GATR Coolers — a Thibodaux-based company that specializes in custom coolers and drinkware, among other items — is a booming business, with countless orders coming in from all over the United States and overseas. It’s already reached several milestones, including racking up a million miles of shipped products, impressive considering the enterprise hasn’t even hit its 5-year mark yet.
The idea for GATR (pronounced “gator”), such as with many startups, was born out of a need. In 2016, Schriever native Mitch McGehee, who worked offshore at the time, wanted to order 10 plain “YETI-style” ice chests with no logos for him and folks on his platform. After making several calls to manufacturers overseas, he realized it would be more expensive than actual YETI coolers because he wasn’t buying enough to fill up a cargo container to ship on a vessel.
After months of pondering over the situation, he decided to move forward with the idea of ordering bulk coolers and sent a text to his brothers to see who wanted to join the new venture. His brother Bryan, who also worked in the oilfield, wanted in.
“I was trying to go the real cheap route. Bryan was more like, ‘If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right. So, let’s get a legit logo and a legit name. Let’s put a little more effort into it,” Mitch remembers.
The two established their LLC in February of 2017 and received their first shipment of coolers, about 360 of them, in May that same year. They virtually sold out in almost three weeks. “We ended up having to shut our website down ‘cause we had already booked a trade show in New Orleans. So, we had to turn our website off to bring our remaining 50, 60 coolers to the trade show — and then we sold out over there,” Mitch says.
And the business skyrocketed from there as the brothers managed it while also balancing their other day jobs and family lives. “So this was like a full-time side gig for both of us. You’re staying up till 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and dealing with manufacturing because they’re overseas and on the opposite time schedule and then waking up at 5 or 6 in the morning to go to work and do your full-time job,” Bryan shares. “Whenever we realized that it was not just our circle that was supporting — our social media platforms were growing, and we’re getting a big following and actually building a cool brand with cool products — we started putting a little bit more money into it and a little bit more time into it.”
As orders kept pouring in and ice chests and cups began filling the rooms of their homes, they purchased a 1,500-square-foot storage space on Tiger Drive in Thibodaux, and six months later, were able to pack an additional one right next to it with products.
In April of 2020, they acquired the former Donner-Peltier Distillers building in Thibodaux to expand their inventory space and house their machinery. Because it was a distillery that’s not so well-suited for their production needs — with pandemic woes on top of that — getting their operation up and running at their new facility turned out to be an arduous process.