The 8,000-square-foot retail showroom reclaims the ground floor of a historic warehouse set in the vibrant South Congress district next to Lady Bird Lake and near downtown. Aligning architecture, branding, merchandise and story, the project was a collaboration of Austin-based lauckgroup (now Perkins+Will) and Lake|Flato Architects’ Austin office.
YETI was founded in Austin, and Michael Horton, senior project designer and senior associate at Perkins+Will, says the company has a true presence there. “They wanted a place where the YETI faithful (their clientele) would come and share their stories,” Horton recalls. “We were tasked with making the flagship unique enough to create a draw.”
YETI produces ice chests and coolers that can hold up under extreme conditions, making them appeal to outdoor adventurers, hunters, fishermen and ranchers. Online, YETI products’ advantages are touted by “ambassadors” (famous outdoor enthusiasts) who recount their exploits through photos, videos and social media outlets. “We really had to immerse ourselves in the YETI brand to make the connection between their brand and social media presence come to life in a built environment,” Horton recalls. “We added installations where people could touch the items they’ve seen on YETI’s Instagram stories and tried to create Instagrammable moments for visitors.”
According to Trey Rabke, project architect at Lake|Flato Architects, to tell YETI’s brand story through imagery, ideas and stories is one thing, but to sell the product is another. “It was a complicated set of directives,” he notes. “It demanded a lot of coordination between our firm, the retail designers, branding agency, client and fabricators.”
A Trip Inside
To determine the range of exhibits and entertainment options, the team dived into anything-goes brainstorming sessions. “We just let the ideas fly,” Rabke describes. “We asked: ‘What if we hang a giant shark on the wall? How about we saw a truck in half?’ It was really fun, and what resulted is a miniature museum.”
In addition to the 8-foot bear and the shark, the flagship includes showpieces, such as the first fishing skiff able to travel in a mere 6 inches of water, one of the first Jeeps to traverse the Sahara desert, an Aaron Franklin’s BBQ Smoker and a Texas flag made from more than 11,000 beer bottle caps. The space promotes lingering and interaction through video displays, a hospitable bar, and a stage for YETI ambassador speeches and demonstrations, film screenings and music concerts that can align with Austin’s SXSW festival.
YETI products are woven into every exhibit. For example, the live music stage is propped up by coolers, and camouflage-topped YETI coolers serve as seating in the bar. A wide range of merchandise from ice chests, coolers and drinkware to T-shirts, hats and bottle openers are ready to pick up and purchase. In fact, the flagship store is the only place where patrons can customize the color of their cooler’s latches and handles and choose the logo.
The jam-packed retail and experiential program required flexibility and innovative thinking. “There are lots of rotating, one-off exhibits and we needed to be able to empty out the space to accommodate crowds during concerts and film screenings,” Horton says. “This was a real logical challenge within a footprint where there’s no large back-of-house storage.”
The designers crafted retail fixtures that nest together and put wheels on the displays so they can be moved to the back of the store. A clever canopy tucked into the ceiling rolls down and hooks into the floor, concealing the displays when open-floor event space is needed.