Otter Products, the Colorado-based maker of OtterBox smartphone cases, is taking on the high-end cooler market with a new line of injection molded coolers.
The Venture coolers, which come in three sizes, are manufactured by Proper Polymers in Warren, Mich., a business of Proper Group International Inc.
The rugged coolers incorporate a refrigeration industry-grade foam liner that Otter says will hold ice for up to 14 days, along with proprietary formulations of polypropylene for the interior and exterior. Otter is looking to differentiate its cooler line, offering a range of accessories that attach to the cooler so users can create their own customized unit. Current options include interior dividers, a cutting board, a bottle opener and more.
Proper Group also produced molds for the coolers, under its Proper Tooling operation. That capability was a key factor in the partnership, said Kristen Tatti, an Otter spokesperson. The Proper team developed tooling to maintain the desired aesthetics — the coolers share design cues with Otter's other products — while avoiding sink marks in the thick walls of the cooler and other manufacturing hurdles.
"They had the design for function; they were looking for somebody that could assist them on design for manufacturability," said Joe Grippe, president of Proper Polymer. "The Otter people are very particular on the design, in terms of the presence, how it looks, and the feel and what the consumer is going to see and how it's going to perform for them. The challenge was keeping true to that and making it manufacturable for an injection molded application."
Otter and Proper worked under an aggressive timeline to finalize the design and launch manufacturing. The partnership started officially in late summer 2016, and coolers were rolling off the line by March 2017.
"We're kind of crazy, in that we're very rapid in design-prototyping-manufacturing," Otter's Tatti said. "And we've had to be that way because you have to be that way in the smartphone industry; you need your product on the shelves when the device hits. ... And we are very staunch on durability and quality and the looks, and [Proper Group has] been amazing to work with. And it's great that they're here in the U.S. That's a huge win for us."
Otter sees the cooler line as a return to its roots in the outdoor industry. Otter was founded in 1998 as a manufacturer of waterproof, crushproof storage boxes to protect vulnerable items from the elements. That business evolved to include protection for mobile devices like smartphones, for which the company is now best known.
"A cooler is pretty much a bigger box, with some more frills involved in it, so it seemed like a really, really logical place for us to move," Tatti said.
Proper Group has facilities in Greenville, S.C.; Anderson, S.C.; and Pulaski, Tenn.; in addition to multiple facilities in Warren. The company recently closed its tooling facility in China while maintaining design, engineering and program management capabilities in that region. Proper Group also supplies the automotive industry.
Venture coolers by Otter Products incorporate a refrigeration industry-grade foam liner that will hold ice for up to 14 days. Proper Polymers in Warren, Mich., is manufacturing the coolers.
OtterBox Products photo