Hydro Flask has become something of an institution in its native US and it’s now breaking into Europe.
Fusion Associates spoke to Mike Wallenfels, VP Worldwide Sales, about the strategies and innovations pushing the company forward.
Hydro Flask was founded in 2009 and had sold a million pieces by 2011. How did the company begin its days and what spiralled its popularity?
It came about as Hydro Flask’s founder Travis Rosbach started selling insulated stainless steel flasks from the boot of his car. The product took off among Oregon’s large outdoors community, who appreciated its ability to keep the content both hot and cold. In the US, it’s common to have a big chest of ice to keep drinks cool, but you can’t travel around with one of those… instead, people used to bring a thermos with them up the mountain top or along the running track, but that wasn’t ideal as they’re quite bulky. Hence, Rosbach came up with a transportable version that was much slimmer and lighter. He kept improving on the concept and eventually named the product Hydro Flask. It was the first product developed to keep liquid hot or cold, and the 18/8 stainless steel didn’t interfere with the flavour of the liquid. The major US outdoors retailer REI, was among our first stockists, which helped increase exposure.
Apart from the points you’ve mentioned, what sets Hydro Flask apart from the competition?
We’re constantly improving on the concept, bringing out new innovations. Unlike some brands, we insulate the lid, too, and spend a lot of effort developing lids and that are as high-performance as well as the flask itself. Aside from the technical aspects, we started offering products in different colours early on, using powder coating to add different hues. This became a commercial hit as it encouraged consumers to buy more than one flask and building anticipation for the next colour launch. On the US market, we now offer 14 colours, of which 9 were launched in Europe.
You offer 100 different products and colours across four different categories: hydration, coffee, beer and food. What’s the latest?
Our focus at ISPO tradeshow, with the European market as our focus, was a new line of coffee flasks, which allows you to drink straight out of the bottle without taking the lid off. Our beer flasks are particularly popular in Oregon, which has a strong beer culture and a high concentration of breweries. You’re allowed to go into any bar and fill a flask with up to 64 oz (1.9l) of beer and with this in mind, we’ve come up with a new 64 oz flask. In addition, we’ll soon start shipping a new, wide mouth beer flask that is easy to carry and has a high-quality feel and look.
Hydro Flask is increasing its presence in Europe. Tell us about your expansion progress so far.
We will lunch Hydro Flask in earnest in spring 2016 in Europe, with focus on Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Switzerland, the UK and Scandinavia. We’re currently establishing our network of European distributors and agents, as well as PR and marketing teams. We’ve also opened several new European accounts, adding to our already established retail partners. In the UK, for instance, we’ve had the pleasure of working with key players such as Snow & Rock, Ellis Brigham, and Tiso in Scotland.
Your first European headquarters has just opened in Basel, Switzerland. Who will be in charge of the European subsidiary?
We took our time to find the most suitable, top quality candidates within the outdoors specialty sector and can announce that we’ve appointed David Ledouble as Hydro Flask’s European General Manager. Ledouble previously served as director of sales at Black Diamond in Switzerland and he worked at the company for 11 years. In his new role, he’ll be heading up Hydro Flask’s European headquarters as well as overseeing operations in Middle East and Africa.
Whether securing new accounts in Europe or the US, what do you look for in a retail partner?
Hydro Flask is primarily stocked at outdoors retailers and we like them to have expertise and enthusiasm. It’s important that they have proper retail presentation and trained staff, who are able to explain why the customer should chose one product over another. Hydro Flask is a premium brand and the consumer must be made aware why it’s worthwhile parting with £22-30 for a flask. Knowledgeable, passionate employees are needed but the way the flasks are presented also plays a part.
Who is the Hydro Flask consumer?
They’re typically sports-based, though they like to use the flasks everyday, even when not practicing sports. Hydro Flask appeals to busy people with active lifestyles. They tend to be fairly young and share a commitment to the environment, as Hydro Flask helps to eliminate the wasteful use of disposable cups and containers. Our consumers are also health conscious; we’ve all been told by our doctors to increase our water intake, while there is a growing awareness that drinking from plastic bottles is not good for you.
Does Hydro Flask appeal to any particular gender? Are there differences in the way male and female consumers use and buy the flasks?
The divide is pretty equal, but we’ve noticed that females tend to get particularly passionate about the flasks, wanting to own more than one. They are also interested in new colour launches, perhaps to a greater extent than men.