FORT SMITH, ARK. (Nov. 4, 1:30 p.m. ET) — Originally, the Kosmo Cooler was designed to be another import from China. But the cost of shipping proved to be its downfall, and that provided an opportunity for custom injection and blow molder River Bend Industries LLC.
“They had several prototypes and did a good job, but the shipping cost was prohibitive,” said President Ron Embree, in a telephone interview.
The patent-pending cooler has metal legs that pull out and make it free standing. The product has appeal for a variety of venues including athletic events, camping and construction sites. It was tested by Sam's Clubs at 10 stores in southern Texas, and Sam's Club subsequently placed a bigger order for 2012, he said.
River Bend has plants in Victor, Iowa, and Fort Smith, Ark. Although the Fort Smith community has been hurt by layoff notices from Whirlpool Corp. and Fortis Plastics LLC, Embree said proprietary products like the cooler offer promise for River Bend.
“Whirlpool accounted for 60 percent of our revenue, so it is important to get these types of products. We've also added a couple of other custom jobs,” he said.
Embree said the company is adding blow molding capability to the Arkansas plant, buying one machine and moving another from its Iowa facility. River Bend has 51 injection presses with clamping forces of 100-850 tons.
The cooler idea was developed by two Arkansas inventors, Tim Mika and Stephen Bowman. Embree ended up buying the tools and a share of the patent ownership with Mika and Bowman, who had developed the cooler over four years.
River Bend worked with the design and was able to come up with a mostly American-built product that contained blow molded and injection molded parts, as well as urethane foam insulation. River Bend was able to reach the right price by making it in Fort Smith, Embree said. The only parts now made in China are the metal legs, but he is still looking for a competitive U.S. bid.
River Bend is looking for more proprietary products to make, and has found that working with entrepreneurs opens up new possibilities. Embree said he working on six more proprietary possibilities for the near future.
The Kosmos Cooler is currently a 5-gallon container. Embree said River Bend is tinkering with ways to expand the line, including a potential 10-gallon product for construction sites. The company also is considering versions with wheels or attachments like a table.