-quart plastic ice chest with the launch of a line of coolers in various sizes and colors throughout the remainder of the decade.
Early on, the firm started designing ice chests and coolers with special features geared toward particular activities. For example, the Giant Sea Chest launched in 1967 was Igloo’s second all-plastic model. It offered deep-sea fishermen a 155-quart/300-pound capacity; rust-, stain-, and odor- resistance; and could even be used as an extra seat. Tailoring products to the needs of specific groups, especially boaters, would become an Igloo hallmark.
Meanwhile, TTI’s ties to the brewing industry developed into a flourishing private label business during the decade as well. By the late 1960s, the company was manufacturing a full line of ice chests and soft-sided beverage coolers labeled with cigarette, beer, soft drink, and other national brands. The containers were often used as promotional items by these firms.
Perhaps emboldened by its success, TTI embarked on a number of side ventures in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1967, the company formed a Container Division to manufacture plastic drums for the chemical industry. This business was divested in 1980. TTI launched Nutrifoam, a fertilizer-embedded polyurethane foam intended as a growth medium for plants, but liquidated the venture in 1967. S.A.G.E., a chain of discount stores in Texas and California, was bought in 1969 and sold three years later, as was a manufacturer of exercise equipment. One of the company’s longer-lived diversifications was its 1968 acquisition of Impact Extrusions, Inc., a manufacturer of thermoplastic sheet. This purchase, which represented an effort to integrate vertically, lasted for more than two decades before the parent company sold it to Pawnee Extrusions, Inc. in 1989. TTI apparently learned a lesson from its late 1960s extra-curriculars; in the 1970s, it would concentrate diversification efforts on its core product line instead of new ventures.
Rapid Growth in 1970s
In acknowledgment of its lead brand’s success, TTI changed its name to Igloo Corporation in 1971. The company relied on market research to direct new product development, a strategy that would continue to guide numerous innovations. Igloo patented and introduced the Playmate series of beverage coolers, featuring a “tent-top” design, that same year, adding the unique push-button lock and release to the lid in 1972. Though it could hold eighteen 12-ounce cans, this new cooler could be carried with just one hand. The line was later extended to include smaller versions, including the Little Playmate (1977) and Lunchmate (1978) models. Igloo’s 1972 acquisition by The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of New York presaged an energetic expansion of the product line. New products introduced in the 1970s included: Sturdy Jug utility containers; Jerry Jug containers for gasoline and other flammable liquids; new beverage coolers and ice chests; and the Kool line of specially designed containers intended for use in cars and trucks. From 1979 to 1981, Igloo averaged four new products per year, mostly extensions of established categories.
The company backed up its products with a three-year warranty that for many years was unique to the cooler category. It also won over customers with its ready supply of replacement parts, including lids, drain plugs, hinges, and spigots. Some customers did not need a warranty; they witnessed the durability of Igloo coolers firsthand. According to a company history, the containers have survived maulings by wild animals and stayed intact in burning buildings. Playmate coolers have even played a role in life-saving transplant operations; donated containers are used in some hospitals to transport human organs for transplant operations.
An export program undertaken during the 1970s expanded Igloo’s reach to Canada, Japan, and Mexico. Taking a page from its early history, the company made its first forays into international markets by selling coolers to oil companies for use on overseas projects. The effort not only increased sales, but also helped to smooth out seasonal fluctuations in production.
Igloo also diversified its distribution network from a concentration in sporting goods stores to mass merchandising chains like Kmart and Wal-Mart. Corporate sales multiplied rapidly on the strength of its expanded product line and broadened distribution network, increasing from about $25 million in 1975 to $70.9 million by the end of the decade.
1980s Bring Changes in Corporate Ownership
Corporate ownership changed in 1980, when Houston’s Anderson, Clayton & Co. conglomerate acquired Igloo for $46.6 million. Increasing advertising budgets under the new ownership helped push Igloo’s sales to about $80 million by 1982. New products launched in the 1980s included Tag-Along personal-sized coolers with a shoulder strap; Igloo Ice, a long-lasting, reusable substitute for ice; and Kool Tunes, a cooler with stereo speakers. Encouraged by its parent company to diversify, Igloo also launched a line of collapsible outdoor cooking devices in 1985.
The Quaker Oats Company’s purchase of Anderson Clayton in 1986 presaged another transfer of ownership for Igloo. Management took the company private as Igloo Products Corp. that year with substantial help from New York’s Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., which continued to hold a key ownership position in Igloo through the mid-1990s.
Acquisition by Brunswick Corp, Mid-1990s
Igloo started the 1990s by marking the sale of 15 million Playmate coolers, then launched a new product blitz. New items and line extensions included insulated cups and sport bottles for both hot and cold beverages; soft-sided lunch boxes, and “trash management systems.” Fashionable new colors and ergonomic handles were also expected to spur sales. In 1991, Igloo licensed its trademark to a line of rugged footwear.
Igloo Products will be the market leader in activity containers designed for a variety of consumer and commercial purposes. Most of these activity containers are primarily made of plastics and many of them are insulated. These products will be oriented toward sporting goods, automotive, commercial (industrial, food service, and medical), hardware, back-to-school (stationary and housewares), truckstop premium, export, marine, housewares, and appropriate active cooling product channels of distribution. Other products or channels of distribution will be explored on an opportunistic basis as appropriate to help enhance one of these basic businesses. Igloo Products markets quality products that provide a differentiated value to the consumer through functional and/or aesthetic superiority. Igloo Products deals with its customers, its vendors, and its investors as partners. In carrying out this Mission, Igloo Products will have a positive environment in which each person associated with Igloo can achieve a sense of commitment, accomplishment and worth.
Igloo and its compatriots in the ice chest category broke out of a period of heavy promotions in the recessionary early 1990s by introducing stylish new adaptations of well-established products. Its wheeled, long-handled coolers made moving an ice chest full of food and beverages much easier. The company expected to sell one million wheeled coolers in 1995 alone. Igloo also developed new technology in the early 1990s. The commune patented a thermoelectric module that could keep foods cold without ice— and even make ice—or heat foods to 155°F. When teamed up with the company’s ice chests and coolers, it formed the core of Igloo’s “active cooling” line of containers.
Brunswick Corp. purchased the ice chest manufacturer in 1996 for $154 million in cash. Igloo had for many years been custom-manufacturing coolers for Brunswick’s boats. Upon its acquisition, Igloo became part of the parent company’s growing Outdoor Recreation Group, joining previous acquirees Zebco fishing gear, Roadmaster Bicycles, and Nelson-Weatherite tents and sleeping bags.
Though Igloo did not release specific financial data, its sales for 1996 were estimated at $150 million, an 87.5 percent increase over 1982 sales of $80 million. Having made it through decades of competition from the likes of Gott Corp., Rubbermaid Incorporated, and Coleman Outdoor Products Inc., Igloo proved that it was “Built to Survive the Real World.”
Bayer, Tom, “Igloo Is Taking Its Case to Consumer in Ad Drive,” Advertising Age, June 21, 1982, p. 4.
Darwin, Jennifer, “Brunswick Comes and Goes: Outdoor Giant Buys Igloo,” Houston Business Journal, November 22-28, 1996, p. 5.
“Frosty Forecasting,” Discount Store News, August 5, 1996, p. 105.
Hill, Dawn, “The Ice Chest Cometh,” HFN—The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network, October 23, 1995, p. 11 A.
“Igloo Products Corp.,” Journal of Commerce and Commercial, November 9, 1990, p. 13A.
“Off-Season Coolers Get Warm Reception,” Discount Store News, August 5, 1996, pp. 103-04.
“The Plastics Producers,” HFD—The Weekly Home Furnishings Newspaper, October 21, 1985, pp. 83-94.
“Thermoelectrics Chill Portable Cooler,” Design News, January 22, 1996, p. 37.
Tiernan, Becky, “Illinois’ Brunswick Corp. Buying Texas’ Igloo Holdings Inc.,” Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, November 20, 1996, p. 1120B0158.
Wessling, Jack, “Sunbelt Licensed to Make Igloo Shoes,” Footwear News, January 21, 1991, p. 30.
—April Dougal Gasbarre