10 Questions With AO Coolers CEO Brian Hatch

By Deborah Williams August 17, 2015

For Brian Hatch, president and CEO of AO Coolers, brand citizenship is every bit as important as profit margins, and it’s something he takes personally.

Helping to fight cancer is all part of the family business at AO Coolers, a 25-year-old brand. The company based in Corona, California, was recently named one of the top fundraisers for the 2015 Stand Up for the Cure event at Newport Beach. The largest standup paddleboard gathering in the world, the event includes on-site breast cancer screenings, and this year’s event raked in $100,000.

OIA: It’s easy to assume AO participates in this event because it’s a good branding opportunity given the exposure it affords in the paddlesports space. While that is probably true, there’s much more to it than that. How important is this particular charity to your company?          

BH: It’s very important to both myself and my wife. I lost my mom (Charlotte Hatch) to cancer in 2010, and my wife lost her mom (Mary Choate) to cancer just this past March. So it was very special and emotional for us this year. What always surprises me is how many friends and customers support us in this cause.

OIA: Why did you partner with Stand Up for a Cure? 

BH: Dan, who runs the event is a great guy, he contacted us to see if we wanted to be involved. We camp and boat at Newport Dunes, so we’re personally connected to this place and knew it would be a great event. As a brand, it’s important to us that any partnerships we engage in are authentic. The Newport lifestyle and the sport of SUP align so closely with our brand values, that it just makes sense. And it feels good.

We make a whole weekend out of it, and we had several friends and customers who camped out with us all weekend. It’s definitely an important annual event for AO Coolers. We have a cookout on Saturday, and we invite our customers and friends to come every year.

As a brand, it’s important to us that any partnerships we engage in are authentic. The Newport lifestyle and the sport of SUP align so closely with our brand values, that it just makes sense. And it feels good.

OIA: How do you promote the event? Why do you think customers want to participate?

BH: We promote it through our Facebook page and highlight the event in an email blast to our subscription list and clientele. We also post it on our website. Right now we’re donating $5 from every online purchase of our 16-ounce Stand Up for the Cure water bottle, and that promotion has done well, we are proud that it’s been as successful as it has.

Clearly the popularity of SUP has played a big role in the overall success of the event. Newport Beach is a beautiful area, and nowadays nearly everyone knows someone that has been effected by cancer. And SUP is just a unique activity; everybody is out there on the water, and it’s just a really great family event for us. We’ve already got it booked up for next year.

OIA: Which came first, your involvement in Stand Up for Cancer or the AO SUP Cooler? Did one have anything to do with the other?

BH: The idea for the SUP cooler was sparked by our Stow-N-Go cooler, which we designed for wakeboard boats after our customers said they wanted a cooler that had a low profile that could fit under the seats of their boats.AO Coolers' SUP Cooler

When a SUP company came to us about making them a cooler for their boards, we just made a smaller version of the Stow-N-Go, and it was a perfect fit.

OIA: Why is brand citizenship important to AO? Aside from this event, what else does the company do to give back to the local community and those who support your business?

BH: Coolers in and of themselves define brand citizenship at its core, right? I mean, they go everywhere we and our family and friends go. Our coolers are at pubic parks, beaches, baseball fields, hiking trails, even ski slopes. A good cooler is just a key tool in any great outdoor adventure, and when you’ve been in the business for 25 years like we have, you gain a clear appreciation of your connection to family fun, good times and giving back to the community where you can.

Beyond our involvement with Stand Up for the Cure we donate to our local fire department, the local food shelter in the Riverside area and other cancer initiatives. I think what’s key as a business is recognizing your connection to the community, and we’re a family business, so that makes it pretty clear. We want to be a business that helps out the community.

OIA: AO Coolers is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and you’ve owned the company for more than a decade. What led to your decision to buy AO Coolers?

BH: My father-in-law gave me an AO Cooler as a present. I was very impressed with the quality and durability of it. All the other soft coolers I had leaked, and this was the first one that didn’t leak and that kept ice all day. I used it for many years and eventually became friends with the owners of the company.

After that, I went to the local boat show every year and always bought a new cooler from the owners. For my wedding, I bought all my groomsmen an AO cooler. It was when I was picking them up that year that I told the owners if they ever wanted to sell the company to give me a call. Three years later they called me up and offered the business to me. Now, 11 years later, we’re still making coolers.

OIA: What do you know now that you wish you had known then?

BH: It’s different every day. I’ve been doing this for 14 years, and learning something new every day whether it’s about our product or some of the keys of how business works, or how people work, or how sales works. I’m continuously in school I would say.

I went to college for four years, but when you go into business for yourself, you’re in school for the rest of your life on what it takes to be successful. You’re making decisions that can affect the company, and affect the people that work for the company, so it’s a big burden on your shoulders. You have to make sure you make the right decision.

OIA: What’s next for AO Coolers? What new innovations might we see in the coming months?

BH: We have a couple of new cooler styles in the works right now that we’re pretty excited about. We’re looking to get them on the market later this year.

Beyond that, we’ve really seen our coolers start to take off in the outdoor market. Adding Home Depot, Sports Chalet, and Academy Sports has broadened our reach to our customer. The boating market is still a large market for us, but SUP and kayaking are really starting to take off as well. Our new accessory items, the AO Water bottle and our Ice Packs, are also doing well.