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Garrett started COOLERSbyU in . They detail the beginnings of their company in their Starter Story interview: 
Q: How did you get started on COOLERSbyU?
I grew up in Closter, NJ where both my parents are involved in family businesses. My mom is an Insurance Agent for my Grandpa’s Insurance Agency, Hochron Insurance. My dad is a contractor and owner of a Barretta & Sons, a company my great-grandpa started in 1928. Seeing both my parents be involved in businesses that someone in their family had built from the ground up was very inspiring, and probably the first reason why I have always wanted to start my own.
In 2015, I was a Junior at the University of Delaware studying Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation in the newly formed Horn Entrepreneurship program. I was an active member and President of my fraternity. I had a great interest in the Greek life tradition of cooler painting for major fraternity/sorority events that I had been exposed to a few times in college (more on that later!).
The summer after my Sophomore year I had a great internship for Jansy Packaging, an innovative packaging design & manufacturing company, started by a fellow entrepreneur in 2004. I was hired back again Junior year summer, and in fact, I returned to Jansy after graduation and I still work there full-time today! My internship sparked my interest in entrepreneurship and laid the foundation for what I would later need to know to get a product manufactured from start to finish. The combination of my newly gained business knowledge and my fascination with the Greek life tradition of cooler painting is what ultimately led to me to start COOLERSbyU.
The cooler painting tradition is commonplace across many universities with a large Greek life presence. Students take a basic drink cooler, fill in the indented logos, sand it down, prime it white, and then paint with some amazing designs. This process of preparing the cooler before painting is what grabbed my attention.
I watched my friends spend laborious hours filling, sanding, and priming all before getting to the FUN and CREATIVE part of designing. I knew there had to be an easier way for students to paint coolers without struggling with all the prep work. After some due diligence research and conversations with some manufacturing experts at Jansy, I felt I had everything I needed to dive in. I started by putting together a pitch deck as part of the Hen Hatch competition in Delaware.
Hen Hatch is an entrepreneurship competition where students and alumni can pitch their business ideas to get funded. Although I did not make it past the first round of the competition, I was confident in my idea and knew I should continue to push it forward.
When I came home for one of our breaks Senior year, I decided to pitch my idea to the CEO of Jansy, Brad Zaikov. As a fellow entrepreneur, I knew he would give me his honest opinion and candid advice. We met at a local bar, and I presented the makeshift pitch deck I had put together. This deck was not like a traditional pitch deck because I had put together very detailed specifications...it was about half an inch thick with every calculation and detail needed to start my business.
I felt like I didn't know what I was doing, but I was confident, and I did know I needed a solid partner and financial backing to get this idea off the ground. It worked! Brad decided to back my idea and provided me some resources to get it started. All in, it took just about 40K to get COOLERSbyU started in the first year.
Fast forward to October 2016, I was working full time as a Project Manager at Jansy. I had just finished a super basic one-page website and had prepared all the groundwork to get started. I chose to do everything on my own, and teach myself the necessary skills as I went. Luckily, complicated things like incorporation and insurance came easy to me by utilizing my mom’s 30+ years in the insurance industry.
There I was...my first manufacturing run of our paintable cooler was on the water from overseas. I put the website live, and within a day I had my FIRST pre-order! By the time the coolers arrived at my house in November 2016 I had a dozen orders. THIS was all the validation I needed. I was an entrepreneur and my business was on the ground floor moving up. But like many entrepreneurs, I was a perfectionist...I redid my website probably 10 times in the first year until I was happy with the experience.
As the first year went on, I was selling a ton of coolers but I quickly realized how expensive it was to ship a large product. For order fulfillment, I had the idea to utilize a 3PL (third-party logistics company) in California for one half of the US, and my parents' basement, self-fulfilling the other half, splitting the country to ease the shipping process. I had a 3PL in NJ who was storing the coolers cheap, but wasn’t able to ship them out...so my parents' basement and two-car garage became the fulfillment zone.
At this time, this was easy because I was only shipping the east coast orders and I figured it would only be a few units a day. Until it wasn't; scale caught up with me. I started getting 60-100+ orders a day! After a few months having large trucks drop off 100 coolers A DAY to my house, then having to individually label them and drive them one carload at a time to the post office and UPS store.
At times I was using my dad’s work truck in the morning before my commute just to get all the orders. I am exhausted just thinking back! I knew I had to look for an alternative to my hybrid fulfillment situation, plus, my parents’ wanted their basement and garages back! I began the search for a quality 3PL and found Ware2Go,A UPS company; I haven't looked back since.
It's important to not get sucked into buying a mold for tens of thousands of dollars and ask your factory what other options you have. Always quote more than one source, and don't always go for the cheapest option. If you get a bad vibe from someone, don't order from them - your assumptions may be right.
Contributors to this article:
- Pat Walls, Founder @ Starter Story