In April, two men walked into a Dick’s Sporting Goods here and stole 10 Yeti coolers valued at about $350 each. Similar retail heists by what police described as a “Yeti ring” also reportedly took place in Rock Hill, Upstate South Carolina and North Carolina.
In Horry and Beaufort counties on the popular South Carolina coast, police have been dealing with a rash of thefts of the trendy coolers, as well as incidents of Yeti tumblers, priced from $25 to $40, being snatched from beach chairs while sunbathers go for a dip.
And in campgrounds and on boat ramps around the state, the high-end coolers – dubbed “redneck Rolex-es” for their popularity with outdoorsmen and Southern college fraternities – have become trendy targets for thieves who turn around and sell them at discount prices.
I threw this massive party and mine just walked off
Ben Thrailkill, 20
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“I threw this massive party and mine just walked off,” said Ben Thrailkill, 20, who lives in Edgefield County and works in West Columbia. “Everybody wants one.”
The thefts in North and South Carolina are symptomatic of a national trend of Yeti thefts that range from organized bands of thieves who grab and dash from sporting good stores, to lone wolves who prowl beaches and boat ramps. And with football tailgating season now officially in full swing, authorities are warning proud owners to take measures to keep their Yetis safe.
“You don’t have any trouble selling them for a couple hundred bucks when they go for $400 or more,” said Stiles Monteith, who works at Barron’s Outfitters in Columbia, which has been selling sporting equipment since 1947.
“It’s especially bad in the Lowcountry,” he said. “People leave them in a boat or the back of their truck and they’re gone.”
Yeti coolers draw premium prices, from about $250 for a 20-quart model to a whopping $1,300 for an 82.4 gallon monster.
So what’s the big deal?
Like a kayak, Yeti coolers are molded so they have no seams. And they’re tough. The company even encourages anglers to stand on them as casting platforms.
Latches, hinges and handles are all engineered to very high standards. In fact, a test by Popular Mechanics confirmed the company’s claim that the coolers are bear proof if the proper locks are purchased.
Some people say a cooler is a cooler, but you want one that will keep ice as long as you can
Jaime Landrum, chief of field operations for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources
But most importantly the coolers use up to three inches of polyurethane foam in the walls and lid to keep ice frozen much longer than lesser coolers.
“That’s really important when you are out in the field all day during a hot South Carolina summer,” said Maj. Jamie Landrum, chief of field operations for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. “Some people say a cooler is a cooler, but you want one that will keep ice as long as you can.”
Landrum offers a tip: Cool down the cooler first with a “sacrificial” bag of ice before loading it up for real.
“That makes all the difference,” he said.
The cool factor
But other companies, such a Pelican and Engel, offer coolers of similar performance at a lower price.
“We only sell Engels,” said Barron’s Monteith. “They sell for about $40 bucks less.”
Yeti was founded 10 years ago in Austin, Texas, by two brothers, Roy and Ryan Seiders. And since then, through brilliant marketing, the company has achieved cult status.
“Yeti has marketed their brand as good as anyone,” Landrum said.
In addition to coolers and tumblers, the company offers a wide range of T-shirts, hats, hoodies, beverage tools, koozies, stickers and signs. Like Caterpillar and John Deere, the gear has an elevated hip quotient.
There’s a cool factor that the others don’t have
Tim Robertson, Todd & Moore sporting goods in Columbia
“There’s a cool factor that the others don’t have,” said Tim Robertson of Todd & Moore sporting goods in Columbia.
The company was profitable since inception, the brothers told the Austin Statesman in March. It posted sales of $5 million by 2009 and reached $150 million in revenue by 2014. Last year, that figure rose to $450 million, they said.
Beginning at only one Austin sporting goods store, the coolers and gear today are sold at major chains including REI, Cabela’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods as well as small, independent retailers.
Columbia’s Todd & Moore began selling Yeti coolers and stainless steel tumblers last year.
“Over Christmas we had people coming in every day to buy them,” Robertson said. “The 20-ounce tumbler was our most popular item.”
Todd & Moore has a large display right inside the front door. And they keep a close eye out for thieves.
“We have that on our minds all the time,” Robertson said.
Easy prey for thieves
DNR spokesman Greg Lucas, based in the Upstate, said Yeti coolers and gear are especially popular among students at rural Clemson University.
“Just about everyone who owns one puts a sticker on their truck advertising that they have one,” he said. “It’s like they’re asking someone to steal it.”
And steal them they do.
43Number of reported Yeti thefts in Horry County since January 2015
In tourist-packed Horry County alone there have been 43 incidents of Yeti thefts reported since January 2015, according to the Horry County Police Department. In more laid back Beaufort County, there were 10 cases over the summer.
“Who knows how many more there were?” said Capt. Bob Bromage, spokesman for the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department. “How many people report someone stealing their cooler or drink cup?”
How many people report someone stealing their cooler or drink cup?
Capt. Bob Bromage, Beaufort County Sheriffs Department
But DNR’s Landrum said there is a way to keep your Yeti safe.
The coolers have a special receptacle that holds an L-shaped locking bracket. The bracket can then be secured to a truck bed, boat, trailer or tree with a cable and lock.
“That’s a lot better than just threading it through a cooler handle,” Landrum said. “It’s solid.”
Yeti sells the bracket for $12.99 and a bracket and cable set for $34.99. Landrum just used the bracket and purchased a basic bicycle cable lock.
“I’ve kept mine in the back of my truck religiously for three years and have had no problems,” he said. “It’s like anything else. You wouldn’t leave your house without securing your belongs and locking the doors.
“If you are going to have a cooler, lock it up,” he said. “It’s easy prey for thieves.”